With zero judgy undertones, I’d like to ask you: Are you familiar with your female reproductive hormones? Do you know where they come into play in various parts of your cycle? What about how they affect the rest of your body? To be honest, I was very much in the dark on this topic until I hit my late twenties and said goodbye to birth control. Quickly, my hormones went wild and the questions flooded in. Why had I been so in the dark? If you’re feeling similarly or simply want a refresher on hormone health basics, this one’s for you.
What are the main reproductive hormones for women?
“Estrogen is the hormone that is released as our egg is maturing, so it dominates the first half of the menstrual cycle,” Dr. Caitlin O’Connor, Naturopathic Doctor with a specialty in holistic treatment for women and children, explains. This hormone has some big jobs. “Estrogen helps to lay down the lining of the uterus; it changes the cervical fluid so that conception can occur; and it also has more systemic impact including helping with brain function, cardiovascular health, and circulation,” Dr. O’Connor explains.
“After ovulation, the follicle where the egg was hanging out starts to produce progesterone, which is the dominant hormone of the second half, or the postovulatory phase of the menstrual cycle. Progesterone helps to create a more well nourished uterine lining so that if the egg is fertilized it has a place to go.
“Progesterone is also a calming hormone, so we see that progesterone helps people produce more GABA, a common neurotransmitter in the brain,” Dr. O’Connor says. Because of this, “oftentimes when people have emotional PMS type symptoms in the second half of their cycle, it can mean that progesterone is not functioning optimally.”
What are some symptoms of a reproductive hormonal imbalance?
“One of the greatest hallmarks of a reproductive hormonal imbalance would be menstrual irregularity, or having cycles that vary greater than three to five days from month to month,” Dr. O’Connor says. “People can have some variation in the length of their cycle—for example, some people’s normal is a 26-day cycle and some people’s normal is a 32-day cycle—but if we are seeing variation from month to month this may indicate an issue,” Dr. O’Connor explains. It’s also important to take note of “variations in bleeding, like spotting in between menstrual cycles or long or excessive bleeding as those symptoms can also indicate issues with the reproductive hormones.”
"One of the greatest hallmarks of a reproductive hormonal imbalance would be menstrual irregularity."
“The other thing that I pay attention to is any symptom that happens cyclically. So for example if someone has migraines but they only have them during a specific phase of their menstrual cycle, then that gives us a clue that that symptom may be related to the reproductive cycle. Or, for example with mood, if they’re feeling good three weeks out of the month but one week out of the month feels really terrible, that’s a good indicator,” Dr. O’Connor says.
Curious if your headaches, mood swings, or other symptoms are hormone related?
"Sometimes our habits related to sleep, stress management, nutrient intake and exercise patterns are a good place to start."
“I have my patients track symptoms on a tracking app, because oftentimes we can see patterns,” Dr. O’Connor suggests. Keep in mind that these symptoms are often part of a larger picture as well.
“The first step is to track and pay attention to your symptoms. The second step is to look at broader foundational things, because sometimes our habits related to sleep, stress management, nutrient intake and exercise patterns are a good place to start, and then if folks have addressed their foundational health issues, that’s where potentially doing some more workups can be helpful,” Dr. O’Connor suggests.
Have any specific hormone questions for our experts? Ask away on social or drop us an email. Plus, shop our doctor-founded Women’s Daily Vitamin Trio for full-spectrum nutrition plus added nutrients to support your mood and beauty, too.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Perelel.
Written by Jessica Lopez. Jessica Lopez is a freelance writer, digital content creator, and new mother. She has covered all lifestyle topics ranging from bridal to beauty for publications including Brides Magazine, Byrdie, THE/THIRTY, and more. Walking wide-eyed into motherhood has inspired her to connect with other parents through her writing and shared experience. You can follow more of her journey @Jessica.H.Lopez.