01/25/17

written by Natalie Pattillo

Body Banter

Holy Hormones: Life Stages

Last month, we took you on a whirlwind lesson to explore what hormones are, where they're located, and how a few of them keep your spectacular bod running properly. So if you're just now joining our Holy Hormones series (hiiiiii! 👋🏾) or just want a snappy review (hey, it's been awhile, we get it), here are a few highlights:

*Our hormones are special chemicals created by our endocrine system to help one part of the body talk with another.*

*If your hormones aren't functioning properly, it can really derail your body's messaging system, which could cause problems with sleep, energy, mood, weight, sex, incontinence, and more.*

Mmmkay, now that we're all on the same page (literally, figuratively, virtually, but maaaaybe not hormonally 😉), let's look at how our hormones are affected during each life stage. As we age (like a fine Cabernet 🍷), it's totally normal for our hormones to change too.

Let's take a spin through the main times our hormones can get all cattywampus:

Menstruation 

Periods are the result of a hormonal waltz 💃🏽 between the pituitary gland in the brain and the ovaries. Every month the female sex hormones get the body ready to support a pregnancy, but without fertilization there is magical menstruation (nothing quite like scarfing down half a pan of brownies w/ no inhibitions 😏). This might be totally basic information for you well-informed superstars 💫, but did you know 4 types of hormones help orchestrate your period party? Mmhmm, true story. 

Rising levels of estrogen build up the uterine lining (endometrium), which prepares the uterus to accept a fertilized egg. Then, follicle-stimulating hormones get our follicles ready for ovulation; each month anywhere from 3 to 30 are ripened for ovulation but typically only one lucky follicle grows, eventually ruptures, and releases an egg during ovulation (all with help of the luteinizing hormone). Finaaally, if no pregnancy occurs, progesterone and estrogen levels fall, which sheds the uterine lining and then wham, your girl Flo is on her way for her monthly visit 🔴. Pretty fascinating, right? (def hit up our sisters at Thinx, if you're shoppin around for period-proof panties!) 

Pregnancy / Postpartum

Much respect to the hormones produced post-conception that help ensure a safe & healthy pregnancy and birthing experience. Brace yourself, there are quite a few of these super helpful messengers... 

Once the egg meets the sperms, the human chorionic gonadotropin hormone (hCG) steps in to amp up the production of estrogen (which you can thank for the shiny luxurious hair) & progesterone. Estrogen helps your uterus grow and catapults the development of the baby's organs (whoa, and this is just scratching the surface). Increased levels of progesterone encourages growth in your breast tissue & later on preps you for labor by softening ligaments and cartilage. Relaxin—an aptly-named pregnancy hormone—relaxes muscles, joints, ligaments (specifically in your pelvic floor), and even softens and lengthens the cervix for a safe delivery! Soo...if you're feelin' a wee bit wobbly while you walk, it's not just because your growing beautiful belly is shifting your center gravity...it's the effects of reliable relaxin.

The placental growth factor hormone deserves much credit for increasing the blood vessel volume that's necessary to nourishing a growing fetus. How amazing is it that the human placental lactogen & placental growth hormones (produced in the placenta) adjusts your body's metabolism to feed your developing baby? And, the prolactin hormones are so foresightful that it increases your breast size for the production of milk 🍼! In case you couldn't tell, I'm fully mesmerized. 😺✨Then, there's oxytocin hormones, which are present throughout your pregnancy, but usually kicks into high-gear to stimulate contractions for labor. 

 Ahhh, now your sweet cherub has fully exited your body. Hooray, Mama (seriously, this shit is not easy, you deserve the highest of accolades)! And guess what, your hormones haven't taken a vacay! In fact, if you choose to breastfeed, your baby's suckling triggers the release of oxytocin, which not only helps the uterus to contract back down to its pre-pregnancy size, but also signals the contraction of mammary gland cells to squeeze out milk.  

Perimenopause 

Perimenopause, the life stage that probably gets the least attention, is a transition time that happens around menopause, which can last 5 - 10 years. At around 35 (remember, everyone's different), progesterone levels start declining and become rather unpredictable. For some, there *might not* be any symptoms. Others *might* experience increase in PMS symptoms like cramping, bloating, etc. or heavier menstrual bleeding. FYI, although your menses might be changing, it's very possible to still get pregnant during perimenopause. Sidenote: Since women who have had hysterectomies but still have ovaries don't get their periods, they might have more difficulty spotting perimenopause.

At around 40 and up, it's super common for luteinizing, follicle-stimulating, estrogen, and progesterone hormone levels to dwindle, fluctuate, or become imbalanced. Symptoms of hormonal imbalances are very unique and extremely individual, but most common include irregular periods, insomnia, night sweats and/or hot flashes, urinary urgency & leakage when laughing or coughing, vaginal dryness and abdominal weight gain, and/or heart palpitations. Emotionally, hormonal changes *could* heighten bouts anxiety, depression, and mood swings! Eeep!! Ok, here's when we hiiiiighly recommend commiserating with your best gal pal who might be perimenopausin' too.

And, it's very, very important to talk to your doctor about what hormone therapy, diet, or mood-management is best for you! Here's an excellent resource if you need solutions to your hot flashes & insomnia.

Menopause

Alrighty, we've made it to the last leg of our hormonal life stage (between the age of 40 - 58)! Menopause is the permanent process of ending fertility & menstruation. Typically, women can confirm that they've reached menopause after not getting their period for 12 straight months (yay, no more bloating or cramping!). During menopause, ovaries have significantly slowed down their estrogen-making factory (hormones wanna go on semi-retirement too 💁), which means there's no thickening of uterine lining and as a result, periods stop. Sidenote: menopause can be induced in pre-menopausal women after ovary removal or damage caused by surgery or chemo.

PHEW! Our bods go through some serious hormonal highs and lows, right?

~*How have these special messengers affected you & your bod?*~