Hormones regulate hundreds of different functions in your body, but many people don’t realize how interconnected hormones are in all our body’s systems.
I found out the hard way when I had my hysterectomy. I went from full hormones one day to zero hormones the next. It affected my entire body – I was tired, depressed, lethargic, and I couldn’t think clearly. Everything was messed up. That’s when I decided I needed to learn more about how hormones work and what they can do.
Most of us have heard of the “sex” hormones– estrogen for women and testosterone for men. But did you know that men and women both have both sex hormones, just in different amounts? Estrogen and testosterone are used in so many ways in addition to regulating our sexual function.
Yes, for women, hormones like estrogen and progesterone regulate our monthly cycle. They take care of the uterus and help protect a baby while it develops. But estrogen also provides protection for your heart. The American Heart Association says that during our childbearing years, we women are at lower risk of heart disease than men because of our higher levels of estrogen.
But what about when we start to get out of balance? When we get closer to menopause, our estrogen levels start to drop and our risk of heart disease starts to climb.
Then we get to cholesterol. Too much “bad cholesterol” (LDL) can have a negative effect on our blood vessels and hearts. Estrogen increases HDL (good cholesterol), which helps counterbalance LDL. So when our estrogen is low, we don’t have as much good HDL and our bad LDL cholesterol can get out of control. That’s one reason why women who have never had high cholesterol get close to menopause and suddenly find themselves with high levels of LDL. (American Heart Association)
And it’s not just estrogen that can cause heart problems. The thyroid gland acts like a barometer for the body. Thyroid hormone interacts with all the other hormones to help keep them in balance. According to the Hormone Foundation, if your thyroid level is off, many other systems in your body may be off as well, including your heart function.
So what’s the point of all of this? It comes back to balance. If my doctor suddenly tells me that my cholesterol is high and I need medication, it probably means something has changed and that something could be my hormones. So I might ask the doctor if he checked my hormone levels when he checked my cholesterol. Then there’s the question of diet. What did I eat before I had the cholesterol test – and not just that morning? Did I eat something a day or two earlier that might have bumped up my cholesterol – like a big bowl of ice cream? If I did, that test might not have been accurate.
I know that if my cholesterol is high, I need to get it back under control. I need a plan to eat better or exercise more. And for me, since I don’t have the ability to produce my own hormones, I may need to get my hormones regulated to get everything back in balance. The important thing to remember is that the choice is mine. I don’t have to just take the pills the doctor hands me. I can be my own health advocate and push to learn how my body works. If something is out of balance, I want to find a real solution, not just take a pill to fix the symptoms
So that’s my advice to you. Don’t ignore your body or your hormones and hope they will balance themselves out on their own. Get the information you need to make an informed decision about what is best for your body – whether that means hormone replacement for you or not.
Michelle King Robson (pronounced robe-son) is one of the nation's leading women's health and wellness advocates. She is the Founder, Chairperson and CEO of EmpowHER, one of the fastest-growing and largest social health companies dedicated exclusively to women's health and wellness. In 2011 EmpowHER reached more than 60 million women onsite and through syndication expects to reach more than 250 million in 2012.