Earlier on in Blogmas, I challenged myself to find out more about periods and what the fuck goes on with my body every month. Cos, y’know, I figured I should probably understand more biology a bit better. While researching that post, I stumbled across some information about hormones and the female hormone cycle, and I realised that there’s a lot more going on with my body than I thought.
So today I thought I’d delve a little deeper into the female hormone cycle, and hopefully share some information with others who may be in the dark like me.
What the fuck are hormones?
If, like me, GCSE biology was a while ago, you may not be entirely sure what a hormone actually is.
Well, according to BBC Bitesize (AKA the whole reason I passed my GCSEs in the first place), hormones are chemical substances that help to regulate processes in the body. The control everything from the ‘fight or flight’ response humans experience when in danger, to your blood sugar, to the female reproductive system.
So basically, hormones are really fucking important.
What hormones do you have?
You have a lot of hormones in your body, and they all do different things.
Adrenaline gives you the nervous kick up the backside; insulin stops you having a hypo by controlling your blood sugar; and the anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) stops you drowning from too much water in your blood.
What we’re really interested in today, however, are the hormones that make up the female hormone cycle: oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Of course, there’s also the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and the luteinising hormone (LH), which play vital roles in the female reproductive system.
Erm, more information please!
So what exactly do all these really-difficult-to-spell hormones actually do?
Well, oestrogen – which I’m willing to bet is the one hormone you’ve actually heard of – is the Big Boss of the female hormone cycle. Not only does it control puberty in girls and the female menstrual cycle, but it also stimulates the production of LH and suppresses the production of FSH.
Progesterone is what helps your body prepare for pregnancy. It, among various other things, maintains the lining of the womb and, like oestrogen, suppresses the production of FSH.
FSH is the hormone that triggers oestrogen production, as well as egg ‘ripening’ (which, let’s be real, is an excellent term); whilst LH triggers the egg release and the production of progesterone.
Testosterone is predominantly a male hormone that controls puberty in boys. But women also produce small amounts of testosterone – which predominantly helps maintain bone and muscle mass.
So what is the female hormone cycle?
The female hormone cycle starts on the first day of your period. On day one, your oestrogen levels are at rock bottom, and then they start to rise.
Low oestrogen is what makes you feel sluggish and achey and tired at the start of your period. As your oestrogen levels rise, however, your energy levels rise too. Rising oestrogen levels also makes you feel a bit happier in general, ending the often terrible mood swings that categorise the week before your period.
Your oestrogen levels continue to rise throughout week two of your hormone cycle, making you more upbeat and optimistic. Higher oestrogen levels also help your brain functions, so you may find that your memory is a bit better during this time.
Higher oestrogen levels can also amp up your anxiety, however – so watch out for increased stress during week two of your hormone cycle.
The other thing that happens during week two of your hormone cycle is your testosterone levels also start to rise (okay, it actually starts rising in week one with your oestrogen levels, but you may notice the effects more in week two). As this happens, you may notice that your sex drive increases.
Week three is when ovulation begins. At the start of this week, your oestrogen and testosterone levels will fall – but by day three or four they’ll start to rise again. This is what makes your moods so volatile.
Week three is also when your progesterone levels start to rise, leaving you feeling sluggish and sedate – and potentially bloated. If your body is particularly sensitive to progesterone, you may also feel quite down in this week. Rising levels of progesterone could also kill your sex drive in this week, and make orgasms harder to reach.
Oestrogen, testosterone, and progesterone levels plunge in this week, leaving you feeling irritable, down, and volatile. Plunging oestrogen levels cause your serotonin levels to drop as well, which in turn increases the chemicals that govern your body’s stress response.
Low oestrogen and testosterone levels leave you feeling sluggish and without energy; but your impending period could increase your libido as your uterine lining thickens in preparation for your period.
So that’s the female hormone cycle explained in a (hopefully) simple and understandable way. Now you know what you actually mean when you say you’re feeling hormonal!