Written by: Dr. Amy Beckley, PhD, Founder and Inventor of the Proov test — the first and only FDA-cleared test to confirm ovulation quality at home.
Written on: 2/7/22
Ah, hormones. You may have a vague memory of learning about your hormones in health class. But let’s be honest — back in middle school hormones were mostly something to giggle about. In adulthood, the power of reproductive hormones takes on a whole new meaning.
Did you know that the hormones that control the menstrual cycle can impact everything from your ability to get pregnant to your mood, brain function, and even bone density? And for many in the perimenopause life stage, hormones take on even more importance as shifting hormonal balance triggers symptoms from mood swings to hot flashes to loss of libido.
When it comes to hormone health, a little extra knowledge goes a long way. Understanding your cycle hormones, how to test them, and how they impact your body at every stage can help you take charge of symptoms, reach your health goals, and feel your very best.
Let’s get started!
When it comes to hormone health, a little extra knowledge goes a long way.
WHAT ARE HORMONES AND WHY ARE THEY IMPORTANT?
Hormones are chemical messengers that regulate virtually every function in your body, from hunger to growth to reproduction to mood stability and more. Needless to say, they’re pretty important!
For people who have ovaries and are of reproductive age, hormones also regulate the menstrual cycle. Four key cycle hormones take the lead here, controlling the processes that prepare the body for menstruation or pregnancy each month: follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), estrogen, luteinizing hormone (LH), and progesterone.
ALL ABOUT CYCLE HORMONE BALANCE
When it comes to cycle hormones, it’s all about balance. As the body’s dynamic chemical messengers, hormones rarely exist in a steady state. Instead, it’s normal for the 4 key cycle hormones to fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle.
In fact, that’s how they work! Surges and dips, and the shifting ratios between different complementary hormones are exactly what triggers your body to ovulate, prepare a thick uterine lining, and receive an embryo or have a period.
A “balanced cycle” means the 4 key cycle hormones are all present in expected levels, rising and falling according to the typical patterns that are found during the fertile years. For people of reproductive age, an out-of-balance cycle can lead to symptoms like premenstrual syndrome (PMS), irregular or difficult periods, acne, and trouble getting pregnant. Sometimes, hormonal imbalance can be a symptom of underlying health problems.
For those of perimenopausal age, it’s normal for the balance of cycle hormones to shift as the body slowly transitions from a monthly menstrual cycle to menopause. Even though this is a natural and healthy process, it often triggers unwanted symptoms. (The good news is, there are lots of steps you can take to understand these changes better and make the transition more comfortable!).
HORMONES & MENOPAUSE
Perimenopause refers to the years leading up to menopause, or the end of monthly periods. The perimenopause transition gets underway when the body begins to run low on eggs, which throws off the routine hormone patterns that control the cycle throughout the reproductive years. This is a natural and inevitable process, since people with ovaries are born with all the eggs they’ll ever have, and this reserve diminishes over time as ovulation occurs each month.
The early signs of perimenopause usually appear in the mid 40s, although some people may experience the onset as early as the late 30s. The process is different for everybody, and can last anywhere from 2 to 10 years. On average, studies show menopause symptoms typically last around 4.5 years. You’re considered “in menopause” (or postmenopausal) once you’ve gone without a period for a full 12 months.
Signs that you’re entering perimenopause might include:
Hot flashes or night sweats
Loss of vaginal elasticity and vaginal dryness
A DEEP DIVE ON HORMONAL IMBALANCE
Our bodies are pretty complicated! And unfortunately the fine points of hormone balance haven’t always gotten the attention they deserve when it comes to healthcare and health education. This can make symptoms that are already unpleasant even more difficult to manage. But it doesn’t have to be that way!
Just a little information about the menstrual cycle and typical hormone balance ratios can go a long way toward helping you understand your health and wellness. Specifically, we’ll take a close look at the two most important hormone balance dynamics: the estrogen-progesterone ratio and the LH-FSH ratio.
THE ESTROGEN & PROGESTERONE BALANCE
In a healthy cycle during the reproductive years, estrogen is the dominant hormone during the first half of the cycle, meaning levels should be high. Progesterone, on the other hand, is dominant during the second half of the cycle.
Ideally estrogen and progesterone should rise to similar levels at their respective points in the cycle. Think of it like a seesaw: when one side goes up, the other side should also go up to the same height.
When estrogen and progesterone levels are out of balance, a whole bunch of unwelcome symptoms can result.
THE LH & FSH BALANCE
LH and FSH both rise the first half of the cycle, when the body is getting ready for ovulation. In a healthy cycle during the reproductive years, LH and FSH should be balanced, meaning they rise in equal proportion to each other.
Studies show that higher LH levels in comparison to FSH levels when measured at the same point in the cycle may indicate polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a hormonal imbalance condition characterized by elevated androgen (male sex hormone) levels, polycystic ovaries, and insulin resistance. People with PCOS often have elevated LH levels for their entire cycle, which can lead to problems with ovulation that make it more difficult to get pregnant.
On the other hand, elevated FSH levels in comparison to LH levels may indicate low ovarian reserve, a sign that you’ve entered the perimenopausal transition.
While the root causes behind hormone imbalance symptoms can be complex, a few symptoms are fairly common:
Vaginal dryness or discomfort
Loss of libido
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or mood concerns
Unexplained weight gain or lossSkin issues, including acne, wrinkles, dullness, etc.
