Hormonal imbalances can cause a variety of complications, from mood swings to anxiety to leg cramps and more.
And according to a recent survey of 2,000 American women ages 30 to 60, nearly half of them have experienced the symptoms of a hormone imbalance.
However, 72 percent of the respondents said they weren’t aware that their symptoms were related to hormone imbalances until after they experienced them.
“Starting our periods and ending our periods is mandatory. That’s a life cycle — but suffering and symptomatic is optional, and that’s a function of hormonal imbalance, whether we’re in our teens or in perimenopause or menopause age range,” Dr. Anna Cabeca, author of “The Hormone Fix,” told Healthline.
Cabeca commissioned the survey to investigate how many women understand their hormones and the effect that a hormonal imbalance can have on quality of life.
While mood swings, hot flashes, and weight gain were understood to be symptoms of hormonal imbalance by two-thirds of the respondents, Cabeca said less than half of the women knew that urinary incontinence, brain fog, and memory loss can also be symptoms.
Other symptoms of hormonal imbalances include:
- night sweats
- leg cramps
- vaginal dryness
- sleep disturbances
- loss of interest in sex
Each symptom can have an effect on different aspects of life.
The following are areas that women reported experiencing a change due to hormonal imbalances, and the percentage of women surveyed who experienced the change.
- Energy: 50 percent
- Sex life: 39 percent
- Overall self-confidence: 27 percent
- Feeling like a woman: 19 percent
- Feeling alienated: 18 percent
“Americans are living life at 100 miles per hour, every day. It’s no wonder we have hormonal imbalances,” Dr. Jane Oh, an OB-GYN in Illinois, told Healthline. “When patients come to me for hormonal imbalance, the root cause is usually too much cortisol or stress hormone. Then [it’s a] downstream — every other hormone in our bodies is affected, including sex hormones and thyroid.”
According to Cabeca’s survey, when women experienced an imbalance, they sought out remedies in the following ways:
- 53 percent went to the doctor
- 48 percent took vitamins or supplements
Oh says the most important step to treating hormonal imbalances is to look for the root cause.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s stress. In our modern times, it can also be called overstimulation,” she said.
Oh further explained such stress can present itself in varied ways, including:
- getting too much exercise (especially cardio)
- having too much sugar and flour in your diet
- lack of sleep
- drinking too much caffeine or alcohol
- too much electronic stimulation or time on devices
- having toxic people in your life
Cabeca agreed, noting that of women who experienced a hormonal imbalance, age 36 was the average age that their first symptoms occurred.
“Typically, what we start seeing in the mid-30s are the PMS symptoms, irregular cycles, and heavier cramping, so birth control pills, antidepressants, and sleeping pills start to be prescribed at that age. But that’s only addressing the symptom and not addressing the cause of those symptoms,” she said.
Cabeca’s advice is rooted in her own personal experience.
In 2006, Cabeca’s 18-month-old son drowned. In her mid-30s at the time, Cabeca experienced a physical and emotional downfall following her son’s death.
“I went from breastfeeding him to suddenly not having another drop of milk. I was grieving and diagnosed with premature ovarian failure and early menopause. I was told I would never be able to have another child,” Cabeca recalled.
“I’m a board-trained expert and even one in the top of my field and I was at a loss. I went around the world and started to look for ways to empower my body to heal itself with natural solutions,” she said.
While she restored her physical health and at age 41 conceived a healthy child, she says she went on to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, and her marriage eventually ended.
By the time she was 48, she had also gained back 80 pounds that she had lost over the course of a decade.
To get herself in better health, Cabeca developed the Keto-Green Diet, which incorporates alkaline principles to a ketogenic plan.
“This works for menopausal women to get our body into [a] fat-burning stage and get alkaline at the same time,” said Cabeca.
Her hope is that other women reap the benefits of such a diet.
Only 35 percent of respondents in Cabeca’s survey said they believed so.
However, Oh says it absolutely can. She noted that stress hormones and sex hormones start from the same basic building block: cholesterol.
“We have to eat natural sources of cholesterol to make these hormones. I’m a big fan of egg yolks, grass-fed butter or ghee, and fatty fish like wild salmon,” said Oh.
“Then we have to control the sources of stress in our lives like caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and flour, for instance. Then our bodies will naturally direct the production of hormones toward the sex hormone pathway instead of the stress hormone pathway.”
However, she warns against diets based on the ketogenic diet.
“It can exacerbate a hormonal imbalance because it really increases stress hormone. Intermittent fasting also does this. I have seen the [keto diet] disrupt my patients’ hormones,” said Oh.
She believes the most effective way to address hormonal imbalances is to focus on stress balance.
“Once we balance our stress, our hormones will naturally balance,” Oh said.
Still, both doctors acknowledge that sometimes medication is necessary to help with hormonal imbalances.
Below, the Food and Drug Administration describes the different types of hormone medicines used during and after menopause:
estrogen-only medicines progestin-only medicines combination estrogen and progestin medicines combination estrogen and other hormone medicines
“Although my first choice is for my patient to change lifestyle and diet to fix hormones naturally, there are some patients who truly need hormonal support. For example, women who have had ovaries surgically removed and women who are suffering from severe hormonal sleep disturbances,” Oh said.
Ultimately, the use of hormones is a personal choice that’s best discussed with your doctor.
“Benefits and risks should be discussed, so that [you] can make an informed choice,” said Oh.
Cathy Cassata is a freelance writer who specializes in stories about health, mental health, and human behavior. She has a knack for writing with emotion and connecting with readers in an insightful and engaging way. Read more of her work here.