If you lack energy and have trouble sleeping, look to your hormones. Dealing with hormone imbalance symptoms can be demotivating, uncomfortable, and disruptive. Hormones regulate everything from mood and metabolism to weight and libido. A delicate hormonal balance supports an energized, active day.
When this tightly controlled equilibrium falls out of line, symptoms can develop. Even if a hormone imbalance hasn’t reached the stage of a diagnosable condition, it can still serve as a barrier between you and peak performance.
In this article, we'll discuss the most common warning signs of imbalances in major hormones like testosterone, estrogen, and ghrelin, and what to do about them.
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The Most Common Signs of Hormonal Imbalance
Mood swings and irritability
Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
Skin issues like acne or dryness
Irregular periods or menstrual cycle changes
The signs of a hormone imbalance may develop due to aging. However, factors beyond aging, like pregnancy, substances in your environment, genetics, medication side effects, the monthly menstrual cycle, and various health conditions, can affect hormones and lead to more severe symptoms.
If you’re concerned about hormone levels, speak with a healthcare provider.
Hormonal Imbalance Symptoms in Females
Symptoms usually develop due to changing estrogen and progesterone levels, as well as changes to other hormones that stimulate egg production, control the thickness of the uterus lining, and fulfill other vital functions in female sexual development and reproduction.
Estrogen Dominance Symptoms
Estrogen dominance occurs when estrogen levels are too high compared to progesterone. Both hormones collaborate to control the menstrual cycle and prepare the body for pregnancy.
Progesterone and estrogen work together to regulate the uterine lining. However, medications like birth control or premenopausal polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can increase estrogen in the body. Stress can also suppress progesterone by circulating cortisol, leading to excess estrogen.
Signs of estrogen dominance may include:
Feelings of depression or anxiety
Weight gain in the waist, thighs, and hips
Lighter or heavier periods than usual
Severe pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS)
Noncancerous lumps and tumors in the breasts and uterus
Progesterone Deficiency Symptoms
Low progesterone levels can also cause hormonal imbalance symptoms beyond estrogen dominance. Progesterone deficiency can lead to irregular periods, and low progesterone also increases the risk of miscarriage or pre-term delivery in pregnant women. Progesterone deficiency impacts wider health by leaving levels too low to counteract estrogen dominance symptoms.
Pregnant women with low progesterone might also experience spotting during pregnancy and abnormal uterine bleeding.
Excess Testosterone in Women
Women’s bodies do have some testosterone, but some women produce too much of this sex hormone and experience signs of hormonal imbalance. Testosterone is a crucial driver of male reproductive development, and symptoms of excess testosterone in women might include:
Excessive hair growth on the face, chest, or back
Acne or oily skin
Irregular periods or no periods at all
Depression and low mood
Excess testosterone can also lead to the onset of PCOS.
Low Testosterone in Women
Some women’s bodies produce too little testosterone. Levels may decrease during natural aging, just as in men, and following the surgical removal of the ovaries. Symptoms of low testosterone in women include:
Signs of Hormonal Imbalance after Pregnancy
Hormonal imbalances are common after pregnancy, with 7-20% of women developing postpartum depression. Levels of estradiol (a potent form of estrogen) and progesterone undergo huge shifts immediately before and after delivery, which can lead to depressive symptoms.
Other hormonal imbalance symptoms after pregnancy include:
Fatigue. Aside from sleep deprivation in the days following childbirth, tiredness could have a hormonal cause. Postpartum thyroiditis may disrupt levels of the thyroid-stimulating hormone for around one in 20 women, leading to symptoms like depression and tiredness.
Irregular periods. A hormone called prolactin that helps the breasts produce milk circulates after delivery. This suppresses how ovaries respond to menstruation-linked hormones. It can take four to 24 months for menstruation to continue as before pregnancy.
Signs of Hormonal Imbalance After Menopause
Menopause is a leading cause of hormonal imbalance in women. During menopause, the ovaries no longer respond to follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). They also no longer make eggs, estrogen, or progesterone. Many major effects of postmenopause relate to estrogen deficiency. These symptoms include:
Hot flashes and night sweats. During menopause, 50-82% of women in the U.S. experience vasomotor symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats.
Vaginal dryness. Postmenopausal women commonly experience dryness, inflammation, and thinning in the vagina walls. Estrogen supports vaginal lubrication, so a shortfall of this hormone can cause these symptoms. Several population studies report that more than half of all women experience vaginal dryness after menopause.
Mood and cognitive changes. Hot flashes and night sweats can disrupt sleep, contributing to mood changes.
Learn more in our article: 3 Things Women Over 30 Should Know About Their Health with Dr. Kathryn Rexrodet.
