What you need to know today
Listening time: 2 mins
Listening time: 2 mins
Your hormones can have a big impact on your overall health, so it's helpful to know a bit more about them. Take the quiz and test yourself – do you know your hormones from A to Z?
Hormones are chemical messengers. They are like your body’s personal courier service, carrying important information from one organ to another. For women, not only do they control periods, fertility and menopause, but hormones also have a powerful influence on mental health, brain chemistry, skin health and more.
Progesterone affects receptors in the brain but can have different effects in different women. In some women it has a soothing effect, in some it can cause irritability and for many women changes in progesterone make no noticeable difference to how they feel. Levels are naturally low in the first half of a typical cycle, but then rise after ovulation and plunge before the monthly bleed.
Good-quality research into PMS has only happened in recent years and the science is still far from crystal clear. Once thought to be due to low progesterone levels, more recent research has revealed it may be due to a sensitivity to an offshoot hormone of progesterone called allopregnanolone. The sum-up? Watch this space!
The hormone oestrogen is essential for healthy bone. When oestrogen levels decrease, such as in menopause, bones are at a much higher risk of becoming brittle and breaking (a condition known as osteoporosis).
A hot flush can feel like an extreme change in temperature, but your core body temperature (the temperature inside your body) will not change or rise above the normal 36-37°C. Where temperature does change is in your skin. Hot flushes can increase skin temperature by up to 2 degrees, and occur due to changes in blood flow and fluctuating hormones.
A recent study found that oestrogen can increase your chances of fighting off the 'flu virus. This may mean that you have more protection in the middle of your cycle – commonly around day 14 – when oestrogen naturally peaks. Plus, the oestrogen in prescriptions such as the Pill and MHT (menopause hormone therapy, formerly called hormone replacement therapy) may be giving women some added flu-fighting benefit.
You may think of testosterone as being a male-only hormone, but it also plays a big role in women’s health. Science has cemented its role in the female sex drive, energy and motivation, but recent research shows that keeping levels healthy can result in improved memory, learning and better brain health.
The female body requires a certain percentage of body fat to be able to ovulate (release eggs), have periods and become pregnant. If a woman’s body fat level falls too low – such as in athletes or women who do intense exercise – periods and ovulation can stop. If body fat levels are too high (such as in overweight or obese women) the hormones oestrogen and oestrone are typically higher as well, increasing the risk of hormone-related cancers such as breast cancer.
Women’s bodies make three main types of oestrogen. Oestradiol is the most potent form of oestrogen and the main type of oestrogen found in premenopausal women. Oestriol is a weaker oestrogen and mainly found during pregnancy. Oestrone is another weak oestrogen and is the oestrogen found in postmenopausal women.
In folklore, the menstrual cycle has strong links to the moon or lunar cycle and this is likely because they’re about the same length – a ‘typical’ menstrual cycle is 28 days and a lunar cycle is 29.5 days. Outdated research from the 1980s, on whether the two cycles link up, produced some interesting but conflicting results. However, more recently, a 2013 study tracked 74 women’s cycles for a full year and found no link between the two.
As well as doing a million and one tasks in a day, your brain is in charge of making ‘happy hormones’ – natural chemicals that can ward off depression, anxiety and decrease pain. The B vitamins are a group of nutrients that are essential to this task.
Science suggests that having a short supply of happy hormones is a key to the mood-based symptoms of PMS, such as increased stress, worry, depression and anxiety.
So here’s a delicious recipe that’s choc-full of vitamin Bs and includes raw cacao – because who doesn’t crave chocolate premenstrually? As a bonus, raw cacao is higher in the muscle-relaxing mineral magnesium, often used in treating PMS, for added ahhh-factor!
The herbal medicine Vitex agnus-castus, also known as Chaste tree, has been shown in clinical trials to be an effective treatment for PMS. However, it's important to know that over-the-counter herbal products can differ a lot in terms of quality. And just because it's 'natural' does not mean it is safe for you. This herbal medicine, and all herbal medicine, should only be prescribed under the guidance of a qualified health practitioner appropriately trained in herbal medicine.
Like any health issue, perimenopause is different for every woman. For some it may last one year, for others 10. And symptoms can vary greatly from woman to woman.
If you are troubled by symptoms, rest assured that you don’t need to put up with them. Speak to your doctor about what treatments may be right for you.
For most women, the sweet spot starts around 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week (that's about 20 minutes a day) and goes up to 300 minutes per week, according to the Australian National Physical Activity Guidelines.
Happily, most women who completed our national survey – more than 70% – reported doing at least two hours of moderate physical activity each week. Women aged 66-79 were most likely to clock up at least two hours a week (75.6%), while women aged 36-50 were least likely (64%).
Following the physical activity guidelines can improve hormonal health in more ways than you can count. But some of the big benefits of physical activity include the following:
Shelley Ware, Women’s Health Week ambassador, proud Yankanjatjara and Wirangu woman, AFL TV presenter and schoolteacher
“Find a type of exercise that’s right for you, and remember this can change as we get older. I am not quite as active as I used to be, but a daily walk and a couple of sessions on the exercise bike is easy to fit into my week – and easier on my joints!”
Here are some quick tips and ideas, and for those looking to join an event or activity in your local area, search here.
Spread good health and self-care this week by downloading this e-Card as our gift just for you, or share it with friends on your social media channels. Don’t forget to use #myhealthfirst #womenshealthweek
The term ‘hormonal imbalance’ gets used a lot when talking about women’s health. In this article, a Jean Hailes hormone specialist explains this term, telling us what it means, why it’s often misused, and steps to take if you’re feeling ‘out of balance’.
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Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal condition and we have three different booklets covering all the essentials. One has all the basic facts and stats, another delves into the details, and the third is written for Indigenous Australians.
What happens in menopause and what are the best ways to manage symptoms? Jean Hailes hormone specialist Dr Sonia Davison explains.
Jean Hailes for Women's Health is the organisation that proudly presents Women's Health Week every year in September. Keep up to date year-round in the world of women's health by subscribing to Jean Hailes' email updates. You'll receive a monthly wrap-up of interesting articles, the latest research, recipes, videos and more.