We hear it ALL the time; ‘I can’t stop crying, I must be hormonal!’, ‘ I’m covered in spots, it must be hormones’, ‘We had such a massive row but I blame the hormones’.
In fact, it’s become common terminology to refer to someone as being ‘hormonal’.
Seems to me that hormones have a lot to answer for!
So what are they and why do they cause us so much havoc??
Let’s start with the Science – here is the (very) basic technical definition:
Hormones – A chemical released in one part of the body that sends out messages affecting cells in other parts of the organism.
So what exactly are these messages and what are they doing to us?
Well my research tells me that the body has many different hormones, but certain types have a bigger role to play in the body’s health and well-being than others, here they are…
- For women, Oestrogen is the main sex hormone. It causes puberty, prepares the body and uterus for pregnancy, and regulates the menstrual cycle.
- Progesterone is similar to oestrogen but is not considered the main sex hormone. Like oestrogen, it assists with the menstrual cycle and plays a role in pregnancy.
- Cortisol is often called the “stress hormone” because of the way it assists the body in responding to stress.
- Melatonin levels change throughout the day, increasing after dark to trigger the responses that cause sleep.
- Testosterone is the main sex hormone in men. It causes puberty, increases bone density, triggers facial hair growth, and causes muscle mass growth and strength.
When they are in proper balance, hormones help the body thrive, but small problems with hormones can cause serious and life-altering symptoms AND MAJOR MOOD SWINGS!
Not all hormones are to blame for the picture painted by the term ‘being hormonal’. Clearly some hormones have nice jobs to do and they do it well, so let’s take a look at those rotten apples who are giving all hormones a bad name…
Oestrogen and Progesterone step up to the bench please!
It is thought that rising and falling levels of these hormones is what causes PMS or Premenstrual Syndrome – nobody actually knows exactly what causes this condition and why it varies from woman to woman but we all know that it isn’t much fun!
Medical research is still unsure why changes in these levels affect our moods so much but it is thought that their fluctuations can change the way the brain processes chemicals, like Serotonin – the happy sauce! (Serotonin is known to help regulate your mood and make you feel happier, so a reduction in the level of serotonin caused by changes in hormone levels may explain the mood changes.) Drops in serotonin could therefore be the reason we seem to want to cry so much at everything!
Likewise, eating certain foods like carbs and sugars can briefly increase seratonin levels so this could be why we crave bad stuff so much around our ‘times’! Sadly though, eating chocolate won’t create as much serotonin as doing a nice exercise class will so no excuses there I am afraid….boooo. The cravings for carbs could also be causing us to bloat so badly – combine this with the increase in cortisol (the stress hormone) that has been proven to make us eat more and that seems to make sense.
Sleeplessness can be put down to the increase in Cortisol again, not to mention the decrease in Serotonin – the combination makes for a restless night!
All fun and games ladies isn’t it!
I spoke to my lovely friend Dr Elizabeth West to garner her thoughts on the little devils that mess with our minds and bodies every month – this is what she had to say…
“The most common problems I see in my surgery are menstrual cycle changes including skin breakouts, anxiety and irritability, low mood, bloating and breast tenderness. Then there’s the fluctuating hormones associated with the perimenopause which can affect a woman’s concentration with flushes and poor sleep. Some women describe feelings like they are literally going mad during bad PMS or th perimenopause Finally a low level of thyroxine, the hormone produced by the thyroid is another commonly seen problem for women from about middle age, although it can be any age, with feelings of extreme tiredness, dry skin, trouble losing weight or hair loss.
Most importantly although these symptoms are often a normal part of life, there are ways to help through lifestyle and also medication so it’s worth having a discussion with your doctor if your life is being made miserable. There’s hope!”
- Hairdressers recommend that you don’t colour your hair when you’re menstruating as it can affect how the colour turns out!
- The term PMS was coined by an English Scientist in 1953.
- Menstrual Magnification is a confusing situation where underlying conditions are heightened in the days before a period is due and then mistaken as symptoms of PMS instead of actual issues which may need to be addressed.
- Some women report they have ‘Superhero Senses‘ during their cycle which sees them having amplified taste, hearing or touch etc.
- PMS is something which the law actually takes into consideration due to diminished mental capacity…
- There are studies to support the theory that women who are living together can unknowingly synchronise their cycles!
So ladies, we’ve had a look at exactly what is going on in our lives around the same time every month but don’t forget there are ways to manage the fall-out if you are feeling swamped! See your GP for all the options for your specific needs or perhaps try some of the recommended supplements such as Evening Primrose Oil, Magnesium, Calcium and Agnus Castis which have all shown a reduction in various symptoms long-term.
My favourite remedy is laughter; whenever I feel the mood swings grabbing me by the throat I try to alert a few of my time-of-the-month buddies (it really is true what they say about synching up) and we throw a few ‘Hulk’ jokes at each other to lighten the atmosphere. Stay happy!