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The expert guide to meeting your hormone health needs

Lady in front of multicoloured background with happy expression
Our specialists explain what's going on with your hormonal levels and share simple steps to boost your mood, reduce stress and get your glow back.
Our specialists explain what's going on with your hormonal levels and share simple steps to boost your mood, reduce stress and get your glow back, at any stage.

For many women, hormones influence our life and health every day, from how we sleep and how we feel to how much energy we have, and so much more. When these chemical messengers are in balance, you can feel on top of the world - but when they fluctuate or decline, you might not feel like yourself. This is why the menstrual cycle, followed by perimenopause, can often be a bit of a rollercoaster ride. The good news is, small changes and listening to your body can make a real difference.

Secrets for sleep

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, physiologist, sleep expert and author (drnerina.com)

Shallow and fitful sleep is all-too familiar for many women, particularly three to six days before their period starts. This disruption increases during midlife as hormone levels fluctuate and reduce during perimenopause and menopause. From struggling to drop off at night and waking up in the early hours, to hot flushes and night sweats, women in their 40s and 50s are often left exhausted.

This can be compounded by the stress of coping with children, elderly parents and demanding jobs. The result? A nervous system in disarray, high levels of the stress hormone cortisol and reduced melatonin, the sleep hormone.

"Women in their 40s and 50s are often left exhausted"

Take action: Regulate your nervous system to calm anxiety and reduce stress, which will help improve sleep. Eat breakfast within 30 to 45 minutes of waking up, making sure that it's rich in nutrients - try Greek yoghurt with berries or eggs on wholewheat toast.

Reduce your caffeine intake and aim to drink at least two litres of water a day. Go to bed at 9.30pm four nights a week to train your body to rest earlier. Remove your phone from the bedroom and try reading or writing a gratitude journal if you're not ready to sleep.

Maximise your mood

Dr Sula Windgassen, health psychologist (healthpsychologist.co.uk)

You're not imagining it - women's hormones do play a role in influencing mood. Oestrogen can stimulate the release of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and the "reward" hormone dopamine. That's why you may experience mood swings when oestrogen levels fall before your period starts. These feelings can become more heightened during perimenopause and menopause, as oestrogen levels fluctuate and decline. 

Reduced serotonin levels have also been linked with depression and anxiety or simply a lack of excitement about life.
Take action: there are things you can do to activate more positive emotions. Exercise, being in nature and listening to or playing music can all stimulate the production of serotonin and feel-good endorphins. Even tackling small chores like sending an email can give you a sense of satisfaction and a dopamine hit.

Being in good company, laughing or just stroking a pet are ways to stimulate the "love" hormone oxytocin. However, you don't always need to get rid of uncomfortable feelings. If you constantly try to side-step them, you can end up exhausted and feeding anxiety. Instead, acknowledge your feelings and give yourself permission to gently "be" with the experience.

Work with your energy

Dr Jodie Moss, sports physiologist and expert operations lead for H&B and Me

If you feel strong and full of va-va-voom at certain times of the month but drained at others, your menstrual cycle could be at play.

Changing oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels can impact your energy, strength and ability to recover from exercise. However, improving your cardiovascular fitness and building lean muscle tissue can help you regulate your hormones.
Take action: work with each phase of your cycle to get the most from your exercise routine. When your period starts, oestrogen levels are at their lowest, and women can experience cramps and fatigue. Just going for a walk can be enough. During the follicular phase - days one to 14 - your energy levels may increase as oestrogen rises. 

Exercise may also help to boost "happy" hormones serotonin and dopamine, as well as testosterone and oestrogen. All this may find you feeling more ready to get active, - just take care not to overdo it. In the luteal phase (days 14 to 28), oestrogen and progesterone start to decline, affecting energy and mood, which can impact motivation. Try calming activities such as yoga or Pilates. For women in perimenopause and menopause, exercise might help you manage your blood sugar and moods, and strength training is crucial for healthy bones, which reduces the risk of bone and muscle loss.

Glow up your skin, hair & nails

Dr Sharon Wong, consultant dermatologist (drsharonwong.com

There's a tight relationship between hormones and skin. In puberty, the surge of hormones can result in oily skin, while during the menstrual cycle, changing hormones can trigger conditions such as acne. The progesterone-only mini contraceptive pill can lead to greasy skin, while the combined or oestrogen-only pill can be useful acne treatments.

During the perimenopause and menopause, when oestrogen levels drop, dry skin becomes a common problem as oestrogen helps skin retain water. Women may also experience thinning hair as the ratio of male to female hormones changes.
Take action: hair is a strong barometer of nutrition. Your body will channel any available nutrients into vital organs at its expense. Eat a balanced diet of unsaturated fats, lean proteins, fruit, veg and leafy greens. In perimenopause, women can become iron-deficient due to heavier periods, and hair can become brittle and thin. Tackling stress is also key.

Stress hormones make skin more sensitive, and acne, rashes, eczema, rosacea or psoriasis can flare up. Women who are in perimenopause and menopause may prefer richer skincare ingredients to combat dry skin. Look for humectants such as colloidal oatmeal; moisturisers that contain ceramides, which mimic skin oils; and hyaluronic acid, which will increase the water-holding capacity of your skin.

Know your nutrition needs

Augusta Gray, registered nutritionist, H&B and Me.

Women's hormones play a crucial role in appetite and weight. During your period, when oestrogen and progesterone are low, reduced dopamine levels may drive a desire for high-calorie treats for that feel-good hit. Women can also find they have sweet cravings before their period.

This is because in the luteal phase progesterone is higher, which can lead to blood glucose levels becoming more unstable. When glucose levels drop, we want high-carbohydrate and sugary foods for a quick energy release.
Take action: opt for high-protein, high-fibre foods and healthy fats to help minimise PMS symptoms. When oestrogen rises before ovulation, increase your fibre intake - try foods like flaxseeds, greens or lentils. If you're hoping to get pregnant, include omega-3 fatty acids (but if you get these from oily fish, the NHS recommends a limit of two portions a week).

In the latter part of your cycle, enjoy foods rich in magnesium (almonds, avocados) to support low energy. Post-menopause, protein is crucial for maintaining muscle mass.

Balance your gut

Ellie Birch, senior nutritionist, Holland & Barrett

The digestive system plays a crucial role in managing hormones by using, recycling or eliminating them. In turn, the rise and fall of female sex hormones during the menstrual cycle impacts gut function.

Increased oestrogen and progesterone can cause constipation or bloating; and the prostaglandin hormones that lead the uterus to shed its lining during your period can lead to cramping or diarrhoea. In menopause, declining oestrogen may affect gut microbiome diversity.

"Consume 30 plant varieties a week for a healthier gut"

Take action: gut-friendly foods like vegetables, wholegrains and legumes provide essential nutrients - phytonutrients and fibre - and may improve how your hormones and body work together. Research suggests that eating 30 plant varieties a week increases gut microbiome diversity.

The Mediterranean diet is rich in fibre which promotes beneficial microbes and the production of gut-friendly short-chain fatty acids. Prebiotic foods, such as wholegrains, and fermented ones like yoghurt, also nourish diverse bacteria.

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