A decade ago, you were either ‘on period’ or ‘off period’. Today, we’re so much more educated and comfortable talking about the hormonal spectrum, argues Strong Women editor Miranda Larbi.
At some point in your life, you’ve probably been hormone-shamed. In a bad mood? Shouted at your partner for a mess-up they made? That’s your PMS talking. Had to nip out at lunchtime for a bar of Cadbury’s? You must be ‘on’. Don’t fit into the small-slender woman ideal? Probably got too much testosterone.
For generations, women have been dealing with hormonal crap. And that’s stopped many of us from being able to deal with genuine hormonal health issues.
After over a decade of thinking of periods as a long-term inconvenience, for example, my own menstrual cycle ground to a halt. For two years, I didn’t have a bleed, and what initially seemed like a sign of my own supreme fitness eventually turned into infertility fear. I’d been so happy not to have the energy fluctuations, cravings or bloody mess anymore, that it took months before I even considered the health ramifications of not having a regular period.
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In a desperate bid for answers, I turned to alternative PCOS blogs and wellness influencers who recommended cutting out dairy, coffee, plastic, sugar, fruits and ordering inulin off the internet. I didn’t know anyone with PCOS, none of my mates had period issues and my GP refused to help because, in their words, I “wasn’t overweight”. I went on a restrictive diet, took random Chinese herbs that left me too sick to work and avoided listening or watching anything to do with periods, babies or fertility.
That was around 2018, and it feels like we’re a world away from that depressing situation. My periods eventually came back after working with a nutritionist who asked me to do two simple things after having a month-long DUTCH hormone test: cutting down to one cup of coffee a day and giving up intermittent fasting. I’ve not missed a period since.
Even five years ago – when the 5:2, 16:8 and OMAD intermittent fasts were all the rage – no one was talking about cortisol. Black coffee for breakfast was a health choice, not an adrenal stressor. Today, you can’t move for articles in newspapers and magazines on the different types of stress and their impact on our mental, physical and hormonal health. The idea that drinking coffee on an empty stomach may exacerbate cortisol spikes is a pretty mainstream conversation (although I still do it and refuse to give up).
Thanks largely to platforms like Instagram and TikTok (where the #hormones hashtag has over 2 billion views yet is still dwarfed by the 5.5 billion amassed by #pcos), it’s only too easy to find other women who might be experiencing similar symptoms to you or who are cataloguing their hormonal reality. You’ve got access to GPs, gynaecologists and other medical experts working in the field who are busy myth-busting and info-sharing online; it’s no longer just you and some random blogger from Melbourne who thinks your hormonal acne is caused by using plastic lunch boxes.
Of course, the revolution isn’t just online. Menopause is a subject that used to be taboo until the likes of Davina McCall pushed it into the mainstream conversation. Suddenly, every TV channel seemed to have a programme on the subject, Gen X-ers appeared on radio shows to talk about hot flushes and brands started pumping out menopause-support supplements like no tomorrow. The fact that we’re now debating whether women should be entitled to menopause leave shows just how far the conversation has come in recent years.
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We’re way prouder today of our hormonal status than we’ve ever been, and that’s down to the fact that we’re all so much more educated on the subject. While women have always tracked their cycles using diaries, tech has allowed us to be even more accurate when it comes to period and ovulation dates. It’s mainstream to think about hormone-supporting foods. Every fitness magazine and running blog now offers advice on how to cycle-sync your workouts. We’re becoming increasingly aware of peri-menopause and the fact that symptoms can be managed if we start early enough. The conversation has moved from being just ‘on period’ or ‘not on period’, to understanding the follicular stage.
There’s so much more to hormonal health than periods or babies. There are tons of articles and research papers on the gut-hormone axis. It’s really common to hear women talking about thyroid health. We’re constantly discussing the hormonal impact of sleep, waking hours and breathwork. Even gym-bros are getting into the idea of down-regulation – prioritising rest for hormonal balance.
Everywhere you look, we’re talking about hormones. Not all of the free advice out there is good quality, but it’s increasingly possible to separate the wheat from the chaff to find science-based, no-harm interventions that will improve someone’s wellbeing. For every ‘raw carrot hormone balancing salad’ (which in and of itself is no bad thing – carrots are packed with vitamin A and fibre), there’s someone sharing their experience of swapping HIIT for low-impact yoga or pilates – which we know can have concrete, scientific benefits for hormonal regulation.
Even if you don’t get your medical information online, the chances are that you feel more confident in talking about your hormonal status to your friends, partners, colleagues and – importantly – GP. And that can only be a good thing.
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