Unless you're thinking about your period, fertility, or a big change like menopause, your hormones probably aren't top of mind during an average week. But sometimes, even when life feels like business as usual, those hormones can be out of balance.
To find out more about why our hormones act up, we chatted with GP, Dr Sarah Tedjasukmana.
Hormones play a key part in keeping many of our bodily functions running smoothly — menstrual cycles, sleep, weight, libido, food digestion, blood sugar levels, stress — so a shift in the status quo can be significant.
"Sometimes an imbalance is a temporary state that is easily reversible. If I choose to party all weekend and get my sleep hormones out of whack, I can fix that with some restful days and a few good nights of sleep," explains Dr Tedjasukmana. "But sometimes the imbalances are signs of underlying illnesses such as thyroid disease, diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome or endometriosis."
Given our hormones have many roles, the signs that they are off kilter can vary and, frustratingly, many of the symptoms can also have other causes.
Dr Tedjasukmana reassures us that by staying across the below warning signs and booking an appointment with your GP if you're worried, you should be able to maintain balanced hormone levels.
1. Menstrual irregularity
"If you menstruate, track your cycle so that you know what is normal for you," advises Dr Tedjasukmana. "That way, if you notice any changes like less frequent periods or severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS), you'll know it's time to check in with your doctor."
2. Poor sleep
If you're not getting enough sleep, and the sleep you do clock is interrupted, it can be a sign that your hormones are out of whack, so pay attention to your sleep patterns.
Dr Tedjasukmana explains that in a broad sense, sleep is probably the number one thing to help hormones stay balanced. Ideally, we should go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
"Your body follows circadian rhythms that work like an internal body clock. Being consistent with your sleep habits helps keep this regular. Changing things up all the time only confuses it," says Dr Tedjasukmana.
Given our main sleep hormone is melatonin, which we produce in response to darkness, it's best to wake up in the early morning light as that's when this hormone switches off and tells the body it's daytime.
3. Hormonal acne
As you likely remember from high school, changes in hormones can wreak havoc on your skin. For adults, breakouts are often referred to as hormonal acne. Dr Jo-Ann See, Dermatologist and founder of All About Acne, explains that most often, this kind of acne appears regularly and in women aged 25 and over and is often related to the menstruation cycle.
"It's your body's natural hormones that are triggering your oil glands," says Dr See. "The most important thing is to diagnose it because it's a completely different subset to teenage acne. This type of acne is longer-term and you certainly don't want to miss it if you have an underlying polycystic ovary syndrome."
Dr See doesn't like to see patients sucked into spending a lot of time and money on their acne when it comes to managing it. Instead of splurging on harsh treatments and potions, Dr See suggests seeing a doctor and spending on a low-priced un-clogging cleanser like the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Foaming Gel Cleanser. If that doesn't work, some people will then need to see a specialist dermatologist for further acne treatment.
4. Change in appetite
Protein triggers the satiety hormones that tell us when we're full and should stop eating, so a low or increased appetite can mean your hormones are off.
Dr Tedjasukmana advises that healthy hormone balance is not about the number on the scales but more about a well-balanced diet. Along with protein, she recommends lots of fruit and veg, good fats, fibre for maintaining gut health and avoiding too much sugar because of its impact on insulin levels.
5. Feeling flat
People who menstruate will be familiar with how hormones can mess with your mood. But many of us have come to expect swings at certain points of our cycle. Feeling flat at other times can often be brushed off and blamed on work or a busy week. Keep an eye on changes in how you feel, whether it's fatigue, extra stress, low mood, or a lacklustre libido — they can all point to haywire hormones.
Our hormones usually run a tight ship, so look out for any changes to your mind and body and chat to your doctor if you have any concerns.