Is Hormone Balancing a Myth?

May 28, 2024


In the United States, a flood of self-help books on Hormone Balancing are published every year with each promoting a different approach to treating a variety of hormone-related issues, such as thyroid dysfunction, menopause, fluctuations due to puberty, or unwanted weight gain. Of no surprise, many of these authors sell supplements.

Since the body produces over fifty hormones and each play a crucial role in regulating and signaling bodily functions, it’s not uncommon for someone to experience hormonal problems at any age. Highly influenced by lifestyle issues and environment, sudden changes can contribute to a variety of symptoms.

Although organs and tissue produce and release hormones in very minute amounts, even small quantities of these powerful chemical messengers are enough to bring about significant changes in the body. So, a slight excess or deficiency in hormone production can lead to serious health issues.

Understanding balancing hormones…

The idea of balancing hormones is somewhat misleading. While you can’t actually balance a patient’s hormones in a literal sense, a doctor can take steps to help a patient manage fluctuations. When hormones are working well together, the benefits can be remarkable. People often notice improvements to their skin, enhanced mental focus, better memory, less mood swings, stable weight control, and increased sex drive.  

Since hormone levels naturally shift and change differently within the body, hormone balancing isn’t so much of a medical concept as it is a marketing nudge. It is, however, important to note that some people have serious dysfunctional issues like hypothyroidism, where certain hormones are underproduced, or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is a common hormone disorder among women. Nonetheless, making dietary and lifestyle changes is often helpful in restoring a healthy balance.

Hormone Balance as an Actualizable Goal

The hormonal body is complex and characterized by the microscopic chemical messengers that the brain uses to communicate with cells. Glands, organs and tissues that secrete hormones allow the brain to orchestrate growth, metabolism, sexual function, reproduction, mood, and sleep. The body’s endocrine system self-regulates through internal feedback that is instrumental in determining when and how much hormone is produced and released. So, hormonal imbalance is a broad term that encompasses various conditions, each with a different possible cause.

Despite the variability, hormonal abnormalities are a legitimate medical concern and numerous diagnosable disorders may require treatment or lifestyle changes. Common causes include medications, cancer treatments, eating disorders, stress, injury, surgical trauma, and more. Additionally, certain medical conditions like diabetes, hypothyroidism, Cushing syndrome, Addison’s disease, and thyroiditis can lead to chronic hormonal imbalances. While many imbalances necessitate treatment, others can resolve on their own.

Hormone balancing lacks clear clinical definition.

The specific hormones or glands affected determine the nature of the hormonal imbalance. While people might not be able to fully control hormone balancing, they can adopt healthy behaviors to better manage the effects. Minimizing the natural ups and downs associated with hormonal imbalances often involves spending less time in a fight-or-flight state and more time in a rest-and-recover mode. This can be aided by eating wholesome foods, staying physically active, and managing stress to ensure quality sleep.

While some hormonal imbalances necessitate treatment to maintain physical health, others may not directly impact health but can significantly affect the individual’s quality of life. This has opened the floodgates for social media influencers promoting various treatments for hormone imbalances like the loss of sexual desire. However, conditions like hypogonadism in men and low-libido in women that involve sex hormone insufficiencies require a proper diagnosis and sometimes a multidisciplinary approach to medical intervention.

Self-Care for Managing Hormone Health

By understanding the causes, effects, and management options available, patients can take proactive steps to mitigate some of the impact of hormonal ups and downs to their overall health and well-being. So while a patient can’t control everything that affects his or her hormone levels, there are practical steps that you as their doctor can recommend that support better hormone health:

  • Eat a Balanced Diet: Incorporate plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats at mealtime to ensure a balanced daily intake of nutrients, vitamins, and micronutrients to fuel the body.
  • Exercise Regularly: Physical activity can help regulate hormones and improve mood and energy levels. Exercise directly impacts chemical neurotransmitters and the brain runs the show.
  • Quit Smoking: Tobacco use and smoking can damage messaging for key reproductive hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, as well as prolactin and thyroid hormones.
  • Manage Stress: Techniques like meditation, yoga, and deep-breathing exercises can help reduce stress hormones. High cortisol levels interfere with other hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
  • Get Enough Sleep: When a patient struggles to get enough shut-eye, it could be due chemical discrepancies. Moreover, quality of sleep has a profound impact on hormone regulation.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drinking enough water is essential for maintaining healthy bodily functions, including hormone production and regulation. We can’t live without it, so water is crucial for hormone balance.

For most of patients and doctors, there likely isn’t a lot you can do to change the stress encountered every day. So, when there isn’t an underlying medical cause of imbalance that needs to be treated, most of us can mitigate some of the ill-effects of mental, physical and emotional stressors by eating healthy, developing a daily exercise routine, and getting enough quality sleep every day.

Can an aspiring doctor fix imbalances?

Many hormonal imbalances are simply not preventable. That’s because the body produces different amounts of hormones and some hormones are broken down more slowly as we age. In addition, target tissues that receive the hormone can become less sensitive to chemical messengers, even though there is a sufficient level of hormone production. Although many conditions that lead to hormone imbalance can be well managed, treatment options invariably depend on what’s causing the discrepancy and which hormone is deficient.

There are numerous changes in hormone production and release that’s related to natural aging. If a man or woman has lower-than-normal levels of sex hormones, the treatment protocol often involves hormone replacement therapy. But balancing testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone levels is quite complex, and most often not as easy as taking an over-the-counter supplement or simply changing one’s diet. Other disorders require daily management of hormone balance, such as insulin injections for diabetes or prescribing thyroid medications.  

As a medical student, the bad news is you are both aging and subject to many of the same environmental culprits for hormone imbalance like stress, anxiety, depression, poor eating habits, inconsistent sleep patterns, and lack of a daily exercise routine. But, with the proper mindset, you do have some control over these factors. As a physician, you are going to face many of the same challenges in practicing medicine. So, now is the perfect time to put your own health on the right path by being more mindful of hormonal cause-and-effects.

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Dr. Hans Wolf devoted decades to developing WOLFPACC’s “The Power 5” Methodology for helping medical students understand how to apply the basic sciences that they learned in medical school to the practice of medicine. If you’re ready to be the best physician you can be, contact us today to schedule a USMLE or COMLEX review program.