Hormones can get a bad rap, and it’s no wonder if you’re experiencing premenstrual moodiness, acne or tender breasts! While these symptoms are common, they certainly aren’t normal. When your hormones are in balance, they help you to feel emotionally, physically and mentally well.
The three main sex hormones created by the ovaries are oestrogen (oestradiol), progesterone and testosterone. Let’s dive right into our sex hormones, shall we?
Oestrogen receptors are found in almost every tissue in the body, making this a very important hormone. There are three types of oestrogen: oestradiol (the dominant oestrogen in women of childbearing age), oestriol (the main oestrogen during pregnancy) and oestrone (the only oestrogen that the body makes after menopause).
When hormones are balanced, oestradiol is at its highest level in the first half of the menstrual cycle (the follicular phase). Think of oestrogen as your strong and sexy hormone. It is responsible for the following:
- Stimulates the growth and development of the endometrium in the first half of the menstrual cyclePlays an important role in stimulating the release of Luteinizing hormone, which is responsible for triggering ovulation
- Responsible for the development of female secondary sex characteristics: breasts, reproductive organs and pubic hair around puberty
- Development of womanly body shape around abdomen and bottom
- Very important for bone growth, strength and density — this is why it is important to monitor bone density in menopause as oestradiol decreases
- Supports cardiovascular health, helps to increases the “good” HDL cholesterol and decreases LDL cholesterol, which in high levels is unhealthy
- Supports brain function by modulating aspects of neurotransmitter function, glucose metabolism, synaptogenesis (the process of synapses forming) and reduces brain ageing
- Supports serotonin levels, one of our feel good, happy neurotransmitters. This is why many women feel their brightest, happiest, strongest and sexiest self around mid-cycle. As oestrogen peaks, so does serotonin
- Plays a role in reducing free radicals (which can lead to disease and oxidative damage) by enhancing specific enzymes in mitochondrial DNA
- Boosts energy by increasing the availability of glucose in a cell; this is also why often women feel their strongest and are able to endure higher-intensity training around ovulation
Progesterone is created after ovulation, which is why ovulation is the most important part of the menstrual cycle. The follicle that releases the mature egg turns into its own functioning gland called a corpus luteum; this gland produces progesterone. When your hormones are balanced, progesterone should be the dominant hormone in the second half of your cycle (the luteal phase).
You can think of progesterone as your calming hormone, which is responsible for:
- Stimulating GABA, which is one of our neurotransmitters that helps us feel balanced, calm, centred and supports sleep. GABA helps mitigate feelings of anxiousness and worry, so if you are not creating enough progesterone you may feel the onset of premenstrual mood changes and insomnia before your period
- Supporting brain health, memory and learning
- Encouraging clear, glowing skin and promotes skin elasticity
- Preparing the womb for a potential pregnancy by thickening the endometrium to hold an implanted egg
- Supporting and maintaining a pregnancy
- Combating PMS symptoms
Testosterone may be best known as a male hormone, however in the right balance, testosterone is very important for women to feel and function their best. Testosterone is created by the ovaries and in smaller amounts by the adrenal glands.
Think of testosterone as your endurance hormone. Its role is to:
- Help with growth, maintenance and repair of women’s reproductive organs
- Encourage bone growth and strength
- Be Neuroprotective
- Support a strong libido and fertility
- Increase endurance
- Encourage the development of lean muscle mass
It is important to know that when you are taking hormonal contraception you will stop producing your own sex hormones and unfortunately miss out on all their wonderful benefits. Additionally, if you have a hormonal imbalance you may not resonate with all the above benefits.
So how can you support healthy, happy and balanced hormones?
5 easy ways to support balanced hormones
- Eat a predominantly anti-inflammatory diet and, where possible, organic. The anti-inflammatory diet is the most studied diet to support healthy hormones and fertility.
- Support your liver. Avoid “liver loaders” such as alcohol, too much caffeine, chemical exposure, plastic, pesticides and GMO foods as much as possible. The liver is in charge of filtering out toxins and excess hormones from the body. When it is bombarded with an excess of other substances to detoxify, the detoxification process can slow down and become compromised, leading to an excess of oestrogen in the body.
- Aim to enjoy eight hours of sleep a night or as close to this as possible. Sleep is fundamental for balancing hormones and supporting a calm nervous system.
- Manage your stress levels. Implement daily stress reduction techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, stretches in the lounge room, Epsom salt bath, dancing, journalling — whatever it takes to shake off the day’s stressors.
- Move your body in a way that serves you. Balance low-intensity exercise with strength training regularly. Over-training (think high-intensity workouts four days a week) can impair the delicate cascade of sex hormones. Aim to find a balance between lower-intensity exercises such as yoga, Pilates, walking and swimming with strength training or cardio.