Hormones, Happiness & Health – a Brief Guide for Women
Just the mention of the word can result in a roll of the eyes, a sigh or groan.
The word hormone itself, is derived from the Greek word Impetus or “setting in motion.” This name perfectly describes the functionality of hormones, they have the power to affect almost every part of our mind, body and wellbeing, positively and negatively.
These powerful molecules can influence and define every moment of our lives: growth, mood, sex drive, appetite, sleep, heart health, immune system, metabolism and of course, reproduction. Nicely balanced, we feel happy and healthy. Our skin is glowing, our monthly cycles are regular, our hair is shampoo-ad shiny, we can maintain a steady body weight and boast a satisfying sex drive. Women produce four main hormones, some of which will sound familiar:
Oestrogen - the sex hormone which plays a pivotal role in regulating the menstrual cycle and reproductive system
Testosterone - considered a typically male hormone but in women influences growth and behaviour
Progesterone - a steroid hormone which is important during early stages of pregnancy (and later as HRT to relieve symptoms of the menopause)
Dehydroepiandrosterone - an energy hormone produced in the adrenal glands
As these hormones, along with many more, dictate how our bodies function, it’s unsurprising that when they are out of sync, a slew of problems can arise.
Problems, what problems?
The list is endless. Common problems include hot flushes, low energy, poor memory, bad skin, insomnia, muscle pain, low libido, mood swings, hair loss, anxiety, irritability, headaches, poor concentration, weight gain, night sweats, panic disorder, dizziness and bloating. Usually lumped together under the phrase “she’s hormonal”. This throwaway comment is not giving due respect to the turmoil that imbalance of hormones, however they’re triggered, can leave us experiencing.
For women particularly, but not exclusively, hormones play an unending and defining part in life. Whether stress, dietary imbalance, puberty, pregnancy, PMS or the menopause there are various opportunities for hormones to fall out of balance and cause significant impact on life’s equilibrium. Knowing your “norm” helps enable you to identify changes that could throw your system out of whack, this can help you make changes to reset the scales and regain control, be that sounder sleep, dietary adjustment, work-life rebalance.
Sounds effortless, doesn’t it? A simple tweak, no problem! Hmmm, the reality can feel insurmountable when you are trying to regain hormonal serenity. Focusing on the elements of lifestyle and wellbeing you can control, helps make the job a little more manageable.
Recognising true hunger...
Do you really want that chocolate cake? Are you actually hungry or just caving in to a silent hormonal signal from the brain? Start keeping a note of when and what those messages are to track whether they’re coming as more of a PMS or menopausal fix for instance.
When your brain signals for a little naughty treat, the conflict begins. You know it will give you a hit of dopamine, it always feels good to give yourself a little of what you fancy…but, we also know that an excess of sweet snacks can bad and that getting into a cycle of sugar-hits, can result in feelings of guilt and lethargy, sending hormones reeling.
Equally, too much red meat can lead to issues with weight gain, water retention, mood swings and headaches.
For sure, sometimes a treat is ok, but to maintain healthier hormone levels, eat a greener diet, based around fibre-rich leafy greens, lean proteins, eggs, fatty fish like salmon and organic cruciferous veg (broccoli, kale, cauliflower.) Healthy habits for healthy hormones.
Cutting down on caffeine
Don’t panic. No-one would dare suggest cutting out coffee completely, let’s be realistic! Coffee to kick-start your day is okay, it’s even expected. But too much caffeine significantly affects a woman’s oestrogen levels and raises cortisol, a key fat-storing hormone, similar to alcohol. Balance out consumption and introduce alternative beverages to comfort through the day, delicious herbal teas (green, red, peppermint, hibiscus and milk thistle are particularly good) green smoothies, lemon water and still water. You will see the benefits in skin glow, clear thoughts and a reduction in bloat.
Not stressing out
Easier said than done. Life, especially right now, is a rollercoaster – add to financial concerns the juggle of family life and it can send cortisol spiralling. Also referred to as the stress hormone, elevated cortisol can cause an imbalance as the adrenal glands which balance levels of oestrogen and progesterone. Studies show links to bad skin, poor sleep, weight gain, shorter menstrual cycles and even infertility. Look for ways to neutralise the impact of stress in your week. Fitness, fresh air, a warm soak, an early with a good book…which leads us on to…
Getting more sleep
It’s a vicious circle. Melatonin is the primary hormone responsible for a good night’s sleep but if appetite-suppressing ghrelin and leptin are released into the bloodstream, along with sleep-scuppering cortisol, insulin and prolactin, you’re looking at stress and ultimately, insomnia. A melatonin supplement may help in the short term to get you back on track.
Not overdoing exercise
Exercise is vital for hormonal harmony as it’s been proven to have a powerful effect on balancing, suppressing and increasing certain hormones. While testosterone and progesterone can keep us lean, as previously mentioned, excess oestrogen, insulin and cortisol can cause weight gain! Then again, too much strenuous exercise could wreak havoc on your hormones and affect your menstrual cycle. As with all things – finding a balance is the key to wellbeing. As a general rule, if exercise recharges your energy levels, it’s doing you good. If you feel wiped out and you are not seeing and feeling the benefit, then the balance is wrong. Variety is the spice of life, so mix up the HIIT with something more restorative and centering.
Knowing your skin
Skin changes are nature’s way of telling you you’re hormonal. At every stage of life: from puberty to the menopause via pregnancy and periods, our skin is at the mercy of our hormones. As we age, oestrogen levels fall causing dryness, wrinkles, loss of elasticity, increased skin fragility and sensitivity.
Stimulating collagen synthesis, which is dramatically affected by falling hormones, is critical to retain the plump, radiance and smooth texture of a healthy, vital complexion. Our Pure Radiance Facial Oil at night will boost collagen production and limit further damage to already fragile skin. If you’re showing signs of sensitivity, fine lines and blemishes, this heavenly blend of botanical retinol alternative Bakuchiol, blended with patchouli extract, will provide the most nourishing way possible back to consistently clearer skin.
Don’t suffer in silence and assume you have to put up and shut up. Those days are gone. We have a much more open dialogue around the impact of hormones on women’s health in particular, visit your GP or women’s health provider and ask for support. The female body can be a minefield at the best of times and if you suspect you’re living with a hormonal balance you just can’t seem to budge, you can take back control and establish a more personal care plan. Start today. You can empower your own wellbeing with a simple download of a hormone app like Clue and My Moontime, allowing you to monitor your menstrual cycle and track changes in your body and mind.