Symptoms of PCOS in Females
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects 6-12% of reproductive-age women in the U.S. The condition increases how many male sex hormones the ovaries make. Hormonal imbalance symptoms due to PCOS include:
Irregular periods or no periods at all
Excessive hair growth on the face or body
Weight gain or difficulty losing weight around the belly
Darkening of the skin in certain areas like the neck, underneath the breasts, or underarms
Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance after a Hysterectomy
Removal of the uterus — and particularly procedures that include an oophorectomy, or removal of the ovaries — triggers the onset of early menopause in women who are not yet of menopausal age.
The same vasomotor, vaginal, and cognitive hormonal symptoms that impact women during and after menopause can occur after a hysterectomy. However, a 2011 research paper suggested that genetic factors and a woman’s age at the time of surgery may contribute to the cognitive symptoms of an oophorectomy alongside estrogen deficiency.
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Hormone Imbalance Symptoms in Men
Men also experience hormonal changes that impact their overall health, mood, physiology, and quality of life as they age. In contrast to women’s monthly fluctuations, testosterone levels start high every morning and drop by the day’s end.
However, male testosterone levels reduce over time, typically 1-2% starting in the mid-30s. This can affect a man’s body in several ways.
Symptoms of Hypogonadism
In males, low testosterone (hypogonadism) causes direct symptoms such as:
Reduced sex drive
Infertility, or the inability to conceive a child.
Decreased muscle mass and strength
Osteoporosis or bone loss
Hot flashes or night sweats.
Loss of body or facial hair
Breast tissue enlargement (gynecomastia)
Hypogonadism might also indirectly cause cognitive issues with memory, focus, word choice, and professional performance.
Total testosterone levels fall by around 1.6% every year. As testosterone drives sexual development, bone and muscle strength, and sperm production, deficiency may impact these areas in aging men.
Older males are particularly likely to live with sexual symptoms of low testosterone like erectile dysfunction.
Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance After a Prostatectomy
Men with prostate cancer sometimes require a prostatectomy to remove the prostate. However, this can reduce testosterone and increase levels of LH and FSH.
As a result, men may experience erectile dysfunction — a common outcome of low testosterone. However, hypogonadism may also contribute to urinary incontinence, as testosterone might support improved control of smooth muscle like that of the bladder.
In one study, testosterone levels recovered to pre-operational levels within three weeks of surgery.
Hormone Imbalance and Weight Gain
Weight gain is one of the more common hormonal imbalance symptoms in both men and women. The hormones related to weight gain control hunger, feelings of fullness, calorie burning, muscle metabolism, and fat storage.
Cortisol Imbalance and Weight Gain
Animal studies have shown that the urge to eat more food in response to stress may be a biological impulse that links to high cortisol. Chronic stress appears to increase a preference for energy-dense, sugary, fatty foods. Cortisol also has links to the storage of fat around the abdomen, possibly for use as energy later.
Hunger Hormones that Fuel Weight Gain
Ghrelin lets you know when your body needs food, stimulating feelings of hunger. People with obesity tend to have lower levels of ghrelin but may be more sensitive to this hormone, naturally making them feel more hungry more of the time.
Obesity, in turn, may numb the nervous system’s ghrelin-reducing response to eating, meaning that ghrelin doesn’t decrease after meals.
Resistance to Fullness Hormones Can Increase Weight
Your body fat releases leptin to help you feel full after eating. Leptin is your body’s hormonal counterbalance to ghrelin, letting you know when you’ve had enough food.
People with obesity also have high leptin levels but reduced sensitivity to this hormone, meaning they may not feel full after eating. This can drive further weight gain.
Low Levels of Sex Hormones Can Lead to Weight Gain
Testosterone and estrogen both impact how the body burns fat, so decreasing levels over time may contribute to fat buildup. Low testosterone reduces muscle mass, which makes your body less efficient at burning fat.
Estrogen has a complex relationship with energy metabolism, appetite control, and fat distribution, and a drop in postmenopausal levels of the hormone may make obesity three times as likely.
Hormonal Imbalance Symptoms in the Metabolism
An insulin imbalance can affect how your body uses and circulates blood sugar. Insulin is a vital hormone that allows cells to remove glucose from your blood, bringing down blood sugar levels and providing energy for bodily functions.
However, if your blood sugar levels stay elevated for too long, your muscle, fat, and liver cells become less sensitive to insulin — a development known as insulin resistance. This means that blood sugar stays consistently raised, meaning that your body makes less insulin over time.
No hormone operates in isolation. Other hormones can impact insulin’s effectiveness and blood sugar control, such as:
Low testosterone. Hypogonadism can increase body fat, which, in turn, increases insulin resistance. Around half of all men with diabetes have low testosterone. Testosterone also boosts how your muscles use glucose, so low testosterone slows this process down.
