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Hormones set the agenda

Hormones are often cast in the role of "bad guys". We blame them for almost everything, ranging from pimples and anger to weight gain.
And certainly, they do play a part but not only there.
They are also your inner clock, thermostat and scale. Among other things.

When we talk about hormones we think foremost about the ones governing our menstrual cycle; oestrogen and progesterone. But these are only two of the hundreds of hormones in our bodies.

Hormones work around the clock, regardless of whether you are sleeping, eating, training or cuddling in the bedroom.

Let’s look at a few examples:
Insulin absorbs nutrients from food and stores them until needed.

The pancreas regulates body temperature via hormones that elevate or lower metabolism depending on what is needed to keep your body at about 37°C – regardless of whether it is cold or sunny, if we are sitting quietly in front of the TV or working out at the gym on the stairs machine.

Endorphins are the body’s own morphine. They relieve pain and boost our sense of wellbeing. Endorphins are released into the body when we exercise and have sex for instance.

Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland and signals when it is time to go to bed. Without it your body would never wind down – on the other hand, jetlag would not be a problem.

Hormones with a bad rep
Obviously, low blood sugar levels, which are linked to insulin, can affect our mood on a daily basis. But nothing gets blamed for sudden outbursts of anger like our menstrual cycle hormones. These hormones have a really bad rep: pimples, weight gain, and sudden bouts of crying…the list goes on.

The lead players in the menstrual cycle are oestrogen and progesterone.

Oestrogen levels are low during the first part of the menstrual cycle. These levels rise gradually and peak mid-cycle when the egg is fully mature. After the egg journeys out, oestrogen drops and progesterone climbs. About one week before menstruation our oestrogen levels rise and peak again. And then, during the days immediately before menstruation, both progesterone and oestrogen levels plummet.

"Hormones work around the clock, regardless of whether you are sleeping, eating, training or cuddling in the bedroom." ”

How does this affect our bodies? It goes something like this: You often feel tired the first days of bleeding though your body is in excellent physical shape (now is a good time to build muscles!). The days just before ovulation are when most of us feel our best and most beautiful - our skin feels supple and even, our hair shines, and our sex drive peaks – all aimed at becoming pregnant.

The days after ovulation, when progesterone levels begin to rise, many feel an increase in appetite. Progesterone levels peak one week before menstruation and many women feel irritated and bloated, crave sweets, suffer pimple attacks and disrupted sleep and urine leakage is more common. Progesterone levels plummet the days just before menstruation, when our body realises the egg was not fertilised causing the symptoms to melt away. Menstruation begins and the entire process starts all over again. (If hormonal contraceptives are not used.)

Menopause’s little surprise
When we reach menopause and oestrogen levels diminish we can look forward to waning hormonal side-effects – and they do: mood swings, pimples and weight gain subside leaving room for others to make their debut. Low levels of oestrogen reduce elasticity in the urinary walls making it more difficult for pelvic muscles to contract which results in urine leakage. This problem increases if the pelvic muscles have for instance been strained by carrying and delivering a child vaginally and there has not been time to train the muscles. A few genetic factors are also involved.

The four commandments
Regardless of what phase in life we are at, hormones always play a part and they need care if we are to feel well. To achieve this, you need to follow these four commandments:

  • You shall avoid stress – studies show that stress can for instance cause gain weight since insulin has to work too hard. This creates an imbalance.
  • You shall get enough sleep – your body needs sleep to rest.
  • You shall maintain a healthy diet – eat regularly, and do not succumb to sugar cravings that only cause blood sugar (and insulin) levels to rollercoaster. If you want something sweet, opt for 70% dark chocolate. Omega 3 and 6 are also good for us, and can be found in fatty fish like mackerel and salmon.
  • You shall not be sedentary – exercise is great and boosts the body’s endorphins.

Most of us have a tight schedule with family, children, friends, work and all the things we want to see, hear and experience. Hormones affect us more than we think which is why it is vital we listen to our inner clock in terms of rest and rejuvenation. This allows our hormones to become our allies, not our opponents, whether they are insulin, melatonin, oestrogen or progesterone.

Exercise your pelvic muscles

It is never too early, or too late to start exercising your pelvic muscles by doing contraction exercises. 7 of 10 women regain control and recover completely by exercising their pelvic muscles. Read more here »

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