Every time you go to the doctor for a physical, one key area of your health is likely going untested: your hormone levels.
A whopping 80 percent of women suffer from hormonal imbalances, and because these chemical messengers tell our organs what to do and when, our bodies can get very confused when they're out of whack.
There are hundreds of lifestyle choices and natural biological factors that can skew our hormone levels, ranging from pregnancy to diet to contraceptive pills and beyond. For these reasons, I used to beg my doctor to include hormone testing in my routine checkups. But now, I just monitor my levels using at-home test kits.
Regardless of how you go about keeping tabs on your hormones, it's important that you do it on a yearly basis. They have such a powerful effect on our bodies; we can't afford to take them lightly.
In between your yearly tests, be on the lookout for these four symptoms that might indicate you have an imbalance on your hands:
1. Trouble falling asleep: Sleep is the foundation of good health and well-being. During these restful hours, our bodies are busy detoxifying and adjusting themselves — and part of this process includes regulating our hormone levels.
The three major hormones linked to sleep are cortisol (the stress response hormone), growth hormone (one that helps build muscle and tissue), and melatonin (a hormone that regulates our internal clocks). If you're struggling to sleep because of stress or general restlessness, the levels of these key hormones are likely down for the count.
2. Stubborn weight gain: If you're eating healthy and working out regularly but still just can't seem to shed those five extra pounds, there's a chance something is up with your hormones.
When it comes to regulating how your body processes food, your hormones and thyroid run the show. If your insulin, cortisol, leptin, or ghrelin levels are off, you're going to have an awfully hard time seeing the results you want to see from your commitment to healthy living.
3. Sneaky mood swings: Overreacting to things that would normally not upset you is a big red flag. If anxiety or mood swings (or both) are starting to interfere with your day-to-day life, it's probably time to check your hormones. In fact, this is often an early sign of menopause.
4. Skin and hair changes: Lastly, thyroid glands produce hormones that, when imbalanced, can cause issues with your skin and hair. It's not a tell-all sign, but if you have dry or itchy skin anywhere on your body — or if your hair is thinning — you have a good reason to investigate your hormone levels.
All in all, while there are many lifestyle changes you can make to help keep your hormones healthy, the most important thing to do is to stay on top of your levels and catch the warning signs early. Listen to what your body is telling you, and don't feel like you have to accept these changes as normal.
Take charge of your health, test your hormones regularly, and be on the lookout for the common symptoms of imbalance.
Originally from Turkey, Zeynep Ilgaz and her husband immigrated to the United States with two suitcases, their love for each other, and a desire for entrepreneurship. They co-founded Confirm BioSciences and TestCountry in San Diego, and Ilgaz serves as president of both. Confirm BioSciences offers service-oriented testing technologies for drugs of abuse and health.