BODY TALK: Hopeless Hormones
You’d think these guys messed up our lives enough at puberty, but more and more women in their twenties and thirties (and forties and fifties; does it ever end?) have to deal with hormones. Call it dysfunction, or imbalance or just plain out of whack; we talk about how your hormones can leave you a hot mess. By: Emeldah Gwitimah
Who’s who in the hormone crew?
First of all, let’s be clear, hormones are vital elements in the human body, and generally, do a fine job of maintaining optimal bodily functions. If you dig up your Form 3 Biology notes, you’d remember the term Homeostasis, which in short, refers to hormones controlling blood sugar, salt (ion) levels, temperature and fertility. Like enzymes, they are the little generators in our body, assisting in smooth system operations. Thing is, as much as they keep everything else functioning properly, if they are not kept in check, then in Chinua Achebe’s words, Things Fall Apart.
Commonly known as the ‘male’ hormone or androgen- even females have it in little amounts, but the moment it gets overproduced, it wreaks havoc on your system messing with fertility and stimulating hair growth (we’re talking facial and chest hair here)
Plays a role in the female cycle and especially in preparing for pregnancy.
So confused it even has two spellings! This hormone is responsible for so much good and bad at the same time. Produced by the ovaries, the adrenal glands and fat cells.
Leptin, Ghrelin, Irisin and Cholecystokinin
In case you hadn’t noticed, this gang all has something in common- they all affect what happens IN your stomach. These regulate your appetite, digestion and metabolic functions.
A.k.a. the one that should lighten up. This is the hormone that works in mood regulation. In people who are clinically depressed or even just sleep deprived, levels of serotonin tend to be imbalanced.
Cortisol and Adrenalin
These terrible two are ‘stress’ hormones i.e. they are activated by changes in mental state and can be aggravated by digestive issues. They regulate our animal nature, that is the fight or flight instinct in the face of danger.
The one with the sweetest job; that is, regulating glucose (or blood sugar) levels.
‘What’s happening to me?!’
The unfortunate lot who’ve had to find out just how hormones are messing with them, know that the symptoms of hormonal imbalance make life uncomfortable: All of a sudden you’ve got giant sore acne, and for real, three little strands of hair making themselves comfortable on your chin! Throw in excessive sweating, digestive health problems like gas and constipation, inexplicable weight gain and fatigue. You literally have to drag yourself out of bed every morning and turn into the Cookie Monster with insatiable sugar cravings by noon. Your sleep patterns are just odd and you become Cruella Devile before your period; not in the normal, ‘ugh this sucks’ kind of way but in the I. Just. Hate. Everything way. Maybe you get stressed out just sitting in your office and find yourself not coping easily with daily tasks? Add skin that has lost its luster or tone, a nice little kangaroo patch of belly fat that has perched itself on your tummy and bloating after each meal.Believe it or not, these factors aren’t only making you feel bad, they may be highly impacting your health as well because they are all sure signs your hormones are out of form.This imbalanced state may lead to complications such as diabetes, poly-cystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and infertility.
How to heal?
As much as it feels like the world is ending, do not despair. A doctor can prescribe medicines to assist your body to regulate hormones. There are also a few ways to ease the symptoms:
- Get checked
No one enjoys a gynae visit and having their insides probed, but gynae’s didn’t go to med school all those years for you to ignore them. Don’t wait to visit them once you are (or trying to get) pregnant. Testing for hormonal imbalance is necessary, and is done through ultrasound, blood and urine tests and scans of the pituitary gland.
We’re not saying become a body builder but, get your body active. Even a 10% reduction in body weight can have a significant effect. And some light intensity exercise like yoga, stretching, pilates and swimming. Take time on Facebook to have a look at these. You’d be surprised at how many people offer classes that are both discreet and fun in Zimbabwe.
No, not a tirade against every food group and anything that tastes remotely nice either. Practice mindful eating. Have plenty of fruits and veggies, but make sure they are not contaminated. Watch out for wheat gluten and dairy. They do have a role to play in a balanced diet, but everyone’s gut is different. Those who are lactose intolerant know how upsetting a glass of milk can be, because alas, it contains hormones too. So, in the meantime while you try to heal, put that ice cream down!
- avoid alcohol, or limit it to an anti-oxidant rich dark red wine.
Every cell needs water. Think of it as the lubricant that makes everything work easier. Drink, drink, drink. A 2ltr water bottle will set you back $0.60 each day, but it is worth the sacrifice.
- Manage Stress
While it can’t be avoided, try to find ways to manage your stress levels. Get a hobby to relax you, develop a thing—maybe getting your nails done, a pedicure, reading; just something that relaxes you.
- Late nights
Ask yourself why you are wide awake at witching hours. Midnight for what? Adequate sleep, 7 hours plus is necessary especially for digestive hormones (ghrelin and leptin) to do their job optimally.
They will always play a part in your overall health, but with consistent effort applied to improving diet and digestive health, stress management, improved sleep and physical activity, true holistic health—and hormones in harmony—are attainable.