The 3 Foundational Hormones Everyone Should Know About

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Once upon a time, the very complex topic of hormone health got boiled down to period-induced "mood swings" and the need to cuddle with your significant other. Now we know that things aren't so simple. But what are hormones? And are some more important than others? The human body is home to more than 50 types of hormones, and at a recent Well+Good TALK in New York City, experts named the three everyone should know about.

Speaking on the topic of hormones, Nicole Jardim, certified women’s health and functional nutrition coach; Nataki Douglas, MD, PhD, chair of the Modern Fertility Medical Advisory Board;  and Nick Bitz, ND, chief scientific officer at Youtheory each named one that plays a major role.

What are hormones? Experts name the foundational hormones everyone should know

1. Cortisol: The stress hormone

"One of the most, or the most important one—especially for anyone who has a uterus—is cortisol," said Jardim. "If we're constantly in a state of stress—and most of us don't even realize we are—that's going to affect the hypothalamus, the pituitary [gland], and the connection that they have to your ovaries. And then, lo and behold, you end up in a situation where you're either not ovulating anymore or ovulation is delayed. Or you may notice that your periods are becoming heavier, you have an estrogen dominance situation happening, or progesterone is dropping. So all of these symptoms come back to this regulated stress response and an overproduction of cortisol."

To actively make sure you're supporting your body's regulation of cortisol, you can tweak any number of lifestyle factors. Cortisol-conscious workouts are on the rise to ensure that your gym routine is acting as a stress-release instead of a stressor, and getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet can help, too.

2. Estrogen: The primary female sex hormone

Estrogen plays an important role in kickstarting puberty for teenage girls, but its purpose goes way beyond middle school and high school.  "I think estrogen is one of the most important hormones because we think of it in terms of its importance for your reproductive health," said Dr. Douglas. "But also estrogen is incredibly important for heart health and bone health." Your body naturally produces estrogen, but foods rich in folate can help your body use estrogen more efficiently. And some foods, like chickpeas, contain natural estrogen.

3. Melatonin: The sleep hormone

Melatonin is the hormone we all rely upon to help us drift off to sleep. Getting enough shut-eye can lower your risk of health problems, help with mental clarity, and so much more. Your body's natural melatonin production peaks between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., says Dr. Bitz, but foods like bananas, cherries, and chickpeas can cue your body to release melatonin. So eat up (but not too close to bedtime!) and make sure no light interrupt your slumber.

Here's how to fall back asleep when you wake up in the middle of the night:

You're going to want to take note of an endocrinologist's top tips for healthy hormones. And if your period poops are gnarly, here's why. 

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