By Jamie Spence | Contributor
If you’re not feeling your best lately, you’re not alone. With a global pandemic, political unrest, and social upheaval surrounding us currently, many of us are feeling the strain. However, what you’re feeling could be something else: hormone imbalance. Stress can throw your hormones out of whack, and combined with the normal reduction in hormones experienced with aging, your body may be feeling worn out and out of sorts. How can you tell the difference between stress and hormone imbalance?
Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance
Hormones are chemicals that are produced by glands in the endocrine system. These chemicals are dispersed through your bloodstream to the tissues and organs, where they help direct how the tissues and organs function. Hormonal imbalance simply means there is too much or too little of a hormone in your bloodstream. Due to the essential roles our hormones play, these imbalances can trigger side effects throughout the body.
Hormones are important for regulating most major bodily processes, so a hormonal imbalance can affect a wide range of bodily functions. As we grow older, the body’s production of hormones slows. Your body may react to the lower levels of hormones with many of the following symptoms:
- Hair loss
- Hot flashes
- Limited energy
- Low sex drive
- Memory loss or “brain fog”
- Mood swings
- Poor concentration
- Weight gain
- Female breast tenderness
- Vaginal dryness
- Gynecomastia (“man-boobs”)
- Erectile dysfunction
Symptoms of Stress
Stress is the body’s reaction to circumstances perceived as threatening. A chemical response known as the “fight or flight” reaction occurs in your body, allowing you to act in a way to escape danger or prevent injury. Symptoms related to stress can include:
- Mood swings
- Low energy or fatigue
- Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
- Aches, pains, and tense muscles
- Chest pain and rapid heartbeat, nervousness
- Low sex drive
- Erectile dysfunction
- Clenched jaw and grinding teeth
- Racing thoughts
- Memory loss or brain fog, poor concentration
- Weight gain
- Weight loss/lack of appetite
Stress affects everyone differently. Ironically, the symptoms of stress may not only be the same as those of hormone imbalance, but stress can cause hormone imbalance. When your body is stressed, it works to produce higher levels of the hormone cortisol. In addition to helping your body deal with stress, cortisol helps manage blood sugar levels, regulate your metabolism, reduces inflammation, helps control your blood pressure, and assists with your memory function. Because progesterone is the precursor to cortisol, as cortisol levels increase, progesterone levels decrease. As a result, ongoing stress can cause progesterone deficiency.
Chronic stress can affect also the body’s production of other hormones like testosterone. Testosterone production may not only be decreased by stress, the body’s release and ability to utilize testosterone can be hampered, as well. According to research performed at the University of Texas at Austin, stress can block the influence of testosterone with the body.
Estradiol, a form of estrogen, can also be affected by stress. Estradiol is linked to multiple functions in the body and continuously high levels of cortisol can disrupt performance of the hormone’s influence on those areas. Research studies have indicated that low levels of estradiol can result in poor concentration and memory problems. High exposure to cortisol is detrimental to the hippocampus, which can inhibit the brain’s retrieval of memories. Low estradiol levels have also been shown to linked to depression.
What you can do
It’s important to consult with a healthcare provider regarding your symptoms. A medical exam and hormone level testing will be performed to determine your current levels. If you are eligible for bio-identical hormone replacement therapy, you can be prescribed a customized dosage to address your body’s needs.
BHRT or Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy
Bioidentical hormones are usually administered in time-release, pellet form. The insertion of pellets is a simple, relatively painless procedure done under local anesthesia. The pellets, about the size of a grain of rice, are inserted in the buttocks through a small incision which is taped closed. These pellets will time-release steady levels of hormones over 3-5 months to achieve consistent, healthy levels. As a result of hormone replacement, you will obtain relief from hot flashes and night sweats, improved libido and sexual function, improvement in vaginal dryness or erectile dysfunction, experience relief of migraines, relief of insomnia, improvement in mood changes, anxiety and irritability, decreased joint aches, improved bone density, sharper memory and ability to concentrate, and improved cardiovascular health. Testosterone can also improve lean muscle mass and aid in weight loss or maintenance. The pellets eventually dissolve.
It is recommended that patients avoid vigorous exercise for 48 hours following insertion. Complications are generally minor and can include bruising, bleeding, infection and extrusion of the pellets. However, the risk of complications is rare. Side effects of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy are mild and usually resolve on their own. These sometimes include breast tenderness, fluid retention, vaginal bleeding, increased hair growth, or acne. If necessary, dosage adjustments can be made to minimize side effects.
Hormone levels are tested 4 weeks after pellet insertion and again 2 months later to determine the appropriate time to replace the pellets. After the first year, hormone level testing usually only needs to be done once or twice a year.
Pellet implants have also been used to treat migraine and menstrual headaches. In addition, hormone replacement therapy can help address vaginal dryness, incontinence, and urinary urgency and frequency. Women can expect to feel symptom relief just a week or two after insertion. Patients receiving bioidentical hormone replacement therapy should maintain annual physicals and breast exams and mammograms. Your health changes will affect the level of hormones needed to maintain a healthy balance.
“Bio-identical HRT can be life changing for most patients. They begin to feel better, sleep better and their overall outlook improves. The goal of bio-identical HRT is to return hormones to youthful levels to improve not only physical, but also mental health and well-being.”
–DR. KATHRYN WHITE OF AZURE MED SPA
While seeking hormone balance through bioidentical hormone replacement may be a great option for you, it’s also wise to adopt strategies to reduce stress in your life. Doing so will not only help support your body’s hormone levels naturally, but will work in partnership with your hormone supplements as well if you are using them.
Strategies to combat stress:
- Physical activity: walking or running, gardening, housecleaning, biking, swimming, weightlifting, or any sport or hobby that gets you active
- Healthy diet: aim to reduce sugar and refined carbohydrates while including a mix of lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Break unhealthy habits like drinking too much caffeine or overconsumption of alcohol, smoking, overeating, or using illegal substances to deal with stress
- Connect with friends and family or volunteer for a cause or organization you support
- Laugh: some studies indicate that laughter strengthens the immune system. It definitely helps you feel better!
Editor’s Note: For the third year in a row, Dr. Kathryn White of Azure Med Spa has received awards as “Best Hormone Replacement Center.” Azure Med Spa is located at 2840 Legacy Dr Ste.200, Frisco, TX 75034.