Understanding your hormones

Understanding your hormones

Keep the balance right.

Belly fat that won’t budge? Tired of feeling exhausted? PMS leaving loved ones in the wake of its destruction? It’s time you took a closer look at your hormonal health.

The popular saying goes ‘you are what you eat’, but a more accurate statement would be ‘you are what your hormone levels are doing’. These microscopic, chemical messengers are constantly whizzing about your body, carrying out a host of fundamental tasks that support your brain function, metabolism, digestion, menstrual cycle, sleep patterns and much more. Yet our modern lifestyles are putting their balance in jeopardy. Angelique Panagos, a South African-born nutritional therapist in London, says, ‘Most of us know nothing about how our hormones work, so we don’t work with them.’ Hormones play a significant role throughout your life, dipping and peaking at various intervals, which affects mood, health and the ability to lose or gain weight. Nutrition, exercise, stress and your
environment can have an effect on their delicate functioning, and put you out of kilter quicker than you think.

“Never before have we been so bombarded by harmful chemicals… we’re exposed to over 80 000 toxins circulating in our environment” – Angelique Panagos.

Hormonal harmony

In her book, The Balance Plan, Angelique focuses on six key hormones and the delicate balance that is integral to a healthy, functioning body. These include the sex hormones – oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone – as well as thyroid hormones, cortisol and insulin.

While there are many other hormones too, including those found in the stomach, these six are responsible for maintaining female vitality, and affect the all-important menstrual cycle in both direct and indirect ways. When an imbalance occurs with one hormone, it has a ripple effect that influences others. Progesterone regulates your cycle, keeping tabs on oestrogen levels. It’s also essential for the formation of oestrogen, testosterone and cortisol. Low levels of progesterone not only affect the supply of these other hormones, but if left unregulated will see oestrogen become dominant. This ‘female’ hormone is produced in the ovaries, fat cells and adrenal glands, and is responsible
for keeping your monthly cycle in motion. It gives women their curvy shape by depositing extra fat cells onto hips and
breasts. It aids in the formation of serotonin – the happy hormone – and has a positive effect on mood (women often struggle with their temperament right before menstruation as this is when oestrogen levels are lowest).


Varying oestrogen levels will result in weight issues, mood swings, irregular periods (that can also be painful), fatigue, loss of bone density – as seen in menopausal women – heightened PMS symptoms, and ovarian issues such as endometriosis. It can also ‘increase the chances of fibrocystic breasts, fibroids in the uterus and oestrogen-driven cancers’, Angelique advises.

In turn, oestrogen is affected by testosterone, the ‘male’ hormone. ‘Testosterone is converted into oestrogen, making it extremely important for female hormonal balance,’ she adds. However, levels of testosterone are affected by insulin levels – too much insulin caused by sugary, refined foods and stimulants leads to an overproduction of testosterone, which in turn leads to more oestrogen, weight gain and oestrogen dominance in the body. Struggling with breakouts, unwanted body fat, low libido? Your testosterone levels could be part of the problem.

Symptoms of a hormonal imbalance

  • Disrupted sleep patterns or insomnia
  • Tummy troubles (both constipation and diarrhoea)
  • Skin breakouts and acne
  • Weight gain
  • Exhaustion
  • Mood swings
  • Thinning hair or unusual hair growth
  • Lack of motivation
  • Heavy, painful or irregular periods
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Cravings
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Changes in your breasts (tenderness, size)



Feature: Taryn Das Neves and photos from Fotolia.com



Joni van der Merwe

About Joni van der Merwe

Your Family’s Digital editor. Avid retweeter. When I’m not scrolling Instagram you’ll find me in my garden. Keen on DIY and I don’t believe there’s anything that can’t be fixed with some chalk paint.


Send this to a friend