Feel­ing Hor­monal?

What ev­ery woman needs to know about hor­mones and our health

Singapore Women's Weekly (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

Your hor­mones are re­spon­si­ble for so much more than mood swings and the monthly men­strual cy­cle – they’re an es­sen­tial part of your over­all health. Hor­mones are mes­sen­gers that travel to var­i­ous parts of the body to help us func­tion nor­mally. There are many types: Thy­roid hor­mones, re­pro­duc­tive hor­mones, and those that keep our gas­troin­testi­nal tract work­ing. Some hor­mones ex­ist purely to con­trol the pro­duc­tion of other hor­mones.

We ask lead­ing hor­mone and en­docrine ex­perts about the key things women should know about hor­mones.

“HRT or hor­mone re­place­ment ther­apy ap­pears to pro­tect women against heart dis­ease ”

Women have a higher in­ci­dence of heart dis­ease af­ter menopause, when es­tro­gen lev­els drop dra­mat­i­cally, says Dr So­nia Davison, an en­docri­nol­o­gist at Jean Hailes for Women’s Health. “Stud­ies have shown hor­mone re­place­ment ther­apy seems to pro­tect against the devel­op­ment of heart dis­ease, but only if it is used close to when menopause oc­curs – not when it is first used many years af­ter menopause.”

“Thy­roid dis­or­ders are very com­mon, and the risk in­creases with age”

Thy­roid hor­mones – hav­ing too much or too lit­tle – can have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on our health. If you have an over­ac­tive thy­roid gland and pro­duce too much of the thy­roid hor­mone, you can feel anx­ious: Your heart goes faster, your me­tab­o­lism works faster and you lose weight. “With an un­der­ac­tive thy­roid, you don’t pro­duce enough thy­roid hor­mone and ev­ery­thing goes very slow,” says Pro­fes­sor He­lena Teede, Pro­fes­sor of Women’s Health at Monash Univer­sity. “Peo­ple put on weight, bow­els are slower, mem­ory and thought pro­cesses are slower.”

The good news? Th­ese prob­lems can be man­aged with anti-thy­roid med­i­ca­tion to reduce thy­roid hor­mone pro­duc­tion, or with med­i­ca­tion that re­places the thy­roid hor­mone your body is miss­ing.

“A woman’s testos­terone lev­els drop by about 50 per cent be­tween the ages of 35 and 45”

From her mid-30s, a woman’s testos­terone lev­els start to fall, says Pro­fes­sor Sue Davis, Pro­fes­sor of Women’s Health at Monash Univer­sity. The ovaries start to age, and though you may have a regular men­strual cy­cle, you may not ovu­late ev­ery month.

“By the age of 40, a woman’s chance of get­ting preg­nant in any monthly cy­cle has dropped to about 5 per cent,” says Pro­fes­sor Davis. “There will be changes in es­tro­gen lev­els, and this drop may lead to mood swings or mi­graines. ”

“Asthma can be­come worse af­ter hit­ting menopause”

Some women find their asthma be­comes worse af­ter menopause, and that may be due to a re­duc­tion in es­tro­gen. “Fluc­tu­at­ing lev­els of es­tro­gen seem to ac­ti­vate pro­teins in the body that cause in­flam­ma­tion of the air­ways. If that’s the case, it’s im­por­tant to talk to your doc­tor about what can be done and whether hor­mone re­place­ment ther­apy is a good idea to re­place the es­tro­gen,” says Dr Jonathan Bur­don, Chair­man of the Na­tional Asthma Coun­cil Aus­tralia.

“You can con­trib­ute to hav­ing a healthy hor­monal bal­ance”

“There are two things women can do – have a healthy diet with­out too much sugar, and main­tain a healthy weight,” says Pro­fes­sor Davis. Ex­ces­sive body fat can al­ter a woman’s hor­mone bal­ance quite sub­stan­tially, she adds. The Health Pro­mo­tion Board rec­om­mends man­ag­ing weight with en­ergy bal­ance: Burn more en­ergy, or calo­ries, than you con­sume, to bring about weight loss.The healthy Body Mass In­dex (BMI) range for Sin­ga­porean women is from 18.6 to 22.9.

“Don’t touch that re­ceipt! It may be con­tam­i­nated with BPA”

En­docrine dis­rup­tors, like bisphe­nol A (BPA), are chem­i­cals that in­ter­fere with the body’s en­docrine sys­tem. They act like hor­mones and there’s a lot of con­tro­versy sur­round­ing them; they are thought to be pos­si­bly as­so­ci­ated with a higher risk of the devel­op­ment of can­cer, de­vel­op­men­tal dis­or­ders and birth de­fects.

“A wide range of sub­stances, both nat­u­ral and man-made, are thought to be en­docrine dis­rup­tors, such as plas­tic bot­tles, metal food cans, de­ter­gents, toys and cos­met­ics,” says Dr Davison. “Some till re­ceipts printed on ther­mal pa­per have also been found to con­tain BPA.”

“Hor­monal changes con­trib­ute to low li­bido”

For women, a key hor­monal change that low­ers li­bido is the drop in es­tro­gen and testos­terone as they age, notes Dr Davison.

Some re­search stud­ies have re­ported that testos­terone treat­ment can help to im­prove li­bido, but this is con­tro­ver­sial and re­quires ex­pert ad­vice. “Women should talk to their doc­tor about treat­ment for low li­bido if it’s dis­tress­ing them or caus­ing re­la­tion­ship stress,” she says.

By the age of 40, a woman’s chance of get­ting preg­nant in any monthly cy­cle has dropped to about 5 per cent.

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