Hormone Changes Over a Lifetime
Hormone Changes At Every Age
We ladies are a complicated bunch. Our hormones are constantly fluctuating and changing over our ENTIRE lifetime. Although we experience the same hormonal changes and cycle each month, our brain biochemistry can change up to 20% per day as a result of our hormones2. During childhood, puberty, and adulthood our hormones are constantly in flux and evolving in order to grow and support life. This constant cycling of hormones can cause tell-tale symptoms on a monthly basis, and even during major milestones in our lives.
Unfortunately for too many of us, our hormones become out of balance causing a worsening of these symptoms and dysfunction in the body. Understanding our hormone changes and cycles throughout our lifetime is such an essential piece in attaining true health and finding balance in our life! So to help further educate you in your journey towards health, here is a basic breakdown of our hormone changes over a lifetime!
What Exactly Do My Hormones Do?
Before we get started, let’s start with the basics, what do our hormones do?
Estrogen is our prototypical “female” hormone and serves a number of functions! Estrogen is produced in our ovaries, adrenal glands (glands that sit on top of the kidneys), and our fat tissue. Some of its main functions include:
- Growth and development of female features
- Maintain bone mass
- Stimulates growth of breasts
- Stimulates development and maturation of follicles (better known as our eggs), so that we can get pregnant
- Controls libido (sex drive)
- When imbalanced may cause uncomfortable PMS symptoms
- When in excess increases the risk of certain cancers, and has been associated with many reproductive conditions
Progesterone is our other big player. It works synergistically with estrogen at the end of our cycle, so that we can become and stay pregnant. Progesterone reaches its highest point after we ovulate, which is often why we ladies feel so great mid-cycle! Some of its main functions include:
- Prepares lining of uterus for implantation (AKA pregnancy)
- Helps maintain pregnancy and prevents miscarriage
- When balanced, helps to manage PMS symptoms
- Maintains bone mass
- Helps to balance estrogen, so we don’t develop reproductive conditions and cancers
- Most importantly, every other hormone in our body is made from progesterone! (Progesterone is our precursor hormone)
FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) and LH (Luteinizing Hormone)
Both FSH and LH are made in the pituitary gland in the brain, and work to regulate estrogen and progesterone. FSH sends signals to the ovaries to produce estrogen, and LH subsequently is released to trigger ovulation (and ovulation produces progesterone). Typically this process works fairly seamlessly. As we get older however, our ovaries become less responsive and we fail to ovulate. When this happens, FSH increases and sends more signals to the ovaries in an attempt to get that process going. This is why premature ovarian failure and menopause are diagnosed by an increased FSH level.
Hormone Changes During Our Lifetime
The Baby-Making 20s
As most people know, our 20s is our baby-making prime. This is when our body reaches its physiologic and reproductive peak. This is because in our 20s our estrogen levels are flowing and in abundance, and our egg quality and quantity is at its best ever. Estrogen is also typically in a perfect ratio with progesterone. As we know, optimal estrogen and progesterone is critical for successful pregnancy. Many women start feeling maternal twinges in their late 20s; this is often your biology trying to tell you to hurry up!
The Transitioning 30s
Despite what our bodies would prefer, more and more women are waiting to have children. We’re expected to have it all: an established career, a family, a home, and a successful relationship. No wonder with all this pressure more of us are waiting to bring little ones into the world. But not to fear! Although our 30s isn’t our reproductive peak, 30-35 is still an acceptable and healthy age to get pregnant. If you’re hoping to have babies in your 30s, it’s always good to consult a health care practitioner first so you don’t waste any time! This is especially true if you’re 35 or older!
What are some changes you might notice in the 30s?
- Regular periods (YAY!)
- Changes in fertility rates vary from person to person. If your cycles have been regular, there shouldn’t be a big change in fertility
- Metabolism slows down in the 30s, which means food selection and other healthy lifestyle choices are important. This is particularly important in regards to hormone balance. The body is less efficient at getting rid of excess hormones, so having a diet rich in fiber and healthy fats is important for fertility and overall health!
