Mood swings, excess hair, night sweats… Hormone imbalance is at the root of many of our health problems. Jo Macfarlane explains that there are revolutionary treatments available to help us no longer live in pain. 


  From the moment of our first period to the slings and arrows of the menopause and beyond, hormones play a huge role in our everyday health. Hormones have a profound impact on everything, from happiness to fertility and weight. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which increases the levels of female sex hormones, oestrogen, and progesterone, has been an effective solution for many years.

Contrary to popular belief, though, HRT is not just for the menopause – different forms of the medication can be used to address an imbalance of other hormones in the body at any time of life.

As Dr Gareth Nye, ambassador for the Society for Endocrinology explains, our bodies have around 50 major hormones, known as the ‘endocrine system’ – all excreted by our glands and which instruct cells to perform a particular task. ‘Our hormones are all linked; they’re a network, so changes in one area have knock-on effects elsewhere,’ Dr Nye says. The hormones, a type of signalling molecular that governs all systems in the body including their efficiency, are an example of a signalling molecule. When they are imbalanced, the effects can be significant – and this is when it might be time to go to your GP. Here are some of our most common problems – and the hormones that may be causing them…


You might want to replenish your testosterone. While it’s often assumed to be an exclusively male sex hormone, women actually produce three to four times more testosterone than oestrogen during their 20s and 30s. It’s still at far lower levels than in men, but it plays a crucial role in brain health by increasing the amount of dopamine in the body – a chemical messenger which plays a role in thinking, decision-making and pleasure.

As testosterone levels decline with age, so does oestrogen. Not all women will notice the effects, but experts say that, if after starting on standard HRT treatment, you’re still left with symptoms such as low mood, insomnia, anxiety and a lacklustre libido, then testosterone replacement might be the answer. It’s been credited with restoring women’s sex drive and ‘transforming’ our mental health.

Evidence suggests that low levels of testosterone may make people more susceptible to developing heart disease. It may also protect you from this.

say experts, but could also protect women’s muscle mass and brittle bones from osteoporosis. You should first attempt standard HRT. If you experience symptoms like anxiety, insomnia, and low libido then it is worth trying testosterone cream.

Contact your GP if you think that you could be benefited from testosterone. Some private doctors can also recommend their own product. The availability of testosterone to British women is set to increase with the advent of an Australian cream developed especially for women called AndroFeme – the company behind it plans to submit an application for a UK licence later this year.

Is your hair too greasy?

Sometimes it could be too much testosterone. The brain produces some of the crucial hormone, but the majority comes from the adrenal glands and the ovaries. Normal levels of testosterone may be disturbed if the adrenal glands and ovaries fail to function correctly.

One in 10 women suffering from polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (which causes the ovaries and eggs to grow larger) may experience an increase in testosterone production. Excessive hair can be seen on the head and body. Similar effects can be caused by medications such as anti-inflammatories and steroids that affect the adrenal gland. You can try a contraceptive pill that balances the hormones and an eflornithine cream, which slows down the growth of unwelcome facial hair.


As the menopause nears, this could be an indication of a decrease in oestrogen. Oestrogen helps to regulate the body’s metabolism and body weight by acting on another hormone called leptin.

Leptin is a hormone that makes you feel fuller after eating. As oestrogen levels decline naturally, leptin levels also drop and your appetite increases. Study after study also showed that how fat is distributed around the body shifts as women approach menopause. Even if we don’t put on weight, fat stores are shifted to the abdomen. The release of cortisol hormone can lead to extra weight in the middle.

Hormones govern all our bodies’ systems and how they run 

It’s important to take steps to prevent or reverse this weight gain. An excess of weight around your abdomen can increase the likelihood of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It is also known that it may lead to certain cancers, including colon, breast and endometrial.

A Mediterranean diet based on whole foods, with limited processed carbohydrates and sugary products, will help – as will regular exercise and reducing stress.

Do you feel tired or irritable?

It is possible that you are resistant to insulin. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas in order to maintain blood sugar levels. Normally, insulin works as the ‘key’ to unlock the cells in our muscles, fat and liver, allowing glucose to enter and provide energy.

But if we’re storing too much fat around the pancreas and liver, and regularly have high blood sugar, our cells can become ‘insulin resistant’, which means they no longer take in glucose and the sugar stays in the blood. The excess water ends up in the urine and causes thirst and dehydration. Type 2 diabetes is a serious condition that affects 4 million people and causes severe problems like high blood pressure, heart disease and nerve damage.

It’s important to see your GP if you’re feeling very tired or thirsty all the time, and have an increased need to urinate. Itchy genitals and blurred vision are other symptoms. You don’t have to be overweight – although obesity is a major risk factor for type 2, it is thought to be linked to how and where individuals store fat. Weight loss can bring the condition under control. Metformin and other blood sugar-lowering medications can be used to manage it.


This could indicate excessive oestrogen. Your GP should check you as it has been associated with an increase in the risk of uterine carcinoma.

The endometrium – the tissue which lines the uterus – is particularly sensitive to oestrogen. This grows during the menstrual cycle to prepare for an egg to be released, and is shed – prompting menstruation – when that egg isn’t fertilised.

Excessive oestrogen intake can lead to tissue growth problems, which could result in endometrial carcinoma. This is the most common form of cancer that affects almost 10,000 UK women each year. These women are especially at-risk if they have not been pregnant.

‘It’s as though your body knows what normal growth is to support a pregnancy, but if you haven’t been pregnant, the endometrium thinks it has to keep on growing,’ Dr Nye says.

You may have other causes: fibroids or chlamydia can cause unusual bleeding.

It’s also normal to have some irregular bleeding in the first few months after starting a new contraceptive pill. See your GP about any changes that are not normal for you – such as bleeding in between periods, very heavy periods or bleeding after the menopause.



It is possible that you are overproducing cortisol. Stress activates the body’s ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. The adrenal gland releases cortisol when that happens. Known as the ‘stress hormone’, it causes blood pressure to rise – an important mechanism designed to prepare us to react.

But regularly releasing too much cortisol can lead to a condition called Cushing’s syndrome. A distinctive pattern of weight loss on the stomach and chest, as well as fat accumulation on the shoulders and back, and an appearance of a puffy or reddened face is the most common symptom. The most common cause alongside stress is medication – anything that works on the adrenal gland, such as anti-inflammatories and steroids taken to treat asthma, rheumatoid arthritis or eczema.

The condition is four times more common in people with it. However, the symptoms can often be controlled with medication. It’s also advisable to reduce stress levels and avoid high-fat foods.

 For more expert information about hormones and your health, visit the Society for Endocrinology’s You and Your Hormones pages at