Low estrogen. Estrogen plays a direct role in balancing glucose levels. When levels drop during and after menopause, this can lead to insulin resistance and disrupt the metabolism.
Consistently high cortisol. Cortisol reduces your insulin levels and makes more glucose available from the liver. Short-term, this can help you survive a stressful situation with increased energy. However, chronic stress can interfere with how much insulin your body makes and how your cells respond.
The tricky aspect of insulin resistance is that it doesn’t cause symptoms until blood sugar levels become dangerously high. For this reason, regular blood sugar monitoring is vital to ensure your body responds to insulin. Sustained high blood sugar can lead to type 2 diabetes and an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure.
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Cortisol Imbalance Symptoms
The body responds to stress by releasing cortisol, and having too much of it can cause various symptoms.
Cortisol circulates to prepare the body for a “fight-or-flight” reaction by conserving energy and keeping the brain on high alert. The hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis — a relationship between your brain and hormone-producing glands — is often highly effective at returning cortisol levels to normal.
However, exposure to too much cortisol for too long can reduce your quality of life through harmful symptoms. These include:
Anxiety and depression
Impaired memory and cognition
An increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke
Taking daily steps to manage stress is vital for reducing how much cortisol circulates in your body. Read 5 Ways to Reduce Stress through scientifically proven methods.
Next Steps: What to Do About a Hormone Imbalance
Awareness of hormone change symptoms can help you take the vital next steps in optimizing your hormone levels. This will involve discovering which hormones are either deficient or excessive and speaking to a physician about how to correct levels.
How to Test for a Hormone Imbalance
A range of tests can help a doctor identify imbalanced hormones, including:
Blood tests. Testosterone and estrogen levels will show up on certain blood tests. For example, an estradiol test shows levels of the main form of estrogen made by the ovaries. Testosterone tests most commonly test levels of total testosterone. Testing blood glucose may indicate low insulin or insulin resistance. The Lifeforce Diagnostic at-home blood test measures 40+ biomarkers including testosterone, estradiol, DHEA, FSH, TSH, and IGF-1.
Urine tests. This can help a doctor identify levels of hormones related to the menstrual cycle and menopause. For example, if a test for FSH shows elevated levels, it might be a sign that you’ve entered a stage of menopause. This provides extra information to bring to your doctor that supports further diagnostics.
Scans like X-rays and ultrasounds can also identify physical issues like tumors on glands that might be causing a hormone imbalance.
Can You Test Hormones At Home?
Home testing is available to measure hormone levels, blood glucose, and many other measurements of hormonal imbalance. To ensure accuracy, make sure you take the following precautions:
Use test kits approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Follow the instructions provided.
Avoid using expired kits.
Follow up with a medical professional to gain perspective, further testing, and actionable next steps.
A home test isn’t a guarantee of a diagnosis, nor will it explain the underlying cause of a deficiency. However, it can serve as a helpful signpost for the next step of your journey toward more comfortable and energized aging.
However, if a hormone imbalance occurs due to aging or menopause, a Lifeforce Diagnostic panel can show levels of over 40 biomarkers and create a picture of your overall health. If your symptoms are due to a hormone imbalance, our clinicians can identify and recommend a supplement regimen to return you to healthy levels for your age.
You can do the diagnostic at home, though the blood draw is performed by a licensed and experienced phlebotomist, then sent to a lab for analysis, with the results reviewed by our team of doctors.
How to Treat a Hormone Imbalance
The right way to treat a hormone imbalance depends on which hormone is deficient or excessive. Your physician may prescribe hormone replacement therapy to supplement low levels of a particular hormone. Medication is also available for high hormone levels, although some imbalances like hyperthyroidism may require surgery or radiation therapy.
Your hormones will change throughout your life, and some periods of imbalance are inevitable. However, a balanced approach to managing hormones includes maintaining a healthy weight through exercise and diet, stress management, and good sleep hygiene.
For example, treating estrogen dominance involves:
Maintaining a healthy weight
Eating a high-fiber, anti-inflammatory diet full of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower
Eating plenty of whole soy products that can affect estrogen metabolism
Limiting alcohol intake
Avoiding compounds like phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) that act like estrogen in the body, known as xenoestrogens
If lifestyle changes don’t improve hormonal imbalance symptoms, consider seeking medical advice.
Find out more about natural ways to balance your hormones.
Hormonal imbalances can affect people at different stages of life, commonly affecting mood, energy levels, weight gain, metabolism, and sexual function. Common culprits are estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, insulin, and appetite hormones, including ghrelin and leptin.
Hormones are a cocktail — they regularly interact, and a fine balance is necessary to operate at peak health. Diagnosing hormone imbalance typically involves blood tests, although scans may be necessary to rule out underlying conditions.
This article was medically reviewed by:
Susan Grabowski, DO, ABAARM Board Certified in Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine