Health and wellness begins by focusing on the little things. Our bodies operate through thousands of tiny signals that control the vital functions of our systems. Hormones, produced and secreted by specialized glands located in the endocrine system, regulate everything from metabolic function to development and maturation to sleep cycles and moods. These chemicals are the powerhouses of the body. However, when our hormones become deregulated, our health can suffer in a variety of ways.
The endocrine system is vital in the production of the female hormone estrogen. When it comes to women's health and wellness, hormonal regulation is key in helping us feel our best. Sometimes our bodies need a little help from our team of knowledgeable healthcare professionals to stay balanced, as in the case of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS. Because September is PCOS Awareness Month, the healthcare team at The Women's Clinic is shining a light on the often overlooked issue of hormone imbalance and hormone disorders in women.
Feel empowered in your healthcare journey through understanding the small details that keep our bodies functioning in top form.
Hormone Imbalance vs. Hormone Disorder
When it comes to understanding the signals our bodies are trying to tell us, it helps to know the terminology surrounding common hormonal conditions. A hormone disorder, such as PCOS, is the result of a hormone imbalance. A hormonal imbalance occurs when our bodies produce too much or too little of a hormone. In women, an estrogen imbalance is often the cause for a hormone disorder.
Of course, PCOS isn't the only hormone disorder that women need to be aware of. Common endocrine disorders include diabetes mellitus, acromegaly (overproduction of growth hormone), Addison's disease (decreased production of hormones by the adrenal glands), Cushing's syndrome (high cortisol levels for extended periods of time), Graves' disease (type of hyperthyroidism resulting in excessive thyroid hormone production), Hashimoto's thyroiditis (autoimmune disease resulting in hypothyroidism and low production of thyroid hormone), hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), and prolactinoma (overproduction of prolactin by the pituitary gland).
Each condition comes with its own set of unique challenges and course of treatment. Your doctor can guide you on the best method for managing an endocrine disorder. While the symptoms of a hormonal imbalance can be miserable when left untreated, working with a knowledgeable, compassionate healthcare team
When to Seek Help
Hormone disorders can be deeply personal. A hormonal imbalance affects our emotions, our reproductive system, and our confidence in ourselves and our bodies. Because of this, it can be difficult to know when it's time to see a doctor.
Women are often met with misinformation regarding irregular periods being "normal" and chronic pain and cramping simply being a part of a healthy menstrual cycle. From puberty to menopause, the amount of misinformation surrounding women's healthcare is staggering. This is why it's so important to check in with your doctor for annual pap smears and women's wellness visits. Having a healthcare team you feel comfortable with is the first step in creating lifelong wellness habits.
Annual exams are typically the first resource women have for early detection of hormonal disorders. However, if you are experiencing any sudden changes in mood, menstrual cycle, weight, or bodily function, it's time to make an appointment.
Every hormonal disorder presents differently. However, the symptoms of PCOS provide a general guideline for signs of a hormonal imbalance to look out for. If you're experiencing any of the following, you may have a hormone disorder.
- Irregular or missed periods.
- Fertility issues.
- Excessive hair growth (hirsutism) on the face, arms, and other areas on the body.
- Weight gain.
- Thinning hair and hair loss.
- Oily skin or acne that often doesn't clear up.
Whether these changes are a recent development or something you've been struggling with for years, it's always the right time to see a doctor.
Treatment of Hormone Disorders
Now that we understand the symptoms behind hormone disorders, it's time to look at regulating and balancing the disruption. Many patients are eager to know, is there a cure for hormone disorders?
Although medical science is continually evolving and making new breakthroughs in the field of women's healthcare, most endocrine system disorders do not have a known cure. However, hormone imbalances can be managed effectively to minimize any negative symptoms or impacts.
One of the most popular treatments among PCOS patients is hormone replacement therapy -- or HRT. HRT regulates hormonal imbalance caused by low estrogen production through introducing estrogen hormones into the body via medication. Women who experience early menopause as a result of a hormone disorder, are currently undergoing menopause, have had a recent hysterectomy, or are simply looking for a better way to manage life with COS can all benefit from HRT. Bioidentical hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, can alleviate the symptoms of COS. In some cases, these symptoms can be eliminated altogether.
Contraception such as pills or IUD implants can also assist in regulating periods and stabilizing moods and bodily changes. Alternative treatments for COS include implementing a healthy diet plan and getting plenty of exercise. In general, patients with a hormone disorder should avoid the following foods:
- Refined carbohydrates, such as mass-produced pastries and white bread.
- Fried foods, such as fast food.
- Sugary beverages, such as sodas and energy drinks.
- Processed meats, such as hot dogs, sausages, and luncheon meats.
- Solid fats, including margarine, shortening, and lard.
Many patients find relief in a whole food diet that is low in carbohydrates and high in protein. Iron supplements can help with fatigue associated with irregular or heavy menstruation, while natural anti-depressants such as fish oil, flaxseed oil, and valerian root can support the management of depression and anxiety.
Of course, if you're continually struggling with depression that does not lessen with self-care and holistic management, your doctor can help start you on a course of anti-depressants to regulate the emotional highs and lows a hormone imbalance may cause. In light of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome month, your friends at The Women's Clinic have made it our mission to empower every patient's journey in managing hormonal imbalance with confidence. Although our focus is on PCOS, these guidelines apply to many hormone disorders women face every day. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, contact our healthcare team today and book an appointment to get the answers you need for managing your personal wellness.