In a nutshell, hormones are little chemical messengers that control our bodies.
Hormones often get blamed for all manner of undesirable things—low mood, cravings, heavy periods, fatigue…
Following the same train of thought, hormones are also responsible for clear skin, feeling happy and loved, feeling satiated by a delicious meal, super strength and speed in an emergency.
The truth is, it’s not the hormones are indifferent—it comes down to the imbalance of those hormones that wreaks havoc.
There are over 50 hormones that govern our bodies, but we’ll just be looking at the two main characters in the story of female hormone health—oestrogen and progesterone—and two members of the supporting cast—testosterone and cortisol—and how the dynamics of these relationships affect how we think, feel, and operate.
When things are going well…
When our hormones are perfectly balanced, they coordinate our body’s systems like an intricately choreographed dance.
When your hormones are balanced, you’ll know. We're designed to feel good. Balanced hormones feels like you’re at home in your body. When we don't, something is going wrong, and our body is trying to tell us about it.
When things need some attention...
Issues arise when our hormones fall out of sync.
This effectively turns our beautifully choreographed dance into a disjointed, uncoordinated rhythm and creates a hormonal imbalance.
Depending on nature of the hormone imbalance, it can look and feel like:
- Menstrual issues—heavy periods, irregular periods,
- Medical issues like endometriosis, and PCOS
- Abnormal hair growth or hair loss
- Otherwise unexplained weight gain or loss
- Fatigue, despite getting enough sleep
- Low mood, or mood swings
- Difficulty getting or staying pregnant
None of which sound particularly homely or comfy. The good news is that having a basic understanding of hormones and how they work together is the first step to reining your own hormones back into alignment, and nurturing internal balance.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
You can think of your hormonal network like a web. When one area requires attention your body will distribute resources to support that area of your body.
Here’s a common example of that beautifully choreographed dance falling out of sync:
Bear in mind that our bodies prioritise survival over reproduction—because of course, you have to first be alive to reproduce!
Our busy, modern day lifestyles are wired for stress—think about juggling deadlines at work, staying within the budget you’ve set for yourself, maintaining relationships, and getting to F45 bootcamp before having to get the kids to school on time with shoes on the right feet and a packed lunch each—to keep us powering through the things we must get done, our bodies make cortisol, our stress hormone.
To make adequate levels of cortisol our bodies need larger amounts of pregnenolone.
Conflict arises as pregnenolone is also precursor for progesterone—a calming hormone involved in the ovulatory cycle. As we mentioned earlier, survival takes precedence over reproduction, and so the production of cortisol is prioritised over the production of progesterone. Uh oh…
Chronic stress often goes hand in hand hormonal imbalance.
Tuning Into Your Hormones
One of the easiest ways to tell if your hormones are balanced and healthy is looking at your menstrual cycle.
Six signs of hormone imbalance you can keep an eye on through cycle tracking:
- Irregular intervals between bleeding
- Heavy, painful periods
- Skin problems
- Low mood or mood swings
Meet the Team
Progesterone maintains the lining of the uterus during the latter phase of the menstrual cycle, and during pregnancy.
As well as its role in regulating the physical aspect of the menstrual cycle, adequate progesterone levels also support our mental wellbeing.
On top of this, progesterone is known as your ‘calming’ hormone as it is important for mood, supporting you in feeling grounded.
Oestrogen is an essential sex hormone which plays a vital role in fertility, repairing, thickening, and maintaining the uterus lining.
Known as the ‘sensual hormone’ oestrogen plays a role in regulating women’s libido and feelings of confidence and increased extroversion. Oestrogen is directly tied to serotonin, the feel good hormone, so without it you’re more inclined to experience mood swings, and a depressive state.
Both progesterone and oestrogen are present in both males and females, but are more dominant in females.
Androgens are a group of hormones that includes testosterone. Testosterone is present in both men and women, but it is the dominant male hormone.
It is closely tied to the dopamine hormone, our pleasure and reward hormone, making it important for a sense of get-up-and-go, well-being, confidence, maintaining muscle tone, bone growth, and sexual function.
Cortisol is the primary stress response hormone, created by the adrenal glands in both men and women.
It is part of your sympathetic nervous system and when elevated it stimulates your body by raising your blood pressure and blood sugars. This stimulation acts as a strong anti-inflammatory, assisting you in responding to danger with the ability to fight or take flight.
3 Simple Tips for Nurturing Hormonal Balance
Our hormones respond to the way we live and eat. Through our diet, lifestyle and exercise, we can either support our delicate hormone balance, or rock the boat, so to speak.
That includes processed carbs, sugar, coffee, and alcohol. Here and there is fine—it’s what we do most of the time that counts.
Exercising right for you
Yes, that might mean skipping the 5:00AM, high-intensity boot camp for a gentle yoga flow (or some days, even a sleep in).
Eating a diet rich in essential nutrients
On top of a whole foods based diet, high-quality nutritionals also support the production of precursors necessary for our bodies to build hormones in adequate amounts.
In practising tuning into our bodies, and interpreting the message they’re sending us, we’re learning how to work with our hormones, not against them. When we work with our hormones, we naturally support their balance, and in turn, our health and happiness too!