Hormones are responsible for a lot of action in the human body and often get the blame for a lot too. Troublesome teenager? Hormones. Tired and emotional? Hormones. Putting on weight? Painful periods? Hot flushes? All hormones. They can also make the difference between having a great day, or a really awful one.
What are Hormones?
Hormones are made in the endocrine glands in the body which pass the hormones directly into the blood stream. They are the chemical messengers that regulate and balance the working of organs and cells. Hormones can have long- or short-term effects in the body – for example they control how we grow and cause the changes that occur at puberty. The word hormone comes from the Greek and literally means impetus; to excite or get moving.
Hormones Affect Almost Every Cell in the Body
Since they affect virtually every cell and tissue in the body, and generally have a long duration of action, when out of balance they can seriously affect your health and wellbeing. Just some of the issues that out of balance hormones can cause are:
- Pre-menstrual syndrome
- Amennorrhoea (absence of menstruation)
- Menorrhagia (heavy menstrual bleeding)
- Low libido
- Infertility problems, both female and male
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Panic/anxiety attacks
- Poor libido
- Post natal depression (studies have linked higher levels of placental corticotrophin-releasing hormone to post natal depression).
Because they affect nearly every cell in the body, it stands to reason that if you are suffering from something that has been undiagnosed or that hasn’t responded to other treatment, finding out if hormones are involved could be a way of getting to the root of the problem.
How are Hormones Levels Checked?
Hormone levels can be tested through blood, saliva or urine testing, which are used for testing different things. For example, blood testing is good for checking ovulation or the onset of menopause, saliva testing measures estrogens, progesterone, testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone and the stress hormone cortisol for example, and urine testing measures total daily hormone production and metabolism, which may avoid inaccuracy due to fluctuations.
The World Health Organisation has endorsed the hormone saliva test as the preferred way to check hormone levels.
Normal hormone levels vary, depending on the gender, age and the particular hormone being tested, but testing can provide an accurate way to identify imbalances and help to focus on bringing them back to a balanced state. Your GP can conduct these tests, or you could consult a naturopath.
Treatment for Hormonal Imbalances
There is a lot of conflicting information about the use of “natural” hormones for menopausal women so it’s wise to consult your GP in conjunction with your naturopath to see what works best for you.
The phytoeostrogens in soy for example mimic the body’s hormones and it is so far unclear exactly what effect they have on the body. Some people find eating soy products fantastic for balancing their hormones, but others do not. This may be because many soy products are highly processed. The best way to eat soy is to use products that firstly are not genetically modified or highly processed, and secondly are made using traditional methods, such as tofu or miso. Sometimes there is so much excitement about the potential health benefits of a particular food that it is inserted into everything and marketed like mad, and soy fits the bill here.
For postnatal depression, vitamin supplements, herbs and a wholesome diet are recommended. There are also many herbal remedies that can influence the body’s reactions to hormonal imbalances, dong quai and chaste tree being just two of the most frequently used by women.