Most automobile owners know why it’s necessary to put gas in the tank. And good, clean oil. Some drivers can fully articulate their entire owner’s manual.
But when it comes to our bodies—female bodies, in particular—it sometimes seems as though a few chapters of the manual are missing!
Sure, in health class, we are taught about periods and how babies are made and how not to get pregnant. Often, that’s where the learning stops. The result? Many of us are waking up in our mid-forties surprised by physical and emotional changes, and unaware of the fundamental roles hormones perform in our body.
We want all women to have a brief hormone primer, so we took our questions to Dr. Kara Dionisio (@DrKaraND)—a Naturopathic Doctor in Owen Sound, Ontario, where she has a dedicated practice to ensure women understand and love their hormones.
Menopause Chicks: I find the word “hormones” is often met with an eye roll and the image of a moody teenager. How do you want women to think about their hormones?
Dr. Dionisio: From the time of puberty, women experience a lot of negative energy surrounding their cycles and hormones. We use phrases like “her hormones are raging” or “my hormones are out of whack!” I love talking about hormones in a positive context, because they do so much for us! Our hormones literally perform thousands of important jobs--including but not exclusive to reproduction. Our bodies are made up of a complex endocrine system and once I explain to women how their hormones are an asset, they start to understand just how important and amazing they are!
Menopause Chicks: OK, let’s start with estrogen.
Dr. Dionisio: Estrogen is actually a family of hormones (estradiol, estriol and estrone.) Estrogen is produced in the ovaries (before menopause) and it’s responsible for breast growth, menstruation, plus it affects our sexual desire, mood and mental health. One of estrogen’s main roles is to keep everything “juicy”—from our joints to our vaginas!
Menopause Chicks: Love it! So what does progesterone do?
Dr. Dionisio: Progesterone is a calming hormone. It provides balance to estrogen. Its key role is to maintain the lining of the uterus offering a safe and comfortable place for babies to grow. When progesterone is fluctuating during perimenopause, women will sometimes experience new feelings of anxiety, sleeplessness or irregular cycles.
Menopause Chicks: Wow! I have an image of a teeter-totter with estrogen on one end and progesterone on the other. So where does testosterone fit in?
Dr. Dionisio: So glad you asked because traditionally, testosterone has been thought of as a male hormone, but it is vital to women as well. Testosterone is responsible for some of our feistiness, energy, confidence and vitality. It’s also important for sex drive, maintaining healthy vaginal tissues and building strong muscles.
Menopause Chicks: What’s the one thing you want women to know about their hormones?
Dr. Dionisio: I want women—at every age--to learn all they can about their hormone health so they can have informed conversations with their health providers. And if there is something they don’t understand, ASK! Because hormones matter!