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I am woman, hormonal and beautiful

By Nancy Nzalambi | May 29th 2021
Happy woman dancing [Courtesy]

You are very hormonal,” is a statement often said to women in a derogatory fashion when she exhibits an ‘unpalatable’ amount of emotion.

But yes, women have hormones coursing through their bodies in different levels during various points in their lives. And the fluctuations happen in women more than men. And it is OK to be ‘hormonal’; because these hormones, at their optimum, help keep us happy, healthy, with glowing skin and others help us sustain our unborn babies and newborns. What’s more? They keep our libidos healthy. But of course, like everything else in nature, they can sometimes be out of whack.

Today, we look at what roles these hormones play in our womanhood and how to keep them in check.

1. Prolactin; the ‘milk provider’

Prolactin may have over 300 uses in the body but it is popular for its queenliest roles. 

Aiding the production of breast milk after a woman gives birth. The hormone level goes up when a woman is pregnant.

  • Growth of breasts.
  • Regulation of menstrual period.

What happens when it is out of whack?   

An overproduction of the hormone, called hyperprolactinaemia, leads to: Unwelcome milk production. That means you could start producing milk even without having a newborn or aren’t pregnant.

It can also cause disturbance of the menstrual cycle where you experience missed or irregular periods. In men, an overproduction could cause problems with the sperm production. 

Too little prolactin?

There is insufficient milk production in breastfeeding mothers.

2. Testosterone…the male hormone women need

Testosterone in women is produced in the ovaries and adrenal gland. It is important because it is involved in menstruation, sex drive, fertility and tissue and bone mass. The hormone, studies show, boosts a woman’s libido and insufficient amount will depress sex drive.

What happens when it is out of whack?  

Testosterone is the main male sex hormone. Too much of it in a female may affect physical appearance by causing:

  • Acne
  • Balding
  • Decreased breast size
  • Hirsutism. This is the growth of unwanted hair 
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome, which according to Fertility Point Kenya affects 10 per cent of women. The condition affects a woman’s fertility.
  • Irregular or absent menstrual periods

Too little testosterone?

Testosterone naturally decreases as a woman ages, and especially towards menopause. It can also be caused by impaired ovary function. Ovary is one of the sources of the hormone in women.

One will likely experience:

  • Weight gain
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Reduced sexual satisfaction

3. Oestrogen, the ‘womanly’ hormone

This is one of the two primary hormones in women; the other being progesterone. It is produced in the ovaries. Men produce it too, but in smaller amounts. Besides its obvious function in fertility, where it ensures proper functioning of the uterus, the hormone is crucial for vaginal lubrication and sexual desire. It is also associated with collagen production; meaning it keeps the skin looking youthful and hydrated.  

What happens when it is out of whack?  

Excess oestrogen production contributes to:

  • Weight gain
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Menstrual problems
  • Fibroids
  • To some extent, it causes depression

Too much oestrogen in men causes

  • Big breasts in men (gynaecomastia)
  • Poor erections
  • Infertility

Too little?

This can lead to:

  • Loss of bone density. This is especially common when women hit menopause because then, the ovaries cease producing oestrogen. Ovary is the main producer of the hormone
  • A reduction in sex drive
Young woman suffering from stomach ache in bed at home [Courtesy]

 4.      Progesterone: ‘The supportive partner’

Progesterone helps the body to support a pregnancy or prepares it for one. It is also primarily produced in the ovaries.

If it is too little….“Low levels of progesterone causes irregular and heavy menses, miscarriage or early labour in pregnancy”, says Edwin Chemonges, a reproductive health nurse.

“When a pregnant woman is at risk of miscarriage or early labour, synthetic progesterone can be administered to delay the onset of labour,” he adds.

Too much progesterone?

Not to worry. There is no known medical consequence of having too much of it.

Why you need to find an outlet for stress

Cortisol hormone is what is produced when you are stressed by the daily rigours of life. It is the main stress hormone. If your body is under constant stress, cortisol has been found to influence the working of body systems like the digestive and reproductive systems. However, after the stressor has passed, cortisol levels should come down, allowing other body systems to go back to normal.

Too much cortisol may lead to anxiety, depression, insomnia and weight gain. Also, if your body makes too much cortisol, you may develop Addison’s disease characterised by constant fatigue, muscle weakness, low blood pressure and loss of appetite.

High cortisol levels trigger a stress response in your body. Your body thinks it needs to fight or take flight, and so it releases insulin to burn some glucose for energy your body will need. The increased insulin production then leads to low sugar in your blood which in turn induces sugar cravings. Do this many times and there will be an inevitable weight gain.

Do you have hormonal imbalance?

Since hormones influence the actions and the timings of body processes, too much or too little levels can cause serious effects. Hormonal imbalances fluctuate due to natural occurrences such as pregnancy and menopause, hormonal disorders, hormonal contraceptives or even stress. If you notice constant and excessive weight gain, hair loss, irritability, low sex drive, acne or even digestive problems, consult an endocrinologist for medical advice.

Can contraceptives trigger breast cancer?

There are no specific causes of breast cancer. While women are taking oral contraceptives and for 10 years after they stop, there is a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer. Duration of use, dose and type of contraceptive do not seem to have a difference on the risk. Those who start using them before the age of 20 seem to have a slightly higher risk than those who start at a later age

Dr Josiah Moki, an oncoplastic breast surgeon at Kenyatta University Teaching, Research and Referral Hospital

Nancy Nzalambi is a public health researcher

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