If 2018 was the year of the gut, 2019 is all about our hormone health — and how we handle it says Ciara McDonnell.
The arrival of my period took longer than I would have liked. Aged 12 and primed by an array of Judy Blume novels and a near psychopathic obsession with what the Americans used for sanitary-ware (a belt that was available in two colours, onto which you looped a sanitary pad), I was ready for the arrival of my womanhood.
I was prepared for the torturous cramps and the worry of leaking, and ready to hide a bodily function that was perfectly normal but utterly unacceptable. It was, as I viewed it, the starting block for my journey with these mysterious things known as hormones.
It would take me through the teenage years, the ups and downs and downright arguments with the contraceptive pill, hobbling around holding my back as a pregnant women and then, once childrearing was done – I would sit back and wait to turn into a husk.
Because that, as far as I knew in all of my 12-year-old wisdom, was the way a woman’s life was meant to go. It is not often said, but the millennials have given us so much to be thankful for. They want us to love our bodies, and call out the people who make us feel less than ourselves.
And they talk about their periods. PMS cramps or a heavy flow, nothing is off limits. They acknowledge that quite often, we are at the mercy of our hormones. Health and wellbeing mogul Liz Earle has charted her own biological changes in her guide to the menopause, The Good Menopause (Orion), and says that young women are exceptionally clued in to their own health.
“I was taught about periods in the 80s and was told that they were a curse, we just had to put up with it and to hope that maybe I might be one of the lucky ones, and get away without too much pain. This is not the way it’s meant to be!” So says Maria Duffy, AKA The Hormone Health Coach, a holistic health practitioner who combines Traditional Chinese Acupuncture with Maya Abdominal Massage.
“We have this belief that period pain is normal which helps to explain why so many women live with conditions endometriosis for long periods of time without being diagnosed.”
Signs of hormone imbalance include pain, cysts on the ovaries, fibroids and an irregular cycle says the therapist. The solution, according to Rafferty, is in our cycle.
“Women are exceptionally powerful beings,” she points out. “We are very lucky in that twice a month – at the time of ovulation and at the time of our bleed, our body is giving us information about our health and wellbeing.
"If we know when to become aware of when we are ovulating and our period, we are getting a confirmation twice a month that we are healthy. If we notice that we are ovulating late or our cycle is irregular, or there is a lot of pain one month, then we have advance notice that there is something off in our body, and it is a sign for us to seek help."
In today’s world, women are having fewer children and giving birth at an older age. This means they are having more periods, and according to Maria Rafferty this may contribute to more hormones fluctuations, making ovulation and period tracking even more important and relevant to our day-to-day health.
In this digital age, many of us are relying on apps to tell us where our body is in its monthly cycle, but they are not as reliable as they seem, says the therapist.
“Apps for tracking fertility and periods are not reliable as they are using algorithms based on the general population combined with the female’s historical data,” she explains.
“They do not adjust for illness, unusual stress, holiday, long haul flight, change in routine or diet, these all influence hormone activity and may cause ovulation to happen early or late.
Liz Earle says that there is no shame in investigating hormone therapy protocols as you approach menopause or have a hormone imbalance in the body.
“We wouldn’t dream of saying to somebody who had a thyroid problem not to take the thyroxin hormone, so why on earth would we tell someone who is low in oestrogen not to take HRT,” she asks.
“They are body identical; they are molecularly the same hormones that we have in our body – we are not doing anything unnatural to our body and this is the great misleading myth.”
Both Liz Earle and Maria Rafferty says that the key to understanding and embracing our hormone health is in taking control of our own health by becoming aware and informed of the choices available to us.
Earle cites following a diet rich in fats heading into the peri-menopausal years as essential, and points to bone health as an area that many of us forget. “It is very difficult to improve our bone density, so all we can hope to do is to maintain what we already have.
"We need to tell our teenage and twenty-something daughters and granddaughters to make sure that they get enough calcium.” Maria Rafferty believes that a woman’s power is in her body.
“Once a woman understands that a lot of how she feels during her monthly cycle is down to hormones, then instead of swimming against the tide and giving herself a hard time, she can go with the flow.”