Our sex hormones play such an imperative part in our overall well-being and health. Basically they make us who we are. Studies have shown that not only do sex hormones define whether we develop male or female characteristics but they also influence our brain to the point of directing whether we think like a man or a woman. When we are imbalanced in our sex hormone levels there can be important concerns to our physical, mental and sexual health. It is of surprise to me to find so many of my patients have hormone problems and it seems these problems are starting at a much younger age. In times gone by, sex hormone imbalances just kicked in as we got older (for example, menopause). But sex hormone difficulties are now being influenced by modern-day living and presenting much earlier; not surprisingly the largest of these influences being stress and an unhealthy lifestyle.
So how do we know if we have sex hormone problems and what can we do about them if we have an imbalance? Before I answer this let us discover the role of the different sex hormones in the body; namely oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
Common Hormone Assailants
A number of influences from lifestyle to hereditary to even normal ageing can result in hormone imbalances. The following, however, are some of the most common culprits to disrupting hormone balance that I come across in clinical practice for both men and women.
Stress – the higher the stress levels the lower the progesterone levels in women and the lower the testosterone levels in men, as the body fundamentally ‘steals’ these hormones to increase production of the stress hormone cortisol.
Alcohol – constant heavy alcohol ingestion can damage testosterone levels in men due to a direct toxic effect on the testes. In women it can impair oestrogen and progesterone levels causing menstrual period problems, infertility and even miscarriage.
Caffeine – caffeine surges stress hormone release which can, in turn, lower progesterone creation in women and testosterone production in men.
Diet – a diet that is high in sugary, refined foods stimulates excessive insulin release. High insulin levels can upset oestrogen production and inhibit progesterone release.
Abdominal fat stores – carrying too much body fat around our middles can raise oestrogen levels causing an oestrogen-to-progesterone imbalance.
Lack of exercise – exercise helps to boost testosterone levels as well as reduce stress hormone levels. A lack of workout has been related with lower circulating levels of testosterone.
Lack of sleep – sleep deficiency causes excess stress hormone discharge, which, as mentioned above, can interrupt hormone balance.
Ageing – as we age our manufacture of hormones naturally drops. At menopause hormone levels severely reduce, which can cause numerous indications including hot flushes, poor sleep and memory, irritability, low sex drive, vaginal dryness, and a change in body fat stores to be more centred around the abdomen. Andropause is a term used to define the male version of menopause when testosterone levels drop. This occurs from about the age of 40 for men and results in a dropping of sex drive, muscle mass, and an increase in body fat stores. There are various complemenatary and hormonal treatments available for the management of these symptoms as explained below.
Environmental hormone disruptors – there is initial research to propose that the chemicals and hormones in our food, cosmetics, plastics and cleaning products may disrupt our hormones. As much as possible choose hormone-free meat and chicken products. Also choose natural cosmetics free from preservatives such as parabens. With regards to plastics make sure they as BPA-free e.g. drink bottles, containers.
Holistic Medical Doctor