Updated: Feb 5, 2021
Around 11 to 16 years of age, a girl begins her menstrual cycle. All of a sudden, she joins the secret ‘women's hormones society’ where she will experience her hormones but rarely hear anyone talking about them unless she actively goes about seeking this information. Throughout my high school years, periods were discussed in the context of sex education with no mention of why periods were sometimes heavy or painful or maybe had yet to arrive despite all the other girls having theirs (I hope this has changed since the 80s). As a young adult woman, I tracked my cycle so that I would know when I was more fertile and when my period was due. I learned about ovulation and what it looked like physically and what it mean for me from a reproduction perspective. I learned about PMT and how a woman turns into an 'evil witch' at certain times of the month without any understanding of why that happened and what to do about it. I had severely painful periods when I was 16 and was told that the best option for me would be to go onto the contraceptive pill until my hormones ‘settled down’. No discussion about why this was happening, or what I could do to manage it myself. I have since learned that taking the contraceptive pill before your hormones have settled into their natural rhythm can be problematic for your longterm hormonal health. Awesome!
I doubt my experience as a teenager or a young woman is particularly unique. Unless you are really dedicated to understanding your hormones, there is so little useful information provided to you that you just go about having periods (or not) and finding ways to get pregnant or avoiding it like the plague. It is only when the hormonal s**t hits the fan that we suddenly realise we know so little about the very hormones that make our body ‘female’. By this point in time, many of us will have been using the contraceptive pill as if it has no consequences and going about life in a haze of oblivion.
A bit about female hormones
Most of us will be fully aware of the hormone ‘oestrogen’. Estrogen is considered the ‘female’ hormone, although it is found in men in lesser amounts, whereas Testosterone is considered a ‘male’ hormone but it is also important for the female body although in much smaller amounts than in men. Then there is progesterone, more commonly associated with ovulation and pregnancy. The right balance between oestrogen and progesterone can mean the difference between regular, periods with moderate flow and minimal pain and heavy irregular periods with more pain. When our hormones are balanced well, we feel more relaxed, have less painful periods, less PMT and a healthy sex drive (sounds blissful doesn’t it). But blissful hormone balance is often not the case for so many women and how our hormonal health is being manage is often insufficient to say the least.
I can’t tell you how many of my female clients I have spoken to about their periods and all of those with heavy periods are advised to either go onto the contraceptive pill or have a hormone based IUD inserted, rarely (almost never) does their doctor discuss their lifestyle, stress levels, diet, sleep or exercise. I want to make one thing clear before I go on, I am not suggesting that you avoid seeing your doctor if you are struggling with your menstrual cycle. You absolutely need to seek professional medical support, but know that there is a lot you can do for yourself to support your female hormones whether you are just starting your periods, going through perimenopause or are through the other side of menopause. Your lifestyle really does make a huge difference to your hormonal health and this is something that you have control over, you just need the right information so that you can understand why you are making the choices that you are and how they will benefit you.
So what do I wish I had known about my hormones years ago?
I wish I had known more about balancing estrogen and progesterone and what estrogen dominance looks like and how it shows up in our life. I wish I had known more about gut health and how the health of your gut ties into how well your body can excrete excess estrogen. I wish I had known how important sufficient testosterone is to how well and vital a woman feels and how much energy and enthusiasm she has for life. I also wish I had known that stress impacts how well our body produces progesterone and that periods of high stress can send you down a path of poor gut health & low progesterone levels and as such estrogen dominance and all of its associated health problems. I wish I had known that high levels of stress causes weight gain around the belly and disrupts our delicate hormone balance even further. I wish I had known that hard dieting and being too lean and too stressed at the same time was affecting my hromone levels and my energy levels and my vitality for life. There are SO many things that I wish I had known so now I am making sure that I learn it all and I am sharing it with you because I want to to know what you can do for yourself to manage your hormones more effectively in this stressful, chemical laden world that we live in.
Our hormonal health is so intrinsically tied into our mental health that we cannot afford to ignore it. I was saddened to learn that many women being treated with antidepressants around the time of perimenopause would have been far better treated with small amounts of supplemental hormones. This saddens and angers me because it is a sign that we are not being taken seriously and that our suffering is being patched over with solutions that may not be right for what we really need. On a positive note, things are changing and there are some amazing doctors bringing to light the deficiencies in support for women’s hormonal health. I want to be part of this conversation as a fitness professional who works with women. I am making it my business to bring this information to you so that you can know everything I wish I had known years ago, so that you can make the very best decisions for your hormonal health and live the vital and empowered life that you deserve.
To your greatest health,