Hormones are chemicals in your body that are responsible for most aspects of daily life: sleep, digestion, metabolism, stress and energy levels. These “chemical messengers” carry signals from the brain and through the blood to your organs, skin, muscles and other tissues, which instruct your body what to do and when to do it.
As we get older, hormone production naturally starts to change and shift. But there are also factors that affect our hormone balances such as too much stress, poor diet and nutrition, or use of hormonal medication. Hana® is here to tell you everything you need to know about how your hormones change as you age.
From about our mid-to-late twenties, estrogen and progesterone levels are at their peak for people with uteruses. These two hormones are important for female reproductive and sexual development, including regulating the menstrual cycle and playing an essential role in pregnancy.
As you reach your thirties, the levels of these hormones start to naturally decline, which is most commonly marked by changes to your menstrual cycle. From mid-to-late forties, people with ovaries may experience “perimenopause”, which is when levels of estrogen and progesterone fluctuate and can be unpredictable. From around 50-years-old, oestrogen declines by around 50% and significantly decreases after menopause.
A hormonal imbalance occurs when you have too much or too little or one or more hormones. Common side effects of hormonal imbalances are acne, decline in libido, changes in weight, pain during sex, night sweats, excessive or unwanted hair growth, fatigue, insomnia, darkening of the skin, vaginal dryness, and changes in the menstrual cycle.
Birth control pill
There are two types of contraceptive pill: the combined pill, which contains a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone (called a progestogen) and a synthetic form of oestrogen; then we have the progestogen-only pill (also called the “mini pill”), which just contains progestogen as the active ingredient. To find out more about the different contraceptive pills, head over to our other article here.
Hana® is a progestogen-only pill containing the active ingredient desogestrel. When taken correctly, it helps prevent pregnancy by working to consistently inhibit ovulation and alter your cervical mucus. Side effects of the “mini-pill” vary from person to person. To read more about the potential side effects of taking Hana®, check out our article here.
Weight gain is listed as a common side effect of the hormonal contraceptive pill, so around one in ten may experience this. Click here if you want to read more about whether the mini-pill can cause weight gain. If you experience any side effects, or you’re worried about gaining weight from the pill, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
Hormones & emotions
Hormones play an important role in our emotions. So, changes in our hormones when taking the oral contraceptive pill, might affect a person’s mood. A 2016 study of more than one million females in Denmark found that there was a link between hormonal contraception and increased risk for first use of antidepressants and first diagnosis of depression.
If you’re concerned that your birth control pill is affecting your mood, speak to your healthcare provider who will be able to help you. Hana® also has an article dedicated to how the contraceptive might impact your mood, documenting one woman’s journey with different contraceptive methods.
Hormones & the vagina
Due to the changes in hormone levels caused by contraceptive pills, some people may experience a change in vaginal discharge or vaginal dryness. Unless there’s a change in odour or colour, which might point to an infection, these changes are usually not harmful. If you’re experiencing vaginal dryness and want to engage in sexual activity, try using a lubricant, which will help to make this more comfortable.
Hormones & acne
Acne occurs when hair follicles in the skin become clogged with oil and dead skin cells – also called “sebum”. A build up in sebum is often caused by changing hormone levels. Changes in hormone levels can cause flare-ups in acne, which is why some women experience a break-out before their period or during the first three months of pregnancy.
However, there are many different treatments for acne that your GP can advise you on.
The decline of oestrogen and progesterone levels in women and people with uteruses leads to menopause, which is when the ovaries stop producing as much estrogen and cease to release an egg every month. It’s a natural part of ageing and usually occurs between 45-55 years of age. After this time, a woman will no longer have periods nor be able to get pregnant naturally. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach menopause is 51-years-old.
Commons symptoms of menopause are: hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, difficuty sleeping, low mood or anxiety, reduced sex drive, problems with memory of concentrations.
If you experience any of these symptoms before the age of 45, you should go see a medical professional. A blood test may be taken if you’re under the age of 45 to confirm whether you’re menopausal or not.
Some severe symptoms of menopause can be treated such as vaginal dryness, for which a moisturiser, lubricant or estrogen cream may be given. There is also hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in the form of tablets, skin patches, gels and implants that can relieve symptoms by replacing oestrogen levels.
The Thyroid Hormone
Hormone imbalances can affect several bodily processes that lead to weight gain. Thyroid hormones act to regulate the body’s metabolism (the rate at which it burns energy). If you have too few of these hormones, then the metabolism can slow, leading to weight gain.
“Hypothyroidism” is the term for an underactive thyroid – one that produces too few hormones – and “hyperthyroidism” describes an overactive thyroid, one that produces too many hormones.
As we age, the prevalence of thyroid disorders increases. But hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are generally straightforward to diagnose via a blood test to measure the amount of thyroid hormones in the body.
If you think you may have a problem with your thyroid, speak to your GP who will be able to advise on treatments.
How will I know if I have a hormonal imbalance?
Certain hormones, like estrogen, testosterone, or thyroid hormone, can be examined via a blood test.
But testing for hormones rests largely on what your healthcare provider thinks may be causing the issue. For example, ultrasound, X-ray, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests can be used to identify cysts or tumours that might be causing the body to produce excess amounts of hormones. Or, urine testing can be carried out to test for hormones related to the menstrual cycle.