The hormonal balancing act
The two main female hormones are oestrogen and progesterone. These are called steroid hormones because they are fat-like, originally made from cholesterol which is produced in the liver. Testosterone and the stress-hormone cortisol are also steroid hormones. The body has to balance these according to your needs. For example, if you are under a lot of stress your body may struggle to produce enough cortisol which is involved in the body’s response to stress, at the expense of the others. This is why sex drive diminishes when you're stressed, because the body produces less testosterone which, in both men and women, controls sex drive.
Why stress is a factor
Have you ever noticed how when you’re premenstrual, or in the throes of a menopausal episode, you feel pretty stressed out? Progesterone, oestrogen and the adrenal-stress hormones are derived from the same source. Stress knocks your hormonal patterns out of rhythm because there is going to be a greater demand on the raw materials. Stress also places a greater demand on the body's nutrient reserves, leaving you tired and in a vicious circle of feeling less able to cope with stress. You could take all the measures available to try to rebalance your hormones, but while you are stressed you are unlikely to see much difference. The way hormones are made is just one of the main underlying processes in the body that dictates the ebb and flow, balance or imbalance of our hormones, especially the important ratio between oestrogen and progesterone. Another is the monthly hormonal pattern, the balance between the two throughout the menstrual cycle, which is crucial. While very few women's bodies actually follow the textbook pattern, it is the ratios between these two hormones that dictates balance, or not. Critical times in hormonal shifts are ovulation and the lead-up to a period, and of course, when a woman is going through the menopause. At such times, the potential for symptoms related to hormones such as mood swings, bloating etc to show up increases.
Testing your hormones
You can find out whether your hormones are out of balance, to what degree and when in your cycle, with simple yet sophisticated tests.
The following symptoms are all the result of an imbalance in hormone patterns:
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