Endocrinology: Understanding and Detecting Hormone Imbalances

Hidden causes of common diseases


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The endocrine (or glandular) system is arguably one of the most complex body systems we know of. Endocrinologists are only starting to uncover the intricate relationship between the glands and the hormones they secrete. Hormones are chemical “messengers” that, after secretion, travel to other parts of the body and signal tissues (often other glands) to do or stop doing their respective function. Together they control vital functions like reproduction, stress response, metabolism, immunity and blood sugar regulation, among other things. The glands that make up this system include the:

  • Pituitary
  • Pineal
  • Hypothalamus
  • Thyroid
  • Parathyroids
  • Adrenals
  • Ovaries
  • Testes
  • Thymus
  • Pancreas

An imbalance in any of these glands essentially means that the glands are under or over-producing their respective hormones. These imbalances can present themselves as a wide number of symptoms. Oftentimes they are misdiagnosed and mistreated as they are attributed to something else. By treating the symptoms, the underlying imbalance is never corrected and may continue for years; getting progressively worse. Some of the most common symptoms of hormone imbalance are:


  • PMS (all types): characterized by breast tenderness and swelling, abdominal bloating, cravings, anxiety, depression, heavy bleeding and pain 7-10 days before menstruation.
  • Irregular periods (dysmenorrhea) or absence of period (amenorrhea)
  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), cervical dysplasia, endometriosis
  • Menopausal symptoms:  hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, insomnia, decreased libido and mood swings
  • Fertility issues
  • Weight gain that is non-responsive to dietary changes or exercise


  • Low sex drive/libido, erectile dysfunction or erections that are not as strong as usual
  • Mood changes. This sometimes comes with a loss of intellectual activity, fatigue, depression, anger, and poor spatial orientation.
  • Mental fatigue or inability to concentrate
  • Insomnia and poor sleep quality
  • Reduction in lean body mass reduces along loss of muscle mass and strength.
  • A loss of body hair.
  • Bone density decreases resulting in osteoporosis. Osteoporosis can lead to higher incidences of bone fractures and breaks.
  • An increase in abdominal and visceral fat (ie. fat around internal organs)

As you can see from the lists above, these are a wide spread of symptoms. The issues then becomes: how do we figure out precisely what hormones are out of balance and where their levels are at?

Serum Testing

The default for decades has always been serum (blood) testing. This has some serious limitations to it. Most serum tests define the normal range of hormones very broadly, which is a distinct disadvantage to their use. After blood has been drawn, a portion of the blood sample (the serum) is used to measure hormone levels. Most serum testing measures the level of “free” hormone (the hormone that can easily enter the cell), the level of the “total” hormone (the hormone attached to substances that carry hormones in the bloodstream), or a calculated combination of both free and total levels of hormone. It is not an accurate reflection of the bio-available hormone (the amount of hormone that is active in organs and tissues).In addition, the results of the serum testing are often inconsistent, especially if the hormone value indicated is in the low-normal range. Another limitation is what time of the month/day they are taken. The values can fluctuate widely in conjunction with the menstrual cycle.

Many women whose serum test results are normal cannot understand why they continue to experience the symptoms of hormone imbalance.

Saliva and Urine Hormone Testing

Hormones pass into saliva from the cell membranes of the salivary gland. In other words, hormones must pass through saliva gland tissue to get into saliva, which means that a saliva hormone level measures delivery of hormone to tissue (cells) from the various reservoirs in blood. The same is true for urine. Because saliva and urine reflect what actually gets into tissue rather than what might eventually get into tissue, it better reflects tissue (bio-available) hormone levels. Over years of clinical practice, it has been shown that these types of testing are the most accurate measurement of the body’s availability of the hormones  Cortisol,  DHEA,    EstrogenProgesterone, and Testosterone.

Saliva and urine tests are much more specific and correctly identify the level of hormones at the cellular level, in contrast to a serum (blood) test, which measures the level of hormones circulating in the bloodstream.

The big difference between saliva and urine testing (such as the DUTCH test) is this: saliva simply gives us a quantitative value of hormone levels. The DUTCH test gives you this, plus it shows how you break down and metabolize all the hormones. To this end, DUTCH testing is superior (although saliva testing has its time and place)

saliva and urine testing is the most accurate measurement of the body’s availability of the hormones

There are a number of different ‘panels’ to choose from. They are painless, quick and can be performed at home by the patient/client.


Once you know what the exact levels are, the right type of therapy can be embarked upon. My top picks for balancing hormones include:

  • Indole 3 carbinol (I-3-C), D.I.M, calcium-d-glucarate
  • brassica family foods (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, etc – eaten cooked/steamed only as these can interfere with thyroid function))
  • eggs, onions, garlic
  • adrenal support nutrients including glandulars, B-complex (B5 esp), vitamin C, potassium, sodium, magnesium
  • ‘female’ herbs such as Dong Quai, Chasteberry (Vitex), Black and Blue coshosh
  • zinc, selenium and copper for general glandular health but particularly thyroid hormone conversion

By no means is this list complete and for maximum effectiveness some of these should be combined. It is highly recommended that you get some form of testing done before you embark on a hormone-balancing regimen; so that you are not shooting in the dark. It’s also important to be patient – it took a long time to get to where to you are, it won’t necessarily be a short road back.

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