- A change you may NOT notice, but are likely experiencing, is declining egg quality and quantity. Again, if you’re hoping to have babies in your 30s or older, please speak to a health care practitioner first!
The Fluctuating 40s
Most people think of their 40s as the declining years, in which they are heading towards perimenopause and menopause. Whether we like it or not, this is true for many women. Our 40s is a time when hormone fluctuation begins to occur once more. Similar to puberty, our bodies begin to change and requires some time to fine tune our hormone fluxes accordingly. During this period, you might experience irregular interruptions in your menses. Ovulation may not be as regular as it used to be either. Put simply, your chances of pregnancy in your 40s significantly decline.
Perimenopause (the time period right before the onset of menopause) can last up to 8 years in some women. This means that some people may start to experience hormone changes and fluctuations in their early 40s.
Although our 40s is far from ideal for pregnancy, many women still manage to successfully conceive at this age. FSH levels may be elevated, but it does not necessarily mean infertility. It is a sign that there may be issues, and further investigation is needed to find out what exactly the problem is. If you are trying to get pregnant at this age, be prepared to make some MAJOR lifestyle changes! Supplements, herbal formulas, diet modifications, and acupuncture are all methods that can potentially benefit fertility at this age.
Based on a meta-analysis on advanced age and fertility1, here are some recommendations to consider:
- Women greater than 35 years of age should consider infertility treatment after 6 months of trying to conceive
- Ovarian reserve testing should be considered for women 35 or older
- Women over the age of 40 should consider IVF if pregnancy doesn’t occur within 1 to 2 cycles of controlled ovarian hyperstimulation
- Spontaneous pregnancy loss and chromosomal abnormalities increase with age
- If you are 40 and trying to conceive, consult a health care practitioner immediately! Don’t wait!
Because there are estrogen receptors everywhere, and estrogen affects almost every process in the body, the decline in estrogen can be felt systemically. These are some symptoms you may notice with a decrease in estrogen:
- Skin may become drier and less elastic
- Decrease in libido
- Vaginal dryness
- Weight gain (without much change in diet or routines)
- Mood changes
- Decreased bone density
The average age of menopause is 51, and generally, perimenopause begins 8 years prior. FSH is tested to confirm menopause. Typically, if a woman has not had her period for over a year with a FSH level of 30mIU/ml, it is then considered menopause. The increased FSH level is usually a sign of significantly decreased hormone production and complete lack of ovulation.
Estrogen levels are low, while FSH and LH levels tend to be high. Hot flashes, increased wrinkles, mood swings, and other symptoms experienced during the perimenopausal period are still present, but may change in intensity.
We know our bodies best. When things change or start to feel differently, don’t ignore it! It is important to discuss any changes, signs and symptoms with your healthcare provider. There are many treatment options available to alleviate discomfort during this time. As well as many treatments to reduce risks associated with declining hormones such as osteoporosis and heart disease. Catching signs and symptoms early is useful in reducing discomfort and any complications that might come up as a result. Natural treatment options are a key part in being proactive and helping our body through this process of change!
Need Help With Your Hormone Changes?
Hormone balance is necessary in every stage of a woman’s life. Whether we’re 13 or 52, our hormones impact every single fibre of our being, and are often responsible for the physical and mental symptoms we experience. Ensuring our hormones are perfectly balanced and healthy for the age we are at is ESSENTIAL for both our current and future state of health. That’s why we developed our Natural Hormone Balancing Program! Our program is designed to help you feel your best and optimize your health at every age! If you need help balancing your hormones or understanding your hormone changes, we at Awaken Life are here and happy to help!
- Liu K, Case A. Advanced reproductive age and fertility. Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Committee. 2011;33(11):1165-1175. doi:10.1016/S1701-2163(16)35087-3.
- Brizendine L. The female brain. London: Bantam; 2009.