Mention the word hormones, and it can strike fear in a female of almost any age. The reality of is that hormones have many important effects on women’s health. Estrogen and progesterone are probably the most well known because their influence on a woman’s reproductive health, but there are many other kinds of hormones that affect other aspects of a woman’s health—from energy levels, weight and much more.
Hormones: The reproductive years
Hormones are the drivers of human reproduction, responsible for sexual development and controlling the menstrual cycle. During their reproductive years, women have regular monthly menstrual periods because they ovulate regularly each month. Estrogen and progesterone are important for reproduction, but they play a key role in other bodily functions as well. For example, sleep, mood, bone health, and heart health are all affected by levels of estrogen. The equilibrium of reproductive hormones is important for overall health. When these reproductive hormones do not work as they should, fertility problems can occur.
Other hormones involved in the menstrual cycle include:
- Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) causes the maturation of an egg in the ovary.
- Luteinising hormone (LH) Luteinising hormone (LH) stimulates the release of the egg.
For many women, PMS is the most common hormone-related problem in the reproductive years – in particular the mood-related symptoms: mild to moderate depression, anxiety, and mood swings. Mood swings and other symptoms do not necessarily indicate abnormal hormone levels. For help managing PMS, talk to your doctor options, such as birth control pills, that can help stabilize hormone levels.
Perimenopause can begin as early as the late 30s or late as the late 40s. Perimenopause is when egg production dwindles and hormones levels change dramatically. The first thing that happens is irregular periods – a signal that ovulation is slowing. Estrogen levels will fluctuate and progesterone levels are diminishing, which can cause the dreaded mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats, and memory problems. The best defense against perimenopause symptoms is exercise and dietary changes. Speak with your physician about the best way to navigate the perimenopause years, especially if you are experiencing extreme symptoms.
Menopause and beyond
Menopause is defined as 12 months or more without a menstrual cycle. By this time the hormone fluctuations are pretty much over, but some symptoms can continue for years after your final period. It’s not unusual to find a woman who has entered menopause and is still dealing with hot flashes, mood swings, and sexual desire. Again, the best thing to do is to have an honest discussion with your doctor about your symptoms, their severity, and the best options to manage your ever-changing hormones.