Women’s health is being taken more seriously than ever before, from a much wider understanding of menstrual conditions to a big effort to de-stigmatise peri-menopause and menopause in society.
With this, we now have access to knowledge and tools that can help us live better, healthier and happier lives. One of the areas getting the most airtime in aesthetic medicine circles is hormone hacking, and it’s actually far less tech-y and far more accessible than it sounds.
What does ‘hormone hacking’ mean?
‘The idea behind hormone hacking is that it’s almost a form of self-help – that’s the way I see it.’ says Dr Anne Henderson, a consultant gynaecologist and owner and director of The Amara Clinic in Tunbridge Wells. ‘It’s based on the premise that we have the ability to change and control how we act and react to the different hormone levels and fluctuations that occur in the body.’ This idea that we no longer have to ‘just deal with’ health issues or treat their symptoms – that we can actually alter our body’s functions on a cellular level to perform better – is incredibly exciting, especially given the huge impact our hormones have on just about everything. ‘Hormones affect every single aspect of our health; we have hormone receptors in every cell of our body, meaning they affect change,’ explains Dr Mayoni Gooneratne, TTG-registered practitioner and founder of Human Health and SkinFit.
- allow us to maintain our normal functions like body temperature, reproduction, heart rate, bowel movements, and blood regulation, etc.,
- give us the ability to respond to abnormal, stressful, and dangerous situations,
- and transduce and modify the external environment to alter our bodily functions,’ she says.
So, it stands to reason that hormone hacking by ‘utilising and upscaling the body’s natural abilities to self-correct can help to rebalance our hormonal status,’ says Dr Mayoni.
How can hormone hacking help you?
For women, working with the menstrual cycle is the ‘in’ to hacking our hormones for better health. ‘The three key hormones – oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone – fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle, and while you can’t physically control this, you can control your response to the impact,’ says Dr Anne. It’s about ‘acknowledging that what [these hormone fluctuations] do is pretty negative, and may make you feel grumpy and moody, or crave sugar, etc, and taking that on board and working with it.’
Essentially, the goal is to work with your body to achieve the hormonal balance that makes you feel at your best. ‘When your hormone levels are balanced you are in a great mood, you are well rested, you feel great, and your skin looks amazing, too,’ says TTG-registered hormone doctor Dr Sohere Roked. ‘If we can understand our hormones and how they affect our body and emotions, we can give the body what it needs.’ So, how can you start optimising?
At Dr Mayoni’s clinic, the process starts with a super in-depth consultation to understand a patient’s individual genetics, stressors, illnesses, and lifestyle aspects; all the way back to the antenatal, perinatal, and early childhood periods, and considering their family upbringing towards adult life. Then, it’s about investigating the four pathways in hormone function and how best to modify and optimise these for the individual: production of hormones, transport around the body, synthesis, and detoxification. This all leads to a tailored programme to support lifestyle, gut health, and cellular processes.
Depending on the specialist you see and all of the factors discussed in consultation, an individualised hormone hacking plan could include prescribed hormone medication, and this is a careful consideration to be discussed. In Dr Anne’s experience, it’s the women for whom the negative aspects of their hormonal fluctuations are taking over control of their lives who can really benefit from stabilisation with body-identical hormones. ‘Hormone control is inevitably about stabilisation – oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone have the best impact when they’re stable, and the best way to do that, for the most part, wherever possible, is to look at using body-identical hormones,’ she says.
It’s important to note that there are opposing schools of thought among menopause specialists and women’s healthcare providers about the best and safest type of hormone replacement therapy – body-identical (oestrogen-only), or compounded bio-identical, which is a bespoke preparation that is formulated by special pharmacies and contains a cocktail of different hormones. It’s all to do with regulation and potential side effects, so it’s crucial to do your own research and work with an accredited menopause specialist whom you trust and whose advice you feel comfortable taking.
Get informed, get educated, and have confidence that for many women, hormone hacking will work.
What if you don’t want to take hormones?
If you’re not quite ready to jump into hormonal treatment or are just starting to learn about all this, Dr Sohere says that tracking your cycle is the priority: ‘Get to know how you feel throughout your cycle and look for the patterns in terms of energy, mood, and even when your hair and skin looks different,’ she says, adding, ‘So much can be done with lifestyle changes like nutrition, exercise, and the biggie – managing stress. I also use certain supplements such as B vitamins and magnesium (to name but a few), which can help to optimise hormonal health.’
She emphasises just how much positive change you can make by tailoring what you eat and how you generally look after your body based on your cycle. ‘Women’s bodies need different things at different times of the month. For the first two weeks, I recommend eating more salads and greens to balance oestrogen; while in the second half of the month, you need to eat more carbohydrates, meat, and root vegetables, which promotes progesterone production.
‘High-intensity exercise throughout the month isn’t necessarily a good thing either, as our cortisol levels can be higher during a period, and doing high-intensity exercise during this time can cause inflammation. To balance it out, I recommend including strength training, yoga, Pilates, and walking,’ she says.
Dr Anne agrees that HRT is far from the only option when it comes to hormone hacking to feel better, and she’s also a big fan of supplements within complementary therapies and herbal medicine. ‘A significant proportion of my patients take not only hormones but are also on herbal medicine, and as long as that’s done with a very skilled, experienced practitioner, then it can be a fantastic way to manage the hormones.
‘We’re predominantly looking at phyto-oestrogens or adaptogens, and these molecules lock onto the oestrogen receptors in the body in a virtually identical way to body-identical oestrogen. I’m a huge fan of herbal medicine and things like red clover, black cohosh, and ashwagandha – they can have huge benefits in controlling many symptoms.’
How to start hacking your hormones
There’s huge potential in hormone hacking to help humans – especially women – live better, healthier, and longer lives, but it’s a confusing area that is relatively only in its infancy. ‘Optimising hormones is not just for the short term, but for your long-term health span, so minimising bone loss, optimising brain health, and [protecting against] cancers and other metabolic diseases,’ says Dr Mayoni. ‘The power of change is in your hands through mindset and body literacy, and hormones aren’t the only way.’
This means equipping yourself with lots of knowledge through research from reputable sources, getting to know your body, and exploring different avenues. ‘You’ll almost certainly have to do your own research,’ says Dr Anne, ‘and there is some excellent information online – as long as it’s written by somebody qualified or who has used reputable sources, then that’s a very reasonable route to take. Get informed, get educated, and have confidence that for many women, hormone hacking will work.’
The Tweakments Guide Takeaway
Our hormones affect everything, so understanding, working with and tweaking yours can have a real positive impact on so many aspects on your health, especially if you're a woman. Knowledge really is power here, so get informed, and if you want to consult an expert, make sure they're accredited and a real specialist in this area.
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