It’s a popular punchline in movies and TV sitcoms when a woman is acting irrational — “It’s her hormones.” As it turns out, there’s more than a kernel of truth in this stereotype. While wonky hormone levels can’t be blamed for every strange thing a woman says or does, they can be the culprit in a variety of areas. Shape Magazine’s talking about the 20 most important hormones for our health (yes, 20!). We’re looking at the ones most key for women.
3 Important Hormones for Women’s General Health
This household-name hormone is produced in the ovaries and helps control sexual development (puberty, menstrual cycle, pregnancy) and also maintain bone strength. When levels are too high, it can cause increased risk of breast cancer, dementia and even uterine cancer.
As the uterus prepares for fertilization, these levels rise after ovulation, maintaining the uterine lining in preparation for implantation and throughout gestation. If pregnancy doesn’t occur, levels drop, causing menstruation to start.
These hormones regulate normal growth, sexual development, and reproductive function. They include:
Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), regulates puberty and reproductive processes
Luteinizing hormone (LH), triggers ovulation
Placental chorionic gonadotropins (hCG and eCG) secreted by the placenta following implantation
Prolactin (PRL), a hormone that enables females to produce milk
How can women make sure their hormone levels are on track?
Resident nutrition expert Mary Hartley, RD weighs in, saying, “Women often pay indirect attention to their hormone levels by monitoring their general health. When the menstrual cycle is normal, pregnancy is healthy, menopause is uneventful, and there is no related disease, hormone levels are most likely fine. When physical symptoms or concerns occur, then follow-up with a doctor.”
Other Key Players:
If disease prevention is top of mind, you may want to hit the gym. Irisin, sometimes called the exercise hormone, converts calorie-storing white fat cells into calorie-burning brown fat cells. Some research suggests that higher levels of this hormone may reduce cancer, heart disease and even Alzheimer’s.
Women don’t need to worry about testosterone, right? Wrong. This “male hormone” affects sex drive, bone density, and muscle strength. Heightened levels can lead to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which prevents ovulation and results in an increased risk of insulin resistance, heart disease, excess hair growth, acne, and more.
How to Keep Hormone Levels Healthy?
“The same practices that care for the rest of the body help hormones too: eat a wholesome balanced diet, get regular physical activity, rest, stress control, etc.,” explained Hartley. “For hormonal balance, eat foods that favor intestinal health, like vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruit, and fermented foods. For exercise, yoga and tai chi are especially good for hormonal balance.”