Hormones Part 2 – What Else Might We Have To Look Forward To?
Disclaimer: I am not a qualified medical practitioner. These are my personal opinions and advice. If you were unsure or struggling with your health or hormones then a visit to your own General Practitioner would be advised.
So here’s a quick recap of part 1!
Hormones fascinate me! So complicated, so powerful, so personal.
We all have hormones. At various times in our lives they can go crazy. But even on a normal cycle, few of us are lucky enough to not be effected by some of their hideous symptoms. Do you suffer with excessive weight gain that you’re struggling to explain by diet and exercise alone? Do you struggle with water retention, or mood swings, fatigue and low energy levels, memory problems or low sex drive? Or do you always seem to be hungry or prone to nagging injuries? Have you ever thought it could be your hormones that are out of balance?
I’m not going to go in to great depth here with any of these hormone changes, as each one could easily be a separate blog in itself. But here’s my brief overview of hormone changes women go through and what we can expect and what we can do to help. I have split it into two shorter posts. This first one here covering puberty, the menstrual cycle, polycystic ovary syndrome, stress and thyroid. Then part two, covering pregnancy, post-pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause.
But first let me give you a brief overview of the main female hormone we have to contend with!
This is the primary female sex hormone. It is responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system and secondary sex characteristics. (Endometrium, breasts, regulation of menstrual cycle) Oestrogen also affects skeletal growth, skin, fat and protein deposition and electrolyte balance. Oestrogen also has emotional control. It increases serotonin and the number of serotonin receptors in the brain. Modifies the production and effects of endorphins (feel-good chemicals in brain). But also protects nerves from damage.
Oestrogen dominance is caused either by having too much oestrogen in the body, or an imbalance of oestrogen in relation to other hormones like progesterone. Some of the effects of oestrogen dominance are water retention, weight gain, fatigue, mood swings, slow metabolism and PMS. You could have oestrogen dominance if you have PCOS, are on the pill or HRT, or are in perimenopause or in menopause. But these are not always problematic to everyone.
There are many times in a woman’s life when hormonal changes occur:
Wow…a time when your body is going crazy from a pile of hormones messing with every bodily function possible! (Or is this just how I feel right now?) There are 6 main hormones that rule your pregnancy:
Human Chorionic Gonadotropin – this is the one that tells both the pregnancy testing kit and your body that you’re pregnant! It can also cause morning sickness; especially in the first trimester when the levels are high, and can be the reason you can’t stop nipping to the loo as it encourages the kidneys to produce more urine.
Oestrogen – this is of huge importance to foetal development. It is the hormone that gives you that pregnancy glow but also on the flip side makes your appetite increase and contributes to spider veins and mood swings.
Progesterone – keeps the uterine muscle relaxed and helps your body tolerate the baby. The placenta produces progesterone at high levels, normally known for its mood elevating effects. However it can also cause lower blood pressure, constipation, reflux, and mood swings.
Oxytocin – the hormone that causes labor to occur and contributes to breastfeeding. It is a feel good hormone.
Prolactin – predominantly the milk-producing hormone but also a bonding hormone when baby is born. Another feel good hormone.
Relaxin – ligament loosening hormone. It relaxes all of your muscles, joints and ligaments to allow growing room for baby. Watch out as this hormone can linger for many months postnatal and means you can be susceptible to sprains etc. on falling (as I found out the hard way with pregnancy number one!)
As the placenta is expelled at birth the progesterone levels drop immediately and can cause the “baby blues”. Despite the oestrogen levels also dropping, they remain relatively higher than progesterone resulting in oestrogen dominance. Higher levels of oestrogen causes an increase in levels of cortisol binding globulin and the amount of cortisol produced and released from the adrenal cortex. The fall of oestrogen levels causes the hair loss.
In addition to the lower oestrogen, if we aren’t ovulating (for example most breastfeeding mothers aren’t), we also aren’t making much progesterone. Progesterone plays a role in hindering stomach fat storage by moderating cortisol’s effect in these fat cells. Couple these hormone levels with lack of sleep and it can make fat loss difficult at this time.
I’d recommend walking and short metabolic (little rest between exercises) circuits for hormonal balancing fat loss rather than longer duration cardio and too much intense exercise.
Post natal depression – the big changes in hormone levels after pregnancy can contribute to this.
When you are breastfeeding, you begin to produce two significant hormones: prolactin and oxytocin. These are the hormones produced during breastfeeding, which work together to make milk, establish a letdown, and keep up with the supply and demand of a nursing baby. Prolactin promotes fat storage through a variety of mechanisms including worsening insulin resistance. These changes may mean you tolerate carbs less well.
A time in a woman’s life characterized by overall sex hormone decline.
Perimenopause is the phase of fluctuating hormones; progesterone and oestrogen will fall but progesterone falls more giving rise to relative oestrogen excess. This gives rise to many possible symptoms including hot flushes, night sweats, irregular cycles and erratic moods. This can last 8-10 years.
Menopause is the phase when hormone fluctuation is over and there’s been no period for 12months. Generally hormone levels of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone are all low.
To improve your transition into menopause its advisable to manage your stress, maintain a balanced diet and blood sugar level and lift weights.
There is a fine line between overdoing it and not doing enough when you’re dealing with hormone issues. It is necessary to create some stress or the hormonal signals for fat burning and muscle growth won’t be triggered and you won’t make any progress. But if you push too hard, you will end up setting yourself back or just continuing to push your system, which is simply unable to recover.
So avoid the urge to push too hard. Increase your exercise a little bit at a time. Try adding just one more set of strength training exercise, or just one to five more minutes to your routine instead of another 45-60minutes.
Some small changes in our lifestyle, diet and exercise selection can have a huge impact on the control of our hormones.