What are hormones and how do they affect my health?
In order to function properly and help your body thrive, hormones must be balanced. Many things in a person’s life can tip these scales and lead to hormone imbalances, which can cause serious health issues if ignored.
The endocrine system produces and regulates your hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers carried in the bloodstream throughout the body. The glands within the endocrine system and hormones are interdependent and need each other to perform their duties. Hormones regulate metabolism and therefore affect weight loss or gain, they influence energy levels, mood swings and digestion.
What are the causes of hormone imbalance?
Technically, the most significant cause of hormonal imbalance is when one or more glands in the endocrine system over or under produce, which then will cause other hormones to be dominant. For men, low testosterone doesn’t just mean you aren’t producing enough testosterone, you may be producing too much estrogen.
One obvious cause is aging. An 80 year old man will have less energy than a 20 year old man. As we get older, testosterone and other hormone levels decline. Middle age – around 40-45 – is when testosterone begins to decline significantly in men – with total testosterone going from an average of 1000 ng/mL at age 20 to an average of 400 ng/mL. So when we have fewer hormones to begin with, we begin to acutely feel this depletion and imbalance which it makes it harder to catch up.
Another common cause of hormonal imbalance that we see in the men who visit Chambers Clinic is chronic stress, which has many forms - overwork, not enough sleep, poor diet habits, lack of exercise or movement, environmental toxins.
It’s a Catch-22. We need our hormones to manage stress. But when we’re stressed, we deplete hormones -- which we need to manage stress. It’s a vicious cycle.
What are the symptoms of hormonal imbalance?
Fatigue. Most men begin to feel the effect of hormone imbalance as fatigue. They just feel more tired than they should throughout the day. Many of our patients tell us that they eat well and work out, but fall asleep on the couch watching television in the early evening. This can be a sign of lower testosterone.
Mild sexual dysfunction. A hormonal imbalance can reduce sex drive and may cause erectile dysfunction. This is rarely the “can’t get it up” variety you assume from Viagra commercials. Many of our patients first see this show up as “soft wood”. They’re getting erections and having sex, but feel only 75-80% hard. Post-sex recovery takes much longer. And it may take a shorter (or longer) time to ejaculate, which can be frustrating, especially when it was never before an issue.
Depression or irritability. Depression and irritability are two common symptoms of hormone imbalance. That's because sex drive is not all about sex. Fatigue often is a loss of “mojo” which can have overall effects on mood and well-being. Men can suddenly feel grumpy without much provocation. Depression may feel like sadness or a lack of desire for doing things. So many times their primary care physicians will simply give them an anti-depressant – when it was their hormones all along! When a guy doesn’t recognize these symptoms, their partner often reports them to us.
Loss of muscle mass (or stalled gains). Men may also experience loss of muscle definition or high levels of physical fatigue despite workouts. Many men may also start to see a "flat tire" or "dad bod" which is a collection of fat around the abdomen that doesn't seem to go away despite good habits. If you are experiencing this despite good cardiovascular health, a healthy diet, proper sleep and managing your stress levels, getting your hormones tested should be your next step.
Stress management is the key to hormone balance.
Stress is the biggest hormone depleter there is. Why?
The adrenals – glands that sit on top of the kidneys – produce the majority of our sex hormones. They also produce cortisol, our stress hormone. We produce both sex hormones and stress hormones from the same substance (cholesterol, actually). If someone is stressed out, they are constantly producing cortisol and rarely producing sex hormones.
Picture a train track that splits in two directions. One side is for sex hormones and the other is for stress hormones. If you are constantly stressed, that switch stays on and the train always goes down the stress track. Meanwhile the sex hormone track (never switched on) never gets supplies from the train. We deplete the existing stores at the sex hormone station and never get more coming in from the train, so these decline precipitously. The residents at Sex Hormone depot essentially starve! When it comes time to have sex – or even get excited – there's not enough “food” to make it happen.
What can I do to improve testosterone level on my own?
Hard exercise is one simple thing that can help to improve testosterone levels and well-being. In sedentary males, this is often the best place to start – not running to a clinic for medication – but getting to a gym or trainer for consistent weight lifting.
This comes with a caveat – get plenty of rest between hard workouts; when the body doesn’t have enough time to recover, it is – you guessed it – a stressor – and that’s when exercise can become a chronic stress of its own (which we don’t want).
That said, clinically, we only see these things improve total testosterone around 200 points or so. Testosterone is more than a number. If you feel good, have lots of energy and a strong sex drive, then, having good lifestyle habits is often enough.
Doing everything also means avoiding those habits that destroy testosterone. These include sedentary activity, stress and building estrogens (female hormones that can build up to higher than normal levels and blunt the effects of testosterone in males), and xenoestrogens – environmental toxins, foods, fat.
If you have done everything and still feel fatigued, it may be time to discuss your hormone balance and come in for testing. Schedule a free consultation online with Dr. Wool or call 480-389-3265 to schedule a simplpe and easy test.