You may blame them for those pesky hot flushes or mood swings but hormones also control everything from your sleep to your appetite. Here’s what you need to know to keep yours in check.
Dr Marion Gluck is a women’s health expert specialising in bio-identical hormone therapy (mariongluckclinic.com)
The ‘male’ hormone: Testosterone
“We produce a lot less than men but testosterone is very much a female hormone as well,” says Dr Marion Gluck. “It’s produced in the adrenal glands and, until menopause, the ovaries.
“Testosterone maintains muscle tone and builds bone so it’s very important for preventing osteoporosis. It also plays a big role in confidence and energy levels, so as it decreases with age, you might notice changes in these.”
Get in balance: “Exercise is the best way to increase testosterone – it kicks the adrenal glands into action,” says Marion. “You won’t produce the same amount as you did when you were younger but it will help. Any kind of exercise works – including sex.”
The “female” hormones: Oestrogen and progesterone
These two hormones are secreted by your ovaries and control your menstrual cycle, but they take a big tumble at menopause. Oestrogen is responsible for soft skin and a distinctively feminine body shape – one reason you can be more prone to weight gain around the middle post menopause – and both also have an effect on mood.
Get in balance: “If you suddenly don’t feel like yourself it could well be down to declining levels of oestrogen and progesterone at menopause,” says Marion. “Simply understanding that these feelings are down to hormonal changes and not, for example, depression, can be empowering. You could consider hormone-balancing therapy like bioidentical HRT.” Plant oestrogens may also be helpful – get them in your diet through soya-rich foods such as tofu.
The “sleep” hormone: Melatonin
This sleep-inducing hormone is churned out by your pineal gland when light levels drop in the evening. Melatonin is then released throughout the night, keeping you asleep until the morning – it drops off as it gets lighter.
Get in balance: Trouble nodding off? Make sure your bedroom’s as dark as possible to encourage melatonin production. And turn off the tech - the blue light emitted at high levels by smartphones, tablets and laptops can suppress levels of melatonin and keep you awake. According to research at Harvard University, you should avoid all these in the few hours before you hit the hay.
The ‘metabolism’ hormone: Thyroxine
Produced by the thyroid gland in your neck, it helps regulate your metabolism.
“A decline in ovarian hormones at menopause has a knock-on effect on thyroid hormones too,” says Marion. “There’s actually an epidemic of under-functioning thyroid and the symptoms are similar to depression – low mood, low energy, weight gain.”
Get in balance: See your GP for a blood test if you suspect your thyroid function may be poor. A simple prescription of thyroxine can replace what you’re missing and help you feel your normal self again.
The ‘stress’ hormone: Cortisol
Also known as the fight-or-flight hormone, this is produced in your adrenal glands and it’s a hormone you want to lower rather than raise. “Lots of women have high cortisol all the time and it can lead to a range of symptoms including anxiety, insomnia, lowered immunity and weight gain,” says Marion.
Get in balance: This is all about addressing your whole lifestyle. Make sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet and make time for relaxation. If you’re under pressure at home or work you might not be able to avoid stress but you can still build in time to unwind, even if it’s just a soak in the bath and an early night. To help you sleep, try a relaxing herbal remedy containing sleep-inducing valerian, like Pukka Night Time, £13.95/60 caps, from health stores and pukkaherbs.com
The ‘hunger’ hormones: Leptin and ghrelin
These hormones work in tandem to control appetite. Ghrelin, released mainly in your stomach, is the hunger hormone that tells you when to eat. Leptin is made in your fat cells and sends you signals of fullness when you’ve had enough food.
Get in balance: Regulating levels of ghrelin can help you keep a handle on your appetite. Some research has found that eating regular meals with a balance of wholegrain carbohydrates, such as oats, along with protein, is the best way to suppress ghrelin. Avoid too much fatty food to keep it in check. Ever wondered why you eat more chocolate when you’re tired? That’s because leptin is lower and ghrelin higher after a bad night’s sleep – so make sure you get to bed early enough.
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