Your hormones can have a big impact on your overall health, so it's helpful to know a bit more about them. Get to know your hormones with these nine facts (and one myth) from our recent Women's Health Week quiz:
1. Your hormone levels affect more than your reproductive health and fertility.
Hormones are chemical messengers. They are like your body's personal courier service, carrying important information from one organ to another. For women, not only do they control periods, fertility and menopause, but hormones also have a powerful influence on mental health, brain chemistry, skin health and more.
2. The female hormone progesterone has effects in the brain.
Progesterone affects receptors in the brain but can have different effects in different women. In some women it has a soothing effect, in some it can cause irritability and for many women changes in progesterone make no noticeable difference to how they feel. Levels are naturally low in the first half of a typical cycle, but then rise after ovulation and plunge before the monthly bleed.
3. What causes PMS (premenstrual syndrome)?
Good-quality research into PMS has only happened in recent years and the science is still far from crystal clear. Once thought to be due to low progesterone levels, more recent research has revealed it may be due to a sensitivity to an offshoot hormone of progesterone called allopregnanolone. The sum-up? Watch this space!
4. Oestrogen protects your skeleton.
The hormone oestrogen is essential for healthy bone. When oestrogen levels decrease, such as in menopause, bones are at a much higher risk of becoming brittle and breaking (a condition known as osteoporosis).
5. What's going on with hot flushes?
Hot flushes are a common symptom of menopause. A hot flush can feel like an extreme change in temperature, but your core body temperature (the temperature inside your body) will not change or rise above the normal 36-37°C. Where temperature does change is in your skin. Hot flushes can increase skin temperature by up to 2 degrees, and occur due to changes in blood flow and fluctuating hormones.
6. Oestrogen may increase your chances of fighting off the 'flu.
A recent study found that oestrogen can increase your chances of fighting off the 'flu virus. This may mean that you have more protection in the middle of your cycle – commonly around day 14 – when oestrogen naturally peaks. Plus, the oestrogen in prescriptions such as the Pill and MHT (menopause hormone therapy, formerly called hormone replacement therapy) may be giving women some added flu-fighting benefit.
7. Testosterone isn't a male-only hormone.
You may think of testosterone as being a male-only hormone, but it also plays a big role in women's health. Science has cemented its role in the female sex drive, energy and motivation, but recent research shows that keeping levels healthy can result in improved memory, learning and better brain health.
8. Female hormone levels and body fat levels are connected.
The female body requires a certain percentage of body fat to be able to ovulate (release eggs), have periods and become pregnant. If a woman's body fat level falls too low – such as in athletes or women who do intense exercise – periods and ovulation can stop. If body fat levels are too high (such as in overweight or obese women) the hormones oestrogen and oestrone are typically higher as well, increasing the risk of hormone-related cancers such as breast cancer.
9. There is more than one type of oestrogen
Women's bodies make three main types of oestrogen. Oestradiol is the most potent form of oestrogen and the main type of oestrogen found in premenopausal women. Oestriol is a weaker oestrogen and mainly found during pregnancy. Oestrone is another weak oestrogen and is the oestrogen found in postmenopausal women.
Myth-busting: The moon and your menstrual cycle
In folklore, the menstrual cycle has strong links to the moon or lunar cycle and this is likely because they're about the same length – a 'typical' menstrual cycle is 28 days and a lunar cycle is 29.5 days. Outdated research from the 1980s, on whether the two cycles link up, produced some interesting but conflicting results. However, more recently, a 2013 study tracked 74 women's cycles for a full year and found no link between the two.