How Hormone Levels Get Off Track
Medically Reviewed by Katherine Sherif, MD
Professor and Vice Chair, Academic Affairs, Department of Medicine
Sidney Kimmel Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University
Director, Jefferson Women's Primary Care
By Stacey Feintuch
If you have a teenager, you may blame every scream and fight on those raging hormones. It's just par for the course at that age. But hormones levels aren't just to blame for actions during the teenage years. They can also affect your body when you're an adult.
Hormones play a major role in how the body works. These chemical blood messengers control functions like mood changes, hair growth and pooping and peeing. You may experience some symptoms suddenly and wonder why your body is so out of whack and off balance. You may also notice changes in hormonal mood swings like premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). These can worsen in your 40s, in the years before menopause.
What's most important is to know your body. Changes come and go. However, if you notice a persistent and new symptom, something may be going on with your hormone levels.
Record these changes so you can tell your health care provider about their severity, timing and frequency. That way your provider will have a better sense of what's happening with you. Read more about signs of a hormone imbalance.
Here are some reasons why something may be going on with your hormone levels. Some may require medical care. For others, you'll have to make lifestyle adjustments. Regardless, don't be alarmed; most hormone imbalances are treatable.
You have a thyroid disease.
Constipated or have to go all the time? You may not have enough thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) or too much (hyperthyroidism). That's because your thyroid can make your organs work slower or quicker when they get off track. Another sign is that your eyes look larger. Than can be caused by Graves disease, a common form of hyperthyroidism. The tissues behind the eyes are inflamed, raising your eyelids and making your peepers look bigger. Your hair can be impacted by hypothyroidism too since thyroid hormones are in charge of hair growth. So, you may have less hair on your body (including your head) or your hair may feel coarser. You may also have dry skin. When you're making less thyroid hormone, it slows your skin's metabolism. It then produces less oils that keep you moist. Forgetful lately? Your low thyroid levels may be affecting your brain's metabolism. Your brain is working slower so it's harder for you to pay attention.
You have diabetes.
Diabetes changes your levels of the hormone insulin. You may be getting more yeast infections than usual since the fungi that cause yeast infections love sugar. Suddenly have to get-up-and-go constantly? That incessant peeing may be linked to high blood glucose levels. That's because your pancreas isn't working right because of your diabetes. Your kidneys are in overdrive to get rid of the excess sugar. And that means you have to urinate more often.
You have low melatonin levels.
Melatonin is responsible for maintaining the body's circadian rhythm. If you don't have enough melatonin, you'll sleep poorly and be depressed. We do make less melatonin as we age. That's why Grandma may not get as much sleep as your son. Speak with your health care provider about melatonin supplements.
Your ghrelin and leptin are out of sync.
Ghrelin, which is produced in the stomach, tells your brain that you're hungry. Once you eat, leptin signals your brain that you're full. If these hormones are out of balance, it can be hard for you to realize when you're satisfied. And you may then overeat. Research has found that getting plenty of sleep, exercising and reducing stress can help maintain ghrelin levels.
Pregnancy hormones affect your body in many ways. Progesterone levels increase significantly after conception so that your body doesn't reject the pregnancy. The progesterone then raises blood flow, and your body retains water everywhere. That's why you may have puffy, bleeding-prone gums. So, it's important to brush, floss and see your dentist regularly when you're expecting. You may also have bigger feet thanks to the increased progesterone. That's how your body loosens your ligaments—even in your feet—to prepare for delivery. Increased estrogen is also to thank for the dark patches of skin on your breasts, cheeks and other places. The hormone raises your levels of melanin, a skin pigment.
If you're overweight, you may have high estrogen levels. Since fat cells produce the hormone, extra weight can lead to too much estrogen. And increased estrogen rates can trigger breast and uterine cancers. Aim to exercise and watch your diet to improve your body's estrogen balance and reduce your risk of cancer.
You have PCOS.
You may have excess testosterone, which may be from polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, which is the most common hormone abnormality of reproductive-age women. Symptoms include irregular periods, unwanted hair and acne. Learn more about surprising PCOS symptoms that women often ignore. Your doctor might recommend taking birth control pills with synthetic hormones to reduce your testosterone production. Find out what birth control side effects aren't normal.