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How Hormonal Imbalances May Affect Recovery

By Dr. Mark Calarco, DO, MBA is CEO and Medical Director of Addiction Labs, a premium toxicology lab specializing in substance use disorder and mental health treatment.

Sober Recovery Expert Author

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Your body’s good health is important to the success of your recovery. Responsible eating and regular exercise can replace many of the bad habits that contribute to relapse, but you should also keep in mind that true healing begins within — literally.

Hormone imbalances affect more of the population than many people realize, and the number continues to rise, thanks to a variety of environmental and biological factors. These imbalances can have dramatic effects not only on your overall health, but also on your motivation, energy, and ability to adhere to a recovery program.

Responsible eating and regular exercise can replace many of the bad habits that contribute to relapse, but you should also keep in mind that true healing begins within—literally.

It may not be a secret that hormones play a role in your health, but you might not realize that they could be playing a part in your struggles with recovery as well.

Here are 5 factors that affect hormonal imbalances:

1. Poor Nutrition

Many animal products and other processed foods contain growth and steroid hormones that can pass directly to humans, disrupting our own hormonal balances. These foods also often contribute to an increase in body fat, which is hormonally active and produces estrogen, leptin, and adiponectin. The pro-inflammatory hormones that fat produces can also disrupt other hormones and the effectiveness of medication, promoting acute and chronic health issues.

Leptin and adiponectin imbalances, in turn, promote overeating and worsening obesity.

2. Alcohol and Medications

While processed foods increase hormone levels, alcohol and many medications suppress them. A lot of prescription drugs alter hormone levels, such as birth control and opioid pain medications. And most forms of alcohol contain plant phytoestrogens that can be feminizing in men.

3. Stress

Hormonal changes due to stress can increase cardiac output, disruption of the normal menstrual cycle in women and put undue strain on any pre-existing medical conditions.

Acute stress can cause a significant elevation in cortisol, which increases inflammation and blood sugar in the body, elevating the risk for many diseases or disorders. Furthermore, chronic stress — both physical and mental — can lead to a depletion of key adrenal hormones, causing recurrent illness, extreme fatigue and difficulty performing even the most basic activities.

4. Medical Issues

If you’re diabetic — or at risk for becoming diabetic — it’s important to note that you might have a higher chance of encountering hormone disorders because pre-diabetic conditions like metabolic syndrome, as well as diabetes itself, directly affect how insulin works.

5. Environmental Influences

Certain conditions, such as high altitudes, can increase levels of different hormones. For example, studies show that there is an increase in thyroid hormones at higher altitudes. And some environments contain more xenoestrogens than others, sometimes resulting in estrogen dominance.

Contrary to popular belief, excessive estrogen impacts both men and women. This disruption of the sex hormone can cause infertility and weight gain in both genders. For women alone, the consequences include irregular menses, uterine fibroids, and an increased risk of breast cancer; they can include gynecomastia, fatigue, and prostate and cardiac disorders for men.

Hormone Balance and Successful Recovery

Making such a momentous change in your life as recovery is bound to come with physical and mental stress, and your hormone balance is vital to coping with it. The good news is that we can successfully treat most hormone imbalances, and doing so improves both physical and mental health to assist in preventing relapses. Your physician can check key adrenal hormones for indications of acute and chronic stress and track your hormone levels over time to detect any changes.

If you have adrenal fatigue or burnout, you may experience a significant lack of energy, concentration, and focus, rendering you unable to comply with the steps of your recovery — despite your will and determination.

Unfortunately, most doctors don’t routinely check all key hormones, regardless of their specialties. When doctors do check, they’re often not comfortable or experienced enough to analyze and treat what they find — even during more expensive “executive physicals.”

Even if you don’t experience symptoms of hormone imbalance, encourage your physician to check before or soon after beginning your journey to recovery. Don’t assume you’re too young to experience hormone issues, and don’t let your physician make that assumption, either.

By identifying and restoring your optimum hormone levels, you can accelerate your recovery process, as well as boost your overall well-being.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, browse our directory of treatment centers or call us at 800-772-8219 to inquire about recovery options.

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