Why hormones affect everything, from the way you look to how you feel – and what you can do about it.
Have you craved so badly for a certain food that you couldn’t think of anything else? Or felt paralysed by moodiness and lethargy just before your period? Maybe such a strong wave of desire has tingled through every nerve in your body, you just had to drop everything and engage hubby in a dash of spontaneous fun.
You have your hormones to thank (or blame). And don’t worry, you’re not the only one. Many women are greatly affected by hormone fluctuations, sometimes to the point of feeling totally overwhelmed, as if for a time they have lost control of their life, says Dr Christiane Northrup, author of Women’s Bodies Women’s Wisdom.
According to Hormone Health Network, the Endocrine Society’s public education arm, hormones are “special chemical messengers in the body that are created in the endocrine glands”. They have so much sway over our wellbeing because that’s exactly what they do: control most major bodily functions, from simple needs like hunger to more complex systems like reproduction.
When our hormones are in balance, we feel good and thrive both mentally and physically. But even small disruptions to the equation can cause serious, life-altering symptoms. Illnesses linked to hormone imbalance include breast cancer, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
CALM, MEET STORM
Generally speaking, we’re at our healthiest during our reproductive years. “We stay healthy because the high levels of sex hormones (oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone) we produce protect us from illness. In fact, all our hormones are at their peak when we are in our 30s, not just the sex hormones,” explains Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin (Nora) Mokhtar, founder of PrimaNora Medical Centre, who has a background in obstetrics and gynaecology.
But, Dr Nora is quick to add, hormones do not protect us from all health hazards. “And like a computer system, the human body does crash on occasion,” she says. “Hormones get thrown off balance even in the healthiest of people at the peak of their youth.” It’s normal for hormone levels to shift during certain times, such as before and during your period or a pregnancy, or during menopause.
Sometimes though, hormone imbalance could be a sign of a more chronic medical condition which requires immediate medical attention. Dr Nora suggests doing hormone profiles, via blood tests, for hormones such as oestradiol, progesterone, DHEA, cortisol and insulin. Testing can be done at certain medical centres with age-management facilities.
In our 40s, our hormones begin to decline and more so after the dreaded ‘M’ – menopause. Defined as the absence of a menstrual period for 12 months, menopause usually happens in one’s 40s or 50s, but may occur as early as the 30s or as late as the 60s.
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