Alright, ladies. We’re all friends here, and we have to deal with…you guessed it….hormones. I think it’s easy and almost automatic for us to view this as a “burden,” but, in reality, it’s one of our superpowers! When we truly understand how our hormones work on a monthly basis, we can really lean into what our bodies are capable of and feel our absolute best. So grab a snack, get something to sip on, and let’s dig in.
Hormones seem to have built a negative reputation: “ugh, my hormones are out of control,” “my hormones are not balanced,” “why am I so hormonal?”…you get the picture.
Truth is, our hormones are extremely important for our overall health and well-being. Let’s ditch the negative self-talk about our hormones and truly understand how they operate.
Let’s review the following:
– what hormones we’re actually talking about when it comes to female health and our natural cycles
– how to know if something is off with your hormones and if/how things should be tested
– ways to biohack your cycle and feel your best monthly
What are your hormones?
While there are endless hormones to talk about in the human body, when it comes to our unique female hormonal cycle, there are three key players: estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
Estrogen is what gives us our beautiful curves. It builds up the lining in the uterus where a fertilized egg can implant, and it affects our moods through serotonin production.
Progesterone is what helps us feel calm, relaxed, and happy. It’s referred to as our anti-anxiety hormone. It helps us use fat as energy and helps our cells to use thyroid hormone (talk about important!). It also helps us maintain the beginning stages of a pregnancy.
Testosterone is involved with our moods, motivation, and boosting confidence. It also plays a huge role in a healthy sex drive.
All three of these hormones drive the phases of our cycle: menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase. Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone rise and fall throughout the cycle, which, on average, lasts about 28 days, give or take.
Each phase has key characteristics regarding our mood and energy. Later in this post, we will dig into how we can biohack this cycle to feel good and ultimately avoid feeling like our hormones are out of control as much as possible (um, yes please).
Do you need to have your hormones checked?
Depends. We tend to be very intuitive when it comes to our bodies and if something feels off. The following can be signs of a hormonal imbalance:
Low sex drive
Now, many of these symptoms can stem from other root causes, so diving head first into a bunch of testing is not always necessary.
If you have ruled out other concerns and have a suspicion about your hormones, we recommend building a strong foundation for your hormonal health first. This will take at least 2-3 months and includes:
If after prioritizing these principles consistently you are still experiencing signs and symptoms of a hormonal imbalance, it may be time for testing.
Side note: if you are experiencing unexplained missing, irregular, or painful periods that are affecting your day-to-day life, or suspecting infertility, PCOS, or early menopause, you may want to explore hormonal testing sooner than later. Establishing a good foundation is beneficial always, but these are what we consider more immediate concerns.
SO…how do you test your hormones exactly?
First things first, have a conversation with your primary care doctor. There are several labs that can be ordered, however, this will vary on what your doctor is willing to explore with you.
If you are working with a functional medicine practitioner, they are typically known to be more willing to order more in-depth labs related to hormonal health. They are also more apt to pursue the DUTCH test.
The DUTCH test has been gaining traction and attention for many good reasons. It is a Dried Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones (DUTCH) and involves 4-5 urine samples over a 24-hour period, plus 5 salivary samples. It can check estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol, awakening response, free cortisol pattern, cortisol metabolites, melatonin, neurotransmitter metabolites (dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine), and nutritional organic acids like vitamins B6 and B12. In other words, many, many helpful things.
A dried urine collection like this is more accurate than serum testing, which is commonly the only option offered by a primary care doctor or OBGYN. It provides clear direction and answers for those who are still suffering and experiencing persistent symptoms. The DUTCH test is also one of the most comprehensive tests we have available for hormones.
The downside? This test can be pricey. Another way to get a general idea of how your hormones are behaving in your body is through an HTMA hair test, which is something we periodically offer as a part of our functional nutrition services. Get on the waitlist to be the first to find out when we’ll be offering this testing next. If we feel that a DUTCH test is necessary after doing an HMTA, we can then recommend you spring for the DUTCH test.
How to biohack your cycle and handle your hormones like a pro:
If you skipped to this section, I get it. We all want to know how to take control of our natural hormones and feel our best all month long. Say less, right?
So how do you do this? What’s the secret?
Remember those phases of your cycle we reviewed before? Well, consider each phase like a prime opportunity to hone in on different “modes” of your brain and body. Each allows you to be most productive and successful at different things. Consider the biohacks for each phase like natural boosters to help you enhance each phase to the fullest.
During your menstruation phase, your energy may be lower and you’ll be more intuitive about things. This is a great time for evaluation of work projects, relationships, and your big-picture goals. Biohacks include meditation, saying no to things that don’t serve you, limiting sugar and caffeine, and doing light exercise like walking and yoga.
The follicular phase is the time to re-energize, plan, and prepare. You are going to be more open to new experiences, be more creative, and think big. The biggest biohack is maximizing your sleep and practicing a good routine for it.
Ovulation is the time to be social with your increased outward energy. Your hormone levels are peaking now and you’ll have high energy and sex drive. Biohacks include doing high-intensity workouts, breaking new records at the gym, scheduling a high-level meeting, or seeking more pleasure sexually.
Finally, your luteal phase is the time for self-care and reflection. Do your heavy critical thinking now and complete any data-analysis-type work. Biohacks include anything related to self-care and calming your nervous system.
Do you see how working WITH your hormones as they go through your cycle is so much more productive? Stop fighting and blaming your hormones for holding you back, when in reality, they can help you excel at different things at different times of the month.
Over half of the population doesn’t get this cool feature with their hormones, so learn your cycle and take advantage! Utilize your hormonal rhythm to gain more productivity, satisfaction, and self-acceptance to be the best version of yourself. You are not “hormonal,” you have a hormonal elixir. It’s time to tap into it!
My final thought I’ll leave you with is that you shouldn’t have to “handle your hormones.” It’s not another burden or responsibility we have to do. Rather, it’s a feature of our physiology we should understand better and know that it’s a huge part of our current state of health.
I encourage you to pay attention to your monthly cycle and live a lifestyle that supports your hormones. And most importantly, don’t ignore your intuition if you feel like something feels off. Your hormones are supposed to help you thrive!