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Hormone health

Women's bodies are affected by hormones right through their lives – here's how to look after yours, whatever your age

Women and men both have hormones and, in fact, women have some testosterone, typically considered the 'male hormone' and men have some oestrogen which is usually considered to be a 'female hormone'," says Sian Eustace of health store Healing Harvest in Kinvara, Co Galway. "However, women usually experience more times of hormonal change in their lives and this gives more opportunity for imbalance."

"The female reproductive system is in constant flux," says Cobus Botha, naturopath and herbalist who works with Coyne Healthcare. "Hormones like testosterone, oestrogen, and progesterone fluctuate at various stages of a woman's cycle, but also throughout her life. Men on the other hand, have a relatively constant level of hormones throughout their life, except for puberty and andropause."

Oestrogen vs progesterone

"It is important to find out whether the particular symptoms occurring are being caused by oestrogen dominance or progesterone dominance," says Sian Eustace. "The types of symptoms can give pointers as to which is happening and blood tests can give a clear picture of levels.

"Oestrogen dominance can lead to symptoms such as heavy, painful periods and premenstrual irritability. Progesterone dominance can lead to symptoms of breast tenderness, bloating, low mood and anxiety. Depending on which hormone is dominant, there are several products on the market which can help with rebalancing."

"Having too much oestrogen can lead to acne, constipation, or even breast cancer," says Cobus Botha. "Having too little can lead to poor bone growth and menopausal symptoms. Low levels of progesterone could cause irregular or absent periods while high levels can cause anxiety, depression, fatigue and weight gain. While mostly thought of as a male hormone, females also have testosterone and low levels could cause lowered libido. Most people immediately think of diabetes when they hear insulin, however insulin resistance in women is directly linked with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) which can lead to irregular periods, facial hair and even infertility."


"For women, hormonal change occurs at puberty, with menstruation, during and after pregnancy, and at menopause," says Sian Eustace. "For men, the main change is at puberty. It is not really true to say that one particular hormone causes problems. Rather, an imbalance between the hormones creates a set of symptoms that can be physical, emotional, or both. The two main hormones involved in this dance are oestrogen and progesterone and symptoms can be caused by a dominance of either one."

"The four Ps are puberty, PMS, pregnancy and perimenopause," says Cobus Botha. "Puberty is when one goes from being a young girl to suddenly having to contend with raging levels of oestrogen. This is a time when a young woman will experience fluctuations in her mood, sore breasts and her first period. Many changes are happening all at once and these can feel overwhelming. At this time omega-3 oils can be helpful for acne."


"PMS (premenstrual syndrome) affects up to 90% of women at some point during their reproductive lifespan," says Cobus Botha. "Women can experience moodiness, bloating and cramps."

Other symptoms include back pain, bloating, fatigue, skin problems, swollen hands and feet, weight gain, tender breasts, dizziness and headaches and emotional changes such as mood swings, insomnia, depression, no sex drive and irritability.

Agnus castus relieves some symptoms of premenstrual syndrome including anxiety, mood swings, irritability and sore breasts.

Evening primrose oil is often recommended for sensitivity and tenderness in your breast area. It is a rich source of linoleic acid and gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), both of which are omega-6 essential fatty acids.

Magnesium can help relax the neuromuscular system which might help a stressed body Omega-3 fish oils regulate the hormonal activity, reduce tiredness and fatigue, maintain normal healthy skin and supports muscle function. When taken with magnesium it can really help with low mood.

Vitamin B6 helps to regulate the mood and stress hormones in your body.

Vitamin B12 replenishes red blood cells. When taken with fish oil, B12 can ease the discomfort linked with period pain.

Vitamin D may help alleviate the pain associated with menstrual cramps.


"Pregnancy is second to puberty with the wildest hormonal ride in a woman's life," says Cobus Botha. "A complex cocktail of hormones, dealing with body changes, tiredness, nausea and vomiting, and changes in appetite, are some of the challenges that come with pregnancy and the associated hormonal rollercoaster. What's more, after childbirth many women experience postpartum depression.

"During the reproductive years omega-3 can regulate the menstrual cycle and reduce the symptoms of PMS."

And of course all pregnant women are recommended to take folic acid to reduce the risk of neural tube issues in their growing baby.


"Perimenopause is the final change that women experience," says Cobus Botha. "It is the transition into the menopausal years and marks the end of the reproductive years. While women no longer need to worry about menstruation or associated PMS, they may now be faced with hot flushes, night sweats, weight gain and irritability."

The change in hormone levels can lead to anxiety, sleeping problems and even mild depression. Due to hormonal changes, lack of sleep is a very common problem for women going through the menopause.

Avena sativa drops gradually help to build up a resistance to stress and a more calm state of mind.

Dong quai can help with menopausal hormonal issues.

Omega-3 is essential for menopausal women because it can prevent osteoporosis and help vaginal dryness.

Sage can help to bring your body temperature back into line as it helps to rebalance the sweat-regulating mechanism in the brain.

Valerian and hops promote peaceful refreshing sleep. These herbs will help women who have difficulty falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, waking very early and waking feeling unrefreshed.

Natural all-rounders

"My favourite herb for helping navigate the emotional rapids in women across all stages of life is saffron," says Cobus Botha. "It has been shown to alleviate PMT, reduce anxiety and depression in teens and even help with libido later in life. It can also assist with irritability and elevate mood as well as improve sleep quality. I recommend felix affron as it is made with a highly specialised saffron extract."

Hormone-friendly diet

"Following a healthy diet high in vegetables (and some fruit) with high quality grass-fed protein sources is always recommended," says Cobus Botha. "It is important to avoid highly processed foods and refined sugar."

Keeping blood sugars balanced can help prevent mood swings and fatigue. Keep your cupboards stocked with wholesome healthy foods such as brown rice, eggs, seeds, walnuts, avocado, melon, peppers, bananas and plenty of green vegetables.

Your lifestyle

"Relaxation techniques such as yoga, Pilates and mindfulness can be very useful for helping to deal with the stress and anxiety which can be symptoms of hormonal imbalance," says Sian Eustace.

"Regular exercise helps to keep PMS at bay," says Cobus Botha. "In older women it can help to reduce the incidence of hot flushes and prevent osteoporosis. Exercise is also great for managing stress and staying emotionally healthy. Stress is linked to a multitude of hormonal imbalances, so actively seeking ways to manage your stress levels is essential to maintaining the complex balance of hormones that can help you feel your best."

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