Can’t get out of bed? Blame your thyroid hormone! Feeling wonderful? Your estrogen and progesterone are in sync. Low libido? Could be too little testosterone. Your hormones hold the key to your physical and psychological wellbeing. Understanding how and when they play a role can help you maintain better balance – inside and out – this year.
The effects of hormones on our bodies is a secret windfall of discovery about our physiological and emotional design. Misunderstandings abound about these much-maligned chemical messengers. Yet our understanding about them can actually be our best weapon for optimal health, overall wellness and disease prevention.
A few key facts can put their importance into perspective. There are literally thousands of hormones in the body. They are so crucial to our daily functioning that every single cell has a hormone receptor. Critical hormones for all humans include estrogen, testosterone (yes – even for women), progesterone, insulin, cortisol, dopamine, thyroid and endorphins. They originate in the glands (ovaries, testes, pituitary, thyroid and adrenal, for example), and are secreted into the bloodstream. Correct levels of all hormones are required for proper functioning of any and all of our body’s systems. Prolonged imbalance of any one of them can lead to chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.
Hormones impact men and women differently. That disparity comes into play especially during the teen years, when puberty hits and the sex hormones of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone activate. This causes mood swings, strong emotional impulses and very distinct bodily changes in girls (between the ages of 10-14) and boys (between 12-16).
In later years, women and men once again go through their own forms of hormonal change known as menopause and andropause, respectively. For women, the estrogen and progesterone-producing ovaries “have their own retirement plan,” according to Dr. Rebecca Booth, a partner in Women First, the Dupont circle ob/gyn practice and author of The Venus Week. Because we are now living on average to 80, we are actually living half our lives without certain hormones which eventually cause the “symptoms” of aging that we think we can’t avoid, like brain fog, anxiety, sagging skin, loss of muscle mass, fatigue, failing libido and belly fat.
However, the body doesn’t have to succumb to the side effects of many hormonal changes or inbalances, such as menopause or postpartum depression, if hormones are better understood. When they are, they can be “re-optimized” – or balanced with hormone therapy – according to Peggy Heuser, M.S.N, A.P.R.N, chief medical officer with Heuser Health.
But hormonal therapy isn’t necessary to treat many hormonal symptoms, from PMS to acne. Hormonal balance can be managed throughout our lives through diet, exercise and relaxation techniques. If we manage our hormonal fluctuations, we can often manage our own health and happiness.
So, we asked Booth and Heuser to highlight some of the most important or common hormonal effects, and how to take control of them this year. This hormone handbook is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition: the first step is always to talk to your doctor!