What does hormone health mean?
Hormones - such as oestrogen, adrenaline and insulin - are extremely important chemical messengers that influence many aspects of your overall health, including reproduction, growth and development, mood and emotions. Hormones are released by various glands and organs. These include the thyroid gland, adrenal glands, pituitary gland, ovaries, testes and pancreas. The entire endocrine system is responsible for controlling hormone levels. Even the smallest disturbance of one or more hormones can cause health problems that affect the whole body.
For understanding hormone health it is important to have a basic understanding of the endocrine system, i.e. how individual hormones work together to maintain homeostasis (balance of physiological body functions). The endocrine system is responsible for coordinating the relationship between different organs and hormones, which are chemical substances released from endocrine gland cells into the bloodstream.
Once hormones are released into the blood, they seek their target in specific tissues or cells by binding to receptors located within the cell or on its surface. These hormones act as chemical messengers and play a key role in maintaining all bodily functions. There are two large groups of hormones that circulate in the human body:
- Hormones that are formed from amino acids (protein hormones, peptides and amines)
- Hormones that are formed from lipids (steroids)
Women hormones and hormonal changes
There are a few different hormones that play key roles in the female body - they influence menstruation cycles, pregnancy, lactation and menopause. They are oestrogen, progesterone, prolactin, luteinising hormone, follicle stimulating hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin and the gonadotropin releasing hormone. Let’s have a look at the two most prominent ones: oestrogen and progesterone.
Along with the progestins, oestrogens belong to the group of female sex hormones that are produced in the ovaries of the woman depending on the cycle. The level of oestrogen in the blood is particularly high shortly before ovulation. During pregnancy, oestrogen is mainly produced in the placenta.
Oestrogens have various functions in the woman's body. On the one hand, the sex hormone causes the formation of secondary sexual characteristics, i.e. the development of the breast, the mammary glands and also the formation of the uterus. On the other hand, oestrogen leads to the typical periodic changes during the female cycle. These include the enlargement of the uterus, the thickening of the mucous membrane of the vagina and a liquefaction of the cervical mucus shortly before ovulation.
Progesterone is also one of the female sex hormones and is produced mainly in the second half of the woman's cycle. It plays an important role especially in the implantation and growth of a fertilised egg in the uterus. Progesterone ensures better blood flow to the uterine lining and adaptation of the uterine muscles to the growing embryo.
Hormones and the menstrual cycle
The cyclical changes in our bodies accompany us women over a large part of our lives. Regular changes take place in our bodies that are controlled by a hormonal cycle. Ideally, the female cycle lasts 28 days. Ovulation occurs in the middle of the cycle, ideally on the 14th day. However, the actual cycle length varies from woman to woman and from cycle to cycle.
There are three main phases of the cycle: Follicular phase - the build-up phase, ovulation and the luteal phase. Here’s a quick overview of the different hormones and how they influence the menstrual cycle. During the follicular phase the follicle stimulating hormone stimulates the growth of a follicle (egg follicle) in the ovary. At the same time, more and more female hormones (oestrogen) are produced. These oestrogens ensure that the cervical mucus liquefies and becomes permeable to sperm. The high oestrogen level then causes the release of the luteinising hormone. This luteinising hormone determines that the bursting of the egg follicle, ovulation, takes place between the 12th and 16th day. The mature egg is transported into the fallopian tube and travels towards the uterus. The remains of the follicle, called the corpus luteum, now produce the corpus luteum hormone (progesterone), which prepares the uterus for pregnancy. If the egg is fertilised by a sperm, the progesterone level remains high and prevents the uterine lining from being shed. If the egg is not fertilised, the corpus luteum regresses and the progesterone level drops.
The role of hormones in mental health
The hormone system not only menstrual cycles or menopause but it also has a massive effect on mental health. Whether we are feeling butterflies, almost bursting with rage or are on a runner’s high - adrenaline, oxytocin or serotonin control our emotions.
Serotonin is often called the "good mood hormone". It’s considered a natural antidepressant and makes people euphoric. It also influences many bodily functions, from pain perception to the sleeping rhythm. A serotonin deficiency however can lead to sheep disorders, anxiety, migraine or depression. Adrenaline is a hormone that is produced in the adrenal glands and released into the bloodstream in greater quantities during stress. It mobilises the energy reserves in the body and increases the willingness to perform. The heart beats faster and blood pressure rises.
Sex hormones can also have a strong influence on the psyche. Oestrogens, for example, stabilise the mental balance. Many women say that their cycle influences their mood: In the second half of the cycle, inner tension, irritability or even a depressed mood build up, which is due to the lower oestrogen concentration in the blood.
Foods that are good for women's hormones
Next to lifestyle factors such as stress and movement, nutrition is a significant factor for hormone health and balance. Changes in environmental factors can lead to an undersupply of nutrients despite a balanced and healthy diet, which in turn can affect hormone balance. In addition to iodine and iron, an adequate supply of vitamin D, B vitamins, zinc, selenium and magnesium is particularly important.
Next to vitamin supplements, it is also recommended to focus your diet around a variety of whole foods that are naturally rich in nutrients and minerals. Click here to find out all about the 5 best hormone balancing foods for women and how to incorporate them into your diet!
Disclaimer: Please note that the information in this article is for educational purposes only, and does not substitute for professional medical advice. If you’re seeking medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment, consult a medical professional or healthcare provider. The author is not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting upon the information in this article.