Hormone micrograph

Hormones get blamed for an awful lot, but what are they exactly?

Well, hormones are chemical messengers released by glands in your body. They play an important part in activating processes like puberty and the menstrual cycle, so they’re not all bad. In fact, they make sure the body is developing and working as it should. But there’s also a downside to them.

The mood changes, irritability, sadness and anxiety you may have been feeling since puberty can all be put down to pesky hormonal changes. That’s because, for this brief period of your life, your hormones and brain chemistry are out of sync, meaning you feel more emotional and jumpy. Hormonal changes can also bring about unwelcome things like pimples, excess body hair and increased body odour. That’s why they’re ‘pesky’ hormones – because while they’re helping you mature and bringing about essential changes, they’re also making your emotions hard to deal with, and your body seem like a bit of a stranger.

Hormones also play a crucial role in your menstrual cycle. In fact, they’re involved at every stage. Over the course of your cycle, the pituitary gland (which is a pea-sized organ found at the base of the brain) produces follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). These hormones encourage ovulation (when a mature egg is released from one of your ovaries) and also instigate the ovaries to produce more hormones – specifically estrogen and progesterone [1]. Estrogen and progesterone stimulate the womb to prepare for possible pregnancy [2], but they can affect you on the outside too.

For example, increased estrogen levels during the ovulation phase can make you feel energetic and frisky. Meanwhile, a build up in progesterone in the luteal phase (after ovulation but before your period starts) may leave you all hot and bothered and craving sugary foods. The shift between the two during your cycle, when estrogen begins to fall and progesterone starts to rise, can also cause you to suffer from PMS (premenstrual syndrome), which tends to mean anxiety, mood swings and aches and pains. ‘Pesky’ is definitely the word.

So if you’re fed up of feeling like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster, don’t worry – it’s absolutely normal, and you’re definitely not alone.

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