Female Hormone Imbalance—What Hypothyroidism, Oxytocin, Menopause, and Libido May Have in Common
Female hormone levels fluctuate throughout life. During adolescence, young adulthood, midlife, and the later years, hormones rise and fall depending on the body’s need for particular functions. Illness, injury, or congenital defects can also impact hormone levels. These powerful chemical messengers are necessary to activate various physical processes including, metabolism, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause. At any time throughout the life cycle, a female hormone imbalance can occur, causing a host of medical and psychological conditions. These can include, hypothyroidism, mood disorders, premenstrual syndrome, and menopause.
Hypothyroidism and Thyroid Function
The thyroid gland located at the base of the neck produces a potent hormone. This thyroid hormone travels to several parts of the body and controls certain metabolic processes including, the number of calories burned, and the rate of the heart. Thyroid conditions are much more common in women than in men. In fact, one out of every eight women will develop a thyroid problem serious enough to negatively impact her life.
The thyroid contributes to control over flow of menstrual periods, how regular they are, and whether or not they stop altogether, as in the case of amenorrhea. Hypothyroidism occurs when the body does not make enough thyroid hormone to carry out certain functions, including metabolism. Causes of hypothyroidism include the condition known as, “Hashimoto’s disease” whereby the body’s own immune system attacks the thyroid, rendering it unable to produce enough thyroid hormone. Other causes of diminished thyroid function include cancer and radio iodine treatment necessary to treat hyperthyroidism.
Signs and symptoms tend to develop slowly over a period of years and include:
- Feeling cold
- Muscle weakness
- Weight gain
- Pain in the muscles or joints
- Dry skin
- Thinning hair
- Dry hair
- Low voice
- Hoarse voice
- Minimal sweating
- Swelling in the face
- Very heavy menstrual bleeding
- High LDL (bad cholesterol)
Treatment for hypothyroidism is generally ongoing and maintained through synthetic thyroid medication that mimics the body’s own natural thyroid hormone.
Oxytocin—For Love and Reproduction
The hormone, oxytocin plays an important role in a woman’s life as it facilitates love, sex, and reproduction. Research indicates that oxytocin even plays a part in social bonding and maternal behaviors. This peptide, made up of nine amino acids is primarily responsible for inducing uterine contractions in childbirth. Also dubbed the “cuddling hormone” for its ability to promote feelings of trust, closeness, and attachment, oxytocin is an important part of sexual function, orgasm, breast milk ejection, and stress as well. Research finds that an oxytocin imbalance could be the key to unlocking treatment for many mood disorders  and medical conditions such as, OCD, depression, bipolar disorder, autism, premature ejaculation, osteoporosis, diabetes and cancer. Further research on augmentation with oxytocin injections continues.
Menopause and PMS—The Female Hormone Imbalance
The natural cycle created by menstruation in women causes many physical, mental, and psychological changes to occur, depending on the time of the month, and other environmental factors. Many of these changes, while historically common, are the result of a hormonal imbalance in the female body. Both menopause and PMS can create uncomfortable symptoms serious enough to require medical treatment.
Psychological effects of PMS include:
- Feelings of rejection
- Feelings of being overwhelmed
- Social withdrawal
Physical symptoms include:
- Feelings of tiredness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increase in appetite
- Breast tenderness
- Swollen arms, legs, hands, or feet
- Muscular aches 
Menopause and its Effects
When menopause occurs, the natural cycle of menstruation ends altogether. This is due to changing hormone levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. These changes, while generally natural can cause significant emotional and physical changes. Many women experience a sense of relief and freedom in menopause while others feel a sense of loss at the inability to bear children any longer. The period leading up to menopause, referred to, as “perimenopause” can be fraught with depression, mood swings, anxiety and sleeplessness for some women. Physical symptoms may also include fatigue, weight gain, irritability, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness.
Libido Enhancement—Testosterone to Blame?
Sexual response in human beings, including desire, arousal and ultimately, behavior is complex as it involves various neurotransmitters, peptides and sex hormones. It is also influenced by culture, values, uncertainty, and newness in a partner or activity. The role that the hormone, testosterone plays in female libido is under study. Currently, 10%-15% of adult women experience hypoactive sexual desire, or low libido. The majority of these are menopausal. As women approach menopause (or undergo surgical menopause through hysterectomy) testosterone levels may decline, contributing to a decrease in female sex drive. While some studies conclude that female libido enhancement through testosterone therapy may be successful, treatment with testosterone for women has not been FDA approved in the U.S. Amidst concerns involving cardiovascular health and cancer risks, some physicians however, continue to prescribe testosterone, “off label” to female patients with low libido.
The delicate balance of female hormones necessary to carry out a number of physical functions relies on the timely release of chemical messengers. Throughout the natural progression of aging (and sometimes due to illness or congenital defect) hormones change accordingly. This can create a significant hormone imbalance. Identifying the underlying cause of a hormone surplus or deficiency is key to understanding and treating many serious medical conditions successfully.
3 LLC, T.W. (2017) What is the thyroid? Available at: https://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/thyroid-disease.html (Accessed: 7 January 2017).
5 Menstruation, menopause, and mental health (2010) Available at: https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/menstruation-menopause/ (Accessed: 7 January 2017).
6 White, K.C. (2017) Transdermal testosterone for menopause-related Hyposexual desire disorder: Current guidelines and provider perceptions, knowledge, and practice. Available at: http://scholarworks.uvm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1692&context=graddis (Accessed: 7 January 2017).