COMMON TESTS FOR HORMONAL IMBALANCE
Getting a handle on the status of your hormones can be a big boost for your peace of mind — especially if you’re grappling with unwanted symptoms! And whether you’re in the reproductive years or experiencing the perimenopause transition, the path to understanding your hormones is the same: testing.
Hormone testing used to be done primarily in a doctor’s office, but today we have a variety of at-home hormone test and menopause test options, too. Often, people find at-home testing to be the best first step, following up with a doctor later on if needed.
(We are huge champions of at-home testing! But please note that we always recommend discussing serious concerns with your doctor, and checking with a doctor before initiating any type of supplement treatment to balance your hormones.)
If you choose to go the at-home route, understanding a little bit about the different hormones is key to knowing which test is right for you. Here’s a quick rundown on common tests for hormone imbalance and menopause.
ESTROGEN AND PROGESTERONE TESTING
Estrogen andprogesteroneinteract in a complex balance during the reproductive years, and this balance changes during perimenopause. The Proov multihormone strip (found only inProov Complete) assesses both estrogen and progesterone by measuring E1G and PdG — markers of the two hormones that are detectable in urine.
FSH is the least expensive, quickest menopause test — all you need is an at-home, urine-based test kit. FSH patterns vary depending on how many eggs you have left on-hand, so measuring FSH levels with Proov FSH tests can give insight into what your ovarian reserve looks like. This is an important indicator of how close you are to menopause.
STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TO BALANCE YOUR HORMONES
Depending on your stage of life, there are all kinds of great reasons to explore natural hormone balancers like seed cycling, supplements and dietary adjustments.
If you’re trying to conceive, maintaining a healthy cycle can go a long way toward helping you reach your goal quickly. If you’re struggling with symptoms of hormone imbalance like mood swings or difficult periods, natural hormone balancers can help shift the dynamics in your favor. And if you’re in perimenopause, the hormone balancers mentioned below can help provide gentle, safe relief for many of the symptoms that are common during these transitional years.
Common seeds like pumpkin, flax, sesame, and sunflower have more to offer than just a delicious crunch! These tasty wonders are high in plant compounds that naturally support cycle hormones. “Seed cycling” is the practice of eating certain seeds during specific phases of your cycle to promote overall hormone balance.
During the first half of your cycle (or the first 2 weeks of the month if you’re in perimenopause or menopause and no longer cycle regularly), you’ll eat 2 tablespoons each of pumpkin and flax seeds every day. These seeds promote healthy estrogen production.
During the second half of your cycle — or the last 2 weeks of the month — you’ll transition to 2 tablespoons of sesame and sunflower seeds daily. These promote healthy progesterone production.
While there isn’t yet much scientific evidence supporting a seed cycle, the anecdotal evidence shows that it can improve some of the symptoms of hormone imbalance.
Several types of natural, plant-based supplements that can help support healthy hormone levels. Many of these have been used for hundreds of years! To support progesterone production, you can try vitex, maca, and ashwagandha. Bonus: you can find all 3 of these herbs in Proov’s Luteal Love herbal supplement!
Herbals like black cohosh, vitex, and evening primrose oil have been shown to support estrogen production. Remember to always chat with your doctor before adding any new supplement to your regimen.
While foods do not directly contain hormones like estrogen andprogesterone, some foods can impact the production of these hormones, or mimic their effects. For instance, spinach, kale, pumpkin, nuts, and beans can help supportnatural progesteroneproduction. If you’re concerned about excess estrogen, it may be smart to avoid soy products and tofu, as these contain plant compounds similar to estrogen (known as “phytoestrogens”).
TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR
Above all, we always recommend consulting your doctor to develop the best approach for your hormone health. Testing, supplements, and diet or lifestyle changes are all great steps toward working with your hormones — not fighting against them — to reach your life and health goals.
What are hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers that regulate virtually every function of the body. Reproductive hormones or “cyclehormones” help control every aspect of the menstrual cycle including ovulation, the thickening of the uterine lining, and conception or menstruation.
What is cycle hormone balance?
Four key hormones regulate the menstrual cycle. For a healthy cycle during the reproductive years, these hormones should rise and fall in particular patterns and ratios over the course of the month. We call this “hormone balance,” or a “balanced cycle.” When hormone levels don’t match these expected patterns and ratios, that’s “hormone imbalance.” During the perimenopause transition, hormone imbalance is common. While hormone imbalance does not indicate any kind of disorder at this stage of life, it can produce unwanted symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, and more. Luckily, these can often be relieved with a variety of natural hormone balancers.
How can I test my hormones?
At-home hormone tests fromProovoffer an easy, inexpensive, and non-invasive way to step into the world of hormone testing. They offer a great way to explore and understand your hormone balance before going to your doctor.
How can I prevent hot flashes?
Hot flashes during menopause are usually caused by overall hormone imbalance. Testing your hormones with a menopause test, then incorporating changes like herbal supplements, can help balance your hormones and keep hot flashes at bay.
What is a seed cycle?
Common seeds like pumpkin, flax, sesame, and sunflower are high in compounds that naturally support cycle hormones.Seed cyclingis the practice of eating specific seeds during particular phases of your cycle to promote overall hormone balance.
What is a menopause test?
“Menopause test” usually refers to a urine test measuring FSH — the hormone that provides an indication of how many eggs you have on hand (also called “ovarian reserve”). A low ovarian reserve is an indication that you’ve entered the perimenopause transition, and begun the journey to actual menopause. A woman is considered “in menopause” when she does not menstruate for 12 consecutive months.