Hormones are chemical messages, like text messages sent from an endocrine gland through your blood to target cells. Hormones influence your behavior, emotions, brain chemicals, immunity, and metabolism.
When your hormones are in balance, you look and feel your best. But when they are imbalanced, they can make your life miserable. You can feel lethargic, irritable, weepy, grumpy, unappreciated, anxious, and depressed.
The message from most conventional doctors is that it is normal to feel like this as you age and that you should just accept it. As a functional medicine doctor specializing in women’s hormones, Dr. Sara Gottfried, MD can assure you it’s not normal. You can balance your hormones and get back to feeling vivacious and genuinely content.
Each life stage has its hormonal benefits and challenges for women. Dr. Sara has broken down the adolescent and reproductive years in this article.
Ages 10−20: Adolescence
In adolescence, the control system in the brain (hypothalamus and pituitary) is just getting started in the conversation with the key endocrine glands outside of the brain: adrenals, thyroid, and gonads (ovaries in girls, testes in boys). There’s a lot of excitement as the adolescent female brain goes through puberty and responds to estrogen for the first time, making girls care more about their appearance and their status among friends.
Ages 20−35+: Reproductive Years
The childbearing years are when you’re most likely to be a perfect hormonal specimen, especially in your twenties. You have a predictable level of estrogen and progesterone each day of the menstruation cycle.
Progesterone is key to a woman’s ability to roll with the punches and be accommodating. Progesterone makes allopregnanolone in the brain, which interacts with GABA and serotonin for a foursome that truly soothes the female brain. Even thousands of years ago, in Chinese Medicine, women were considered to be at their peak hormonally around twenty-one to twenty-eight years old. Science suggests age twenty-four, but Dr. Sara argues that the optimal age for reproduction is based on an empowered woman’s choice.
Note from Dr. Sara:
“After I gave birth to my first child, I was shocked to experience symptoms of menopause during my postpartum stage: hot flashes, night sweats, brain fog, vaginal dryness, and CRS (Can’t Remember Stuff). That’s because when a woman delivers a placenta, estrogen and progesterone shift from sky-high to nothing in a matter of minutes. It’s a preview of coming attractions in perimenopause.”
Women in their twenties benefit from understanding that the best way to mind your hormones begins early in life by:
Master your sleep (97 percent of us need eight hours each night).
Eat nutrient-dense food (and not too much).
- Stop sitting so much (Try the Sit Less Resolution).
Detox your liver periodically (Get off the alcohol).
When you don’t indulge stress or let it overpower you, you’re actually creating hormonal grace.
The reason is simple: Cortisol, the main stress hormone, controls the levels of the other key hormones in your body, including thyroid, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
Women in their thirties may feel increasingly tense and overwhelmed, in need of better strategies on how to chill out. Your goal should be to prevent high blood pressure, prediabetes, and accelerated aging that comes with chronically high-perceived stress.
Let’s Talk PMS Solutions
As your hormone levels fluctuate throughout your reproductive years, PMS can abate or worsen, depending on your age (or more precisely, the age of the eggs in your ovaries) and how you’re navigating stress.
PMS is closely tied to progesterone levels, which decline as you age, especially around thirty-five to forty-five. If you want to geek out, PMS is actually a sign of imbalanced hormones beyond just progesterone. The best science shows that PMS is the result of the poorly synchronized dance between four entities: progesterone, allopregnanolone (a derivative of progesterone), and the GABA and serotonin pathways in the brain, which make you calm and happy. It’s a complicated situation, but the solutions are often surprisingly simple.
Symptoms of PMS include mood swings, food cravings, irritability, belly bloating and tender breasts.
Here are a few ways to alleviate symptoms of PMS:
Chasteberry and St. John’s Wort are herbal therapies that have been proven to relieve symptoms of PMS.
Calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B6 help combat hormone imbalance, bloating, and anxiety. Magnesium is a girl’s best friend when it comes to preventing the ungodly fluid retention that occurs a few days before menstruation.
- Women with PMS eat 275% more refined carbs than women without PMS. Not surprisingly, this makes mood swings and fluid retention even worse. To avoid this symptom, ditch all processed foods and while the cravings are the strongest, try Crave Control.
- Moderate exercise, acupuncture, and a sugar-free diet all go a long way in alleviating PMS.