Hormones seem to come up most frequently as pesky little chemicals that cause mood swings. But did you know that they’re actually part of an extensive and important system that’s responsible for a wide range of bodily functions including metabolism, sleep cycles, and skin health?

So, it is critical that we protect our hormones. Without all our hormones playing together in a perfect symphony, we are simply not ourselves.

The symptoms may differ from person to person, and the situations may vary, but the most common sentiment of people dealing with hormone imbalance is, “I just don’t feel like myself.” From mood swings to fatigue, hormones affect and influence many areas of our health and beauty. Here are the most common signs that you may be dealing with a hormonal imbalance:

Mood swings

The female hormone estrogen has an effect on neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin (a chemical that boosts mood). Fluctuations in estrogen can cause premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or depressed mood during perimenopause (the phase before periods stop completely) and menopause.

Unexplained weight gain

A number of hormone-related conditions can cause weight gain, including an under-active thyroid (when your thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones which regulate metabolism), Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (a hormone-related problem causing small cysts on the ovaries), and menopause (which results in hormonal changes that can make you more likely to gain weight around your abdomen). 

Insomnia and poor-quality sleep

During perimenopause and menopause, the ovaries gradually produce less estrogen and progesterone, which both promote sleep. Falling estrogen levels may also contribute to night sweats, which can contribute to fatigue and lack of energy.

Fatigue or low energy

Any hormone can lead to low energy, so it’s important to get them all checked out. One of your clues can be understanding where in your monthly cycle this drop in energy occurs. If it’s happening as soon as your cycle starts, it may be that you have too much estrogen on hand. If it’s happening weeks before your cycle, then low progesterone is likely to blame.

On the other hand, deep fatigue that lasts all month may be more of an issue with your cortisol levels or your thyroid, both of which need support if you’re stressed. High and low cortisol can create fatigue, including brain fog, the afternoon slump, or that feeling of being “wired but tired.” A sluggish or overactive thyroid can create fatigue that includes muscle cramps, weakness, poor exercise tolerance, and even shortness of breath.

Belly fat

Weight loss seems to be a challenge for women as they navigate through various phases of their lives like adolescence, their 20s, the fertility years, perimenopause, and beyond. It’s the unpredictable hormone shifts that are a challenge to women and can leave them starving and overexercising their way to weight loss.

If you’re struggling with abdominal weight, the hormone insulin is most likely to blame, along with its buddy, cortisol. Both hormones spike in response to stress and encourage the storage of abdominal fat. The keys to weight loss here are to improve digestion and level out insulin and cortisol levels.

Heavier breasts

Increasing cup size is a warning sign that your estrogen levels may be climbing, or that you may not be breaking down estrogen effectively. In the same sense, a decrease in cup size is a sign that your estrogen levels are too low.

Low libido

Low libido is particularly common in women going through perimenopause or menopause due to falling levels of estrogen and testosterone (although known as a male hormone, women also have testosterone). Other menopausal symptoms such as night sweats, fatigue, low mood, and anxiety can also have an impact on your sex life.

Skin problems

Your skin is one of the largest organs in the body, and the skin on your face always tells a story. Pale, dull complexions are considered a deficiency state — a sign that the body does not have what it needs to balance hormones.

A reddish hue to the complexion hints at a congested liver that leads to more trouble balancing and detoxifying your hormones. Acne on your chin and jaw area are a definite sign of unbalanced hormones, usually high androgens, trouble with insulin or with estrogen, and progesterone imbalance.

Just knowing some of these signs and symptoms of hormone imbalances will empower you to take action on your hormones and protect them for years to come.