One of our members, who is in her first trimester, recently wondered how a foetus that is so tiny could be so powerful, in that it literally shuts down one’s system and one can feel one’s whole body doing all it can to support that growing life within.
In her own case, she feels sleepy a lot and already she has a reputation of falling asleep in unusual places and times, which has made even her husband wonder if all is well. That’s pregnancy for you. True, it’s the baby that’s causing all the drama; however, it is more of her hormones, which are all over the place, ensuring that her body is the perfect place for the developing embryo.
Hormones are one of the reasons pregnancy is such a phenomenal experience; everything in the woman’s body while pregnant is geared towards that pregnancy, shutting down almost all other functions. That alone can make you stand in awe at the intricacies of the design of the female specie, and the woman herself.
Away from pregnancies, I know the role that hormones play in my own life and every month, it becomes more glaring that I have fallen into a pattern, no thanks to my hormones.
Whenever my face starts to get crowded with pimples, get swollen in places and my temper is on a short thread, then I know that Aunty Flo is around the corner and I can effectively start on the sugar binge.
My craving for sugar in the days leading up to my period and during my period is legendary, even my mom knows, especially, when I begin to ask for Fanta. The hunger is very real, I have no idea where it comes from but I do know that during my period, I become a compulsive eater. On those days, I eat three meals and still snack enormously in between.
I also notice that my energy levels take a dip during my period. It’s almost like my period is telling me to take it easy. It’s when I feel sleepy the most, especially in the middle of the day.
The roles that hormones play in my life become extremely obvious during my period but as I have discovered, it does not mean that, they are dormant the rest of the time. Just that they are not as pronounced at other times.
In recent times, the role of the hormones in a woman has been gaining more recognition than it used to. Scientists and ladies themselves have come to realise that these hormones are not necessarily within our control. They are not good, they are not bad, they are just our reality. They determine our moods, fertility, make up choices (when pimples have taken over your face, it often translates to more make up layers to cover up), clothes, foods, and even how much benefits we would get from exercise, if we bother.
Hormones (oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone) are produced by the gonads (the ovaries in women and testes in men) in response to other precursor hormones found in the pituitary gland and other brain areas. These gonadal hormones impact brain chemistry and circulation, and hence influence emotions, mood and behaviour.
While researching for this article, I found this study, which was recently published in Psychoneuroendocrinology. The study shows that, dependent on the phase of their menstrual cycle, women use different cognitive approaches to solve problems. Hormone levels do not reduce or increase ability, they simply change the way that problems are approached.
From the result of the study, which was carried out on two groups of women in different phases of their period, which was verified by blood tests, women who were ovulating performed better in memory tasks, such as memorizing lists of words, and women in their pre-menstrual phase (mid/late luteal) were better at recording information about one’s environment and how everything fits together. This is just more reason to tackle some tasks whilst one is ovulating.
To arrive at this conclusion and assess what cognitive strategies were used, each woman was asked to complete a virtual navigation task. The task, known as dual-solution navigation task, takes the form of a maze within a video game. As its name suggests, there are two ways to solve the problem, one relies on spatial memory (for instance, using landmarks), the other requires a response memory method.
In addition to the maze task, participants completed a battery of standard verbal and visuospatial memory tasks.
The authors of the study, led by Dema Hussain concluded that how women use specific strategies to approach problems depends on their current menstrual phase. Rather than the standard theory that hormones simply impair or improve cognitive ability, it seems that hormones influence the type of cognitive system we use.
Another study found that women benefitted more from strength training in the first half of their cycle, compared to the second half. The results show that training that is concentrated to the first two week of the cycle have more of an effect on muscular strength, power and muscle mass.
“How the menstrual cycle can affect training is in general an unexplored research area,” says Lisbeth Wikström-Frisén, who is a doctoral student at the Department of Community Medicine and Rehabilitation and author of the dissertation.
“As most sports-related research has been performed on male participants, there are on the whole not much scientific knowledge of how women can optimise their training based upon the hormone cycle.” Again, the healthy living/medical industry needs to pay close attention to this.
These are the ways that hormones are affecting our lives, at least according to recent researches and the realities of our own lives. What this teaches me, is to stop moaning about what my body is doing, seeing my hormones as negative forces “slowing” me down but rather as a natural essence of me and work in sync with it.
My life will be all better for it, rather than if I fought my own body. It’s like that biblical saying that a house fighting against itself shall not stand.
Well, I shall stand, because I will pay close attention to my body, hormones and all and work with what I have been blessed with.
What about you?
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