Y’all, I can’t run to any part of the internet where Betties aren’t talking about their hormones – why they’re imbalanced, how to get ‘em balanced, and what product I can spit on to let me know which way my hormones are leaning. Cut the jargon, what are hormones, and should I consider getting mine tested?
FIRST THINGS FIRST: WHAT *ARE* HORMONES?
Hormones are chemical messengers that ping your body’s cells to tell them how to behave. They have complex signaling processes and positive and negative feedback loops. For Betties in particular, hormones are big players in our lives, as they regulate our cycles and can heavily dictate our mental + physical health. So let’s meet our squad:
Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH)
Released by the hypothalamus (a part of the brain that regulates hormones, controls body temperature, monitors thirst and hunger, and controls sleep), GnRH signals to the pituitary gland to produce the follicle-stimulating hormone, FSH
Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
FSH tells the egg-containing ovaries to recruit some follicles and get moving!
Estrogen is produced by the actual follicles and thickens the lining of the uterus. The primary type of estrogen involved in the menstrual cycle is called estradiol. Ethinyl estradiol is a pharmaceutical estradiol that is found in some hormonal contraceptives. (give it up for modern medicine, which can replicate a hormone we naturally produce!)
Luteinizing Hormone (LH)
When estrogen reaches a certain level, this hormone gives the green light to the pituitary to release LH, triggering ovulation
After we ovulate, a “shell” (proper name: corpus luteum) is left behind from the ovulated follicle, producing progesterone. This hormone is responsible for changes in the lining of the uterus. Different types of progesterone can also be found in birth control!
This hormone is produced by the adrenal glands, a small amount in the ovaries. It regulates muscle mass, bone density, and fat distribution. For men, testosterone is responsible for sperm production.
Most of the press around hormones zeros in on estrogen and progesterone, but leaves quite a few key players out of the conversation!
THE PROBLEM WITH “BALANCED” HORMONES
Now that we’ve met the whos of hormones, it’s time to challenge how we talk about them.
#Hormoneimbalance has more than 739 million views on TikTok, a clear indicator of the trending chit-chat surrounding hormones. However, terms like “balanced” and “imbalanced” as they pertain to hormones sort of distort the full picture of what hormones actually are: dynamic, variable, and complex. As Betties, our levels are in a state of constant flux – a hormone rollercoaster always a’spinning, no cruise control, never flatlining.
SO WHAT’S THE POINT OF HORMONE TESTING?
You may be tempted to spring for one of those at-home, hormone tests (a swab of saliva to unlock my hormones? what a deal!). But, remember how our hormones are zig-zagging day-to-day? Those direct-to-Betty products only capture a smalllllll window of that zig. Many of these tests can be unreliable due to a variety of factors including improper sample collection, mishandling of specimens, and incorrect interpretation of the results. Most importantly, saliva tests are not scientifically validated at this time.
Hormone testing is often sold to Betties as a way to feel better, optimize their health, and understand underlying health issues. But rarely are they necessary.
Your hormones could be chugging along! perfectly well! and still, a debilitating condition like endometriosis could be present. The point is, your hormone levels aren’t *the* end-all, be-all indicator of something wrong. If you are getting your period, your hormones are most likely in a normal range. If you do notice changes in your cycle, like irregular or heavy periods, schedule an appointment with your GYN provider. After listening to your symptoms + concerns, they may order a hormone test to diagnose a specific condition.
Rather than thinking about hormones as a balance, we should remember that hormones are ever-changing and exist in a flow. Hormones are all the rage rn, and while we *love* Betties getting in on the know-your-body game, the hot topic has urged women to self-investigate their health and side-step their medical provider instead of seeking an evidence-based diagnosis for an issue, if any is present at all.