Hormones are essential to the body’s proper functioning. A hormonal imbalance can lead to various health problems. Learn more on the subject.
Hormones: a few basic biology concepts
Hormones are highly varied chemical substances that regulate several biological mechanisms. They are secreted by a number of glands, for example:
- adrenal glands
- thyroid glands
- pituitary glands
- ovaries, and
They are then released into the blood stream and go on to reach target cells in different areas of the body, where they produce their effects. Hormones change target cell activity by causing a sequence of reactions which lead to specific effects, often complex ones, most often by accelerating or slowing down normal biological processes.
Hormones are particularly powerful substances. Even at a very low concentrations in the blood, they have very significant effects on target organs. When a hormone is secreted, its presence in the blood is generally short-lived (it lasts for a few seconds to thirty minutes). The onset and duration of hormonal effects considerably vary—some hormones produce instant effects, while others take hours, even days, before they take effect.
The concentration of hormones in the blood constantly varies. They must be specifically and individually regulated to satisfy the fluctuating needs of the human organism. This requires perfect orchestration, as a great number of hormones interact together and with other key substances within the body.
To some extent, the hormonal system, called the endocrine system, plays the role of a "conductor".
An abnormal or excessive secretion of a hormone causes a hormonal imbalance (or disruption). Since each hormone causes its own effects, the consequences of a hormonal imbalance depend on the affected gland as well as the nature and intensity of the problem.
Certain periods during a person’s life, including puberty, pregnancy, and menopause are conducive to hormonal imbalances. The body changes and must adapt to its new reality, which affects the hormonal system. A hormonal imbalance can also be caused by aging or disease.
Risk factors and symptoms
A hormonal imbalance can occur at any age in both women and men for a multitude of reasons. Therefore, it is difficult to determine specific risk factors. However, it is well-known that newborns, adolescents, pregnant women or women who breastfeed, and people over the age of 50 are more at risk.
Hormonal imbalances can be manifested by a constellation of symptoms depending on the hormone at issue, and the nature and severity of the problem. Here are some examples of symptoms indicative of a hormonal imbalance:
- weight loss or weight gain;
- decreased libido
- hot flashes
- vaginal dryness
- erectile dysfunction
- constipation, and
- cold intolerance
This list could be much longer due to the number of possible scenarios. It is often the combination of several typical symptoms of a disorder that makes it possible to guide the diagnosis towards a particular hormonal imbalance.
Certain well-known diseases or particular stages constitute good examples of hormonal imbalances, including:
- menopause, due to a decrease of oestrogen secreted by the ovaries
- diabetes, due to a decrease of insulin secreted by the pancreas
- hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, due respectively to a decrease and an increase of hormones secreted by the thyroid gland
- a growth hormone deficiency secreted by the pituitary gland
Prevention and treatment
It is difficult to foresee and prevent a hormonal imbalance, unless it is part of the normal order of things. However, adopting a healthy lifestyle can help preserve health and maintain hormonal balance. From this perspective, you can:
- Choose a healthy, balanced diet.
- Opt for a smoke-free lifestyle.
- Avoid unhealthy choices (such as alcohol, among others).
- Exercise regularly.
- Manage stress.
See a doctor if you experience inexplicable or unusual symptoms. After doing a physical exam and analyzing the situation, your doctor may want you to pass some tests (blood tests or other tests) in order to make a diagnosis. Only a doctor can diagnose a hormonal imbalance. If you have a hormonal imbalance, your doctor will prescribe the appropriate treatments. Be sure to carefully follow his/her instructions.
If you must take medications, your pharmacist will provide information about their effects, mode of action and how to use them, and what precautions should be taken for their use. Don’t hesitate to speak to your pharmacist if you have any questions or concerns about medication.