As you age, changes will naturally occur in the way that your body uses and expresses your hormones.
- Some target tissues become less sensitive.
- Some hormones, enzymes or target tissues are broken down (metabolized) more slowly.
- The amount of hormones produced may also change.
- Blood levels of some hormones increase, some decrease, and some are relatively unchanged.
It’s also important to note that many of the organs that produce hormones are controlled by other hormones and so aging changes this process too.
In this blog I will outline the 5 phases of your life, what happens with your hormones in each phase, and why they play an important role in your health and development throughout life.
STAGE 1- INFANCY
One of the most important hormones during infancy is cortisol. Cortisol determines the intellectual, emotional, and social development of a baby and can affect a child throughout the course of their life.
High amounts of cortisol affect brain function and how an individual will be able to manage stress throughout life. High concentrations can affect brain function and emotional resilience. Breastfeeding and skin-to-skin bonding with your baby grooms belonging, affection, and safety, and lowers cortisol levels naturally. Doing this will ensure you and your baby are in a calm, supportive, safe bond that will serve you both as your baby ages.
We grow and heal through physical and emotional connection and community and this starts right from conception. ;)
STAGE 2 - ADOLESCENT
The main hormones in this phase are estrogen and testosterone. Often grouped together as “sex steroids” or “gonadal hormones” because they are manufactured in the reproductive organs — the ovaries in girls and the testes in boys — these hormones are present before birth, but their levels spike during puberty.
Developing a diverse palate when it comes to food, fostering healthy blood sugar levels by eating whole natural foods vs processed foods. Developing sleep routines that prioritize and support deep restorative sleep. Creating water consumption habits and learning how to cope and manage stress is vital for developing children and adolescents.
It is in this stage, we set up the foundations of our dietary lifestyle in an effort to create the building blocks for our sex hormones and ensure we continue to produce these vital hormones as we grow into healthy adults.
The point here is the need to create routine, stability, and healthy habits in order to groom healthy, emotionally strong and resilient children.
STAGE 3 - CHILDBEARING YEARS
Here we discuss four hormones that are important for reproduction- oxytocin, endorphins, adrenaline, and prolactin. These hormones play a major role in regulating labour and birth.
Oxytocin: is a hormone that acts on organs in the body (including the breast and uterus) and as a chemical messenger in the brain, controlling key aspects of the reproductive system, including childbirth and lactation, and aspects of human behaviour. It is a calming chemical that fosters love and belonging.
The two main actions of oxytocin in the body are contraction of the womb (uterus) during childbirth and then supporting lactation. Oxytocin stimulates the uterine muscles to contract which moves our labour and delivery forward. During breastfeeding, oxytocin promotes the movement of milk through the ducts in the breast, allowing it to be excreted by the nipple.
Oxytocin is a calming chemical that fosters love and belonging.
Fun fact: did you know that snuggling/cuddling is a wonderful way to increase oxytocin production in the brain? We all need to embrace and share physical touch more often. When we allow and invite touch stimuli we feel more calm, safe and able to handle stress.
What I am driving home here is the importance of human connection and physical touch. ;)
Endorphins: are a group of peptides that are produced by your pituitary gland and central nervous system, and that act on the opiate receptors in your brain (creating Euphoria). These neurotransmitters (also sometimes thought of as hormones) act to increase feelings of pleasure and well-being and also to reduce pain and discomfort.
Endorphins are released when you get injured, experience stress or when you activate your natural reward system with activities like eating, exercising, or sex.
Adrenaline/Catecholamines: is also known as the “fight-or-flight hormone.” It's released in response to a stressful, exciting, dangerous, or threatening situation.
Prolactin: is a hormone produced in the pituitary gland, named because of its role in lactation. It also has other wide-ranging functions in the body, from acting on the reproductive system to influencing behaviour and regulating the immune system.
Depending on the local regulatory environment at the time of stress, prolactin levels can either increase or decrease.
In day-to-day life, there are many stressful situations such as work pressure, tests and exams, psychosocial stress when exercising and completing physical labour and then the physical stresses that result from trauma, surgery, mental health crisis and other medical conditions.
In response to stress, the level of various hormones changes. Reactions to stress are associated with enhanced secretion of a number of hormones including insulin, cortisol, progesterone, growth hormone and prolactin, the effect of which is to increase mobilisation of energy sources and adapt the individual to its new circumstance.
It is incredibly important during our child bearing years to focus on self-care techniques, practice stress reduction activities (hiking, time with family, time away for ourselves, and asking for support so we can navigate these years that are widely focussed on others and not the self. In doing this as women we can begin to take back our sense of self and create long life coping techniques.
STAGE 4 - PERIMENOPAUSE (30’s, 40’s)
During this transition, your ovaries begin producing less hormones (mainly estrogen and progesterone) causing your menstrual cycle to become erratic or irregular. At this time, your body is moving toward the end of your reproductive years.
Perimenopause may begin as early as your mid-30s or as late as your mid-50s. Some people are in perimenopause for only a short time, but for many, it lasts four to eight years. The term perimenopause simply describes the time when your cycles are no longer predictable.
Other physical changes and symptoms can occur as your body adjusts to different hormone levels. During perimenopause, your fertility is declining, but you still can become pregnant.
The symptoms of perimenopause, the age it starts and how long it lasts will vary between women. You’re out of perimenopause and into menopause once you’ve had 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period.
STAGE 5 - MENOPAUSAL AGE (50’s+)
During this time, women are no longer fertile because ovulation stops and estrogen hormones drop. Menopause can also be accompanied by physical symptoms like hot flashes or night sweats, but can also be seen as a positive beginning of a new phase of life, with opportunities to take preventive action against major health risks.
Menopause does not happen all at once. It is a gradual transition that takes place over a period of years with its own distinct stages which include, premenopause, perimenopause (before), menopause (during), and postmenopause (after).
The average age for natural menopause is 51, but it can occur earlier or later. Rarely, women may reach menopause as early as 40 or as late as 60 years of age. Women who smoke cigarettes tend to have an earlier menopause than non-smoking women, however, there is no way to predict in advance precisely when a particular woman will reach menopause. Menopause is confirmed when a woman has not had menstrual periods for 12 consecutive months.
Now you know the 5 phases of life, what happens with your hormones in each phase, and why they play an important role in your health and development!
What stage of life are you in right now? Did you find this blog helpful? I love sharing knowledge and information like this to help women with their hormonal health. Follow me on Instagram @marissasylvesterwellness for more tips and support.
Marissa Sylvester, BCN