Not feeling your best? Don’t be quick to blame your hormones. We take a closer look at how they benefit your overall health and wellbeing.
By Lennie Omalza
Hormones. They’re essential chemicals for daily bodily functions, reproduction, and more, yet we typically only talk about them when we think they’re affecting us in a negative way. But how do we know if hormones are truly the culprit of mood swings or unwellness?
According to Dr. Jessica Dennison, a functional medicine physician at Integrative Hormone Specialists in Middletown, the answer to that question depends on a person’s age and sex. “For different age ranges … it’s different,” she says. “For women, traditionally, we start to see more mood swings — what we would consider being related to our hormones — when we are having symptoms of perimenopause.”
These symptoms, she explains, happen when progesterone levels start to drop, which can occur in women during their 30s, 40s, or 50s. “Progesterone is our happy hormone,” Jessica explains. “It really does wonders for our mood. Most people [with progesterone loss] will start to have symptoms of irritability [and] mood swings.”
Estrogen levels, which decrease during menopause, can also lead to mood shifts, as well as fatigue and a slew of other symptoms. The only way to know for sure if symptoms are due to progesterone or estrogen loss is to have your hormones measured. Jessica says testosterone levels can have an impact, too; the hormone commonly associated only with men affects bone production, fatigue, energy, metabolism, and mood in women.
Of course, low levels of testosterone also impact men; having a low libido and fatigue are common symptoms. “But what a lot of people don’t understand,” she says, “is that if they are overweight, have diabetes, or have sleep apnea, those things can all decrease their production of testosterone.” She adds that men can have symptoms of testosterone loss as early as their 30s, or as late as their 70s.
Hormone replacement therapy, which is available in a variety of options, can remedy the loss of progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone. “Progesterone replacement is usually done orally, through an oral capsule,” Jessica says. “You can also use progesterone cream. For testosterone replacement, you can do testosterone cream, or you can use testosterone pellets that are inserted into [the] hip.” There are also several types of estrogen replacement, including creams, patches, and pellets.
The type of replacement therapy chosen depends on a patient’s lifestyle; it’s all about what works best for them. The same goes for length of use — a patient can stop at any time, though benefits will reduce as soon as treatment ends. Jessica says that despite what people may think about the negative effects of hormone replacement therapy, she believes it helps more than it could possibly harm. “I think we hear too much of the negative of hormones causing cancer and I always remind patients it’s not estrogen and it’s not testosterone that are causing cancers,” she says, adding that if estrogen caused cancer, we’d see more people in their 20s and 30s with the disease, since that’s when estrogen levels are at their highest. “It’s not the hormone itself that is causing the cancer. … There are so many good benefits to estrogen and testosterone that can outweigh risk.”