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Your body is composed of many different systems that work together to uphold your health. The reproductive and endocrine (hormone) system plays an integral role in your overall health and affects all other systems throughout your body.
For instance, when your body makes reproductive hormones, like estrogen, it requires support from your adrenal glands and your thyroid. When your body breaks down reproductive hormones, it depends on your liver and gallbladder.
Because of the interdependence of all of these systems, the health of your monthly cycle is a great indicator of your total health, and any changes in your monthly cycle can indicate potential health issues.
How your monthly cycle works
A woman’s monthly cycle is particularly intricate because it is designed to prepare for and potentially support a healthy pregnancy each month. Each cycle, many different hormones work together to accomplish this, but the key players are the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), estrogen, the luteinizing hormone (LH), and progesterone.
In a healthy cycle, the brain registers low levels of reproductive hormones during the first days of the period. This causes the pituitary gland, which is a part of the endocrine system that sits at the base of the brain, to release FSH. FSH is like the messenger that tells the ovaries that it is time to start maturing eggs and producing estrogen. Estrogen also starts to build up the uterine lining.
When the ovaries produce enough estrogen, the pituitary gland sends another messenger in the form of LH. LH triggers one of the maturing eggs in the follicle, within the ovary, to be released. This moment of release is called ovulation.
Once ovulation occurs, the follicle that released the egg, now called the corpus luteum, begins to produce progesterone. This causes estrogen levels to drop, and progesterone becomes the dominant hormone of the second half of the cycle, known as the luteal phase. This phase of the cycle lasts 9 to 18 days, and ends when the corpus luteum dies and stops producing progesterone. The drop in progesterone causes the uterine lining to shed, resulting in a period and the starting of a new cycle.
If an egg is fertilized, the corpus luteum receives a signal from the body and continues to produce progesterone in order to support the pregnancy.
When your hormones are out of balance
As you can see, a lot has to happen in order to have a healthy menstrual cycle (and that was the simplified version!). It is not uncommon, particularly with our modern diet and lifestyle, for hormones to become unbalanced. Factors like chronic stress and genetic predispositions also contribute to hormonal imbalances.
Common symptoms of hormonal imbalance(s) include:
- irregular periods
- painful periods
- fatigue or low energy
- hair loss
- weight loss or weight gain
- low sex drive
- painful sex
- ovarian cysts
- difficulty falling or staying asleep
- migraines and headaches
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