Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
Hormones are important chemical substances that control and regulate many different bodily functions. The endocrine system is made up of hormones, the glands that secrete them, and the receptor cells that react to them.
When there’s a good balance in this system, hormones support many important systems such as fertility, metabolism, and normal development.However, imbalances in the endocrine system can lead to a range of different health problems such as fatigue, low libido, and sleep problems as well as other complaints associated with each gland. It's important to identify hormonal imbalances so that you can take steps to fix the problem.
What are hormones?
Hormones are chemicals that regulate various processes in the body. Different hormones are produced by different glands all over the body. After being produced in the glands, the hormones are released into the bloodstream where they are recognized by receptor cells in various tissues of the body. When a hormone is recognized, it initiates a reaction in these cells.
The main glands that produce hormones include:
- The hypothalamus, which is located in the brain and regulates the entire endocrine system.
- The pituitary gland, which is located in the brain as well and produces hormones that cause a reaction from other endocrine glands.
- The pineal gland, which is also located in the brain and is important for the sleep-wake cycle.
- The thyroid gland, which is located in the neck region and is important for growth and metabolism. As it’s linked to the metabolism, thyroid hormones and weight loss or gain are often linked.
- The parathyroid gland, which is located behind the thyroid gland, has a key role in calcium regulation
- The adrenal glands, which are located on top of the kidneys and regulate blood pressure, the water-salt balance in the body, and glucose metabolism.
- The pancreas, which is located behind the stomach and helps regulate the blood sugar level.
- The gonads, which are the testes and ovaries. These are the reproductive glands. They produce hormones that are important for reproductive cycles, development, and behavior.
Besides these glands, hormones are also produced in fat tissues, the gut, liver, kidneys, and placenta. 1 2
What do hormones do?
Hormones are important for various processes in the body. They send chemical messages to several tissues in the body, which will then respond. Hormones regulate:
- Metabolism and appetite
- The sleep cycle
- Body temperature
- Blood sugar levels
- Reproductive cycles
Which symptoms can hormone imbalances cause?
Hormones are only created in small amounts. However, when there’s too little or too much of a certain hormone present in the body, this can cause a hormonal imbalance. There are various reasons why a hormonal imbalance can occur, as various factors affect the hormonal system.Some of these factors are: 3 4
- Food intake
- Environmental factors
- Medical conditions such as genetic conditions, polycystic ovary syndrome, and hormone producing tumors
- Sleep rhythm.
Hormone levels vary according to the life stage you’re in. Pregnancy hormones such asprogesterone and estrogen also cause a shift in the hormonal balance.
Hormonal imbalances can also be caused by underlying conditions. This is why it’s important to visit your doctor when you’re experiencing symptoms such as: 5 6 7
- Feeling tired with no physical explanation
- Shifts in weight without any known cause
- Low libido and vaginal dryness
- Digestive issues
- Fertility problems
- Trouble sleeping
- Skin problems or thinning hair
- Issues with body temperature
Imbalances can look different in everyone and can cause a variety of symptoms depending on which hormones are affected.
How to balance hormones?
It’s important to go to the doctor to determine and treat the cause of the hormonal imbalance. By treating the cause, the balance can often be restored. Depending on the cause, treatment may require lifestyle changes, hormonal contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy, other medication, or surgery.
Common lifestyle changes for treating hormone imbalances include better stress management, maintaining a healthy sleep cycle and exercise. On top of that, you can also use foods to balance hormones. 8
Maintaining good hormonal health is important, as persistent imbalances can lead to the development of several conditions such as infertility, diabetes, and thyroid disease. 5 6 9
What types of hormones exist?
Each gland of the endocrine system produces a number of hormones that affect various systems in the body. Overall, there are more than 50 hormones present in the human body that are all involved in different processes.
Here’s an overview of the hormones produced by the major glands: 2
- Corticotropin releasing hormone
- Gonadotropin releasing hormone
- Growth hormone-releasing hormone
- Thyrotropin-releasing hormone
- Somatostatin. ref10 ref11
Anterior pituitary gland
- Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
- Growth hormone (GH)
- Luteinizing hormone (LH)
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)
- Prolactin. ref12
Posterior pituitary gland
- Antidiuretic hormone (ADH)
- Oxytocin. ref13
- Serotonin. ref10
- Thyroxine (T4)
- Triiodothyronine (T3)
- Reverse triiodothyronine (RT3)
- Calcitonin. ref13 ref14
- Parathyroid hormone (PTH). ref14
- Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
- Noradrenaline. ref15
- Glucagon. ref16
- Estrogen (estrone, estriol, and estradiol)
- Testosterone. ref17
- Testosterone. ref18
When should hormone levels be tested?
Hormone levels should be tested when you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of a hormonal imbalance. Your hormone levels can help determine whether you have a certain condition, but they can also be used to check how well hormonal medication is working.
The most common reasons why people get their hormones checked are fertility issues, fatigue, or a shift in metabolism.
Where can I get my hormone levels checked?
You can get your hormone levels checked by your general practitioner. You can also go to a doctor specialized in the endocrine system called an endocrinologist. To determine which hormone levels will have to be tested, your doctor will ask you about the symptoms you’re experiencing. Your hormone levels can be checked in various ways:
- The most common way is to take a blood sample. One blood sample can be used to check the levels of various hormones, such as testosterone, estrogen, cortisol, and thyroid hormones.
- Other hormones can be checked in your saliva as well. This is the case for estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone.
- Specific tests exist for some hormones as well, such as the sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) test and the free androgen index. These are tests that can provide information about sex hormones, in particular about testosterone. 10 11
After the bloodwork, your doctor may want to check a certain gland in particular using an ultrasound or an MRI. A sperm count or a pap smear might also be useful to determine the cause of a hormonal imbalance. 12
Q: What is the definition of hormones?
Hormones are chemical substances that are produced by glands all over the body. They regulate important processes such as our development and metabolism.
Q: Where are hormones produced?
Hormones are produced by glands situated in various parts of the body such as the brain, on top of the kidneys, and in the pancreas.
Q: Who should take hormone supplements?
Hormone replacement therapy is often recommended for women with menopausal symptoms. Your doctor can give you accurate advice for your specific situation.
Q: What’s a hormone specialist doctor called?
An endocrinologist is a doctor that is specialized in the hormonal system, its conditions, and possible treatments.
Q: Does one's diet help with hormone production?
Maintaining a healthy diet is important to keep your hormones balanced. Some important macro and micronutrients support our body in the production of hormones.
Q: What supplement is good for balancing hormones?
Magnesium, vitamin B, and omega 3 fatty acids are important to maintain good hormonal balance. Your doctor can give you advice on whether or not you need to take supplements.
Q: What are bioidentical hormones?
Bioidentical hormones are man-made hormones created from plant sources. As they are almost identical to the hormones our glands produce, they can be used for hormone replacement therapy.
Q: Are hormones proteins?
Some hormones are proteins and are called peptide hormones. Others are called steroid hormones and are derived from cholesterol.
Q: What’s the difference between water soluble hormones and lipid soluble hormones?
Their main difference is that lipid soluble hormones can pass through cell membranes, whereas water soluble hormones can’t. This affects the place where they will bind to the receptor cells.
CDC (2020). Hormone disorders. Accessed May 20, 2022.
EPA. What is the endocrine system?. Accessed May 11, 2022.
Endocrine society (2022). Hormones and endocrine function. Accessed May 11, 2022.
Skvortsova A. et al. (2021). Food anticipatory hormonal responses: A systematic review of animal and human studies. Accessed May 12, 2022.
NHS (2021). Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Accessed May 20, 2022.
Cruz-Flores S. et al (2021). Neurological Complications of Endocrine Emergencies. Accessed May 23, 2022.
Martin-Grace J. et al. (2020). Adrenal insufficiency: Physiology, clinical presentation and diagnostic challenges. Accessed May 20,2022.
NHS (2018). Menopause and natural ways to cope. Accessed May 20, 2022.
NHS (2019). Hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Accessed May 12, 2022.
NHS (2017). Free Androgen Index(FAI). Accessed May 14, 2022.
Qu X. et al. (2020). Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin (SHBG) as an Early Biomarker and Therapeutic Target in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Accessed May 14, 2022.
Health testing centers Hormone imbalance and hormone level testing. Accessed May 14, 2022.