Well-Being for Women

March 1st, 2012 - Uncategorized

It has often been said that women are difficult to understand. It’s hardly surprising when you consider that even the slightest change in the delicate balance of the female hormones can make a huge difference to a woman’s health, energy levels and mood. And of course these hormones are fluctuating on a daily basis; going through major changes every month; and undergoing huge shifts during and after pregnancy, and for several years leading up to, and following the menopause.

For many women, the few days before her period are the worst days of the month.  For some this means little more than being slightly more irritable than usual, but for others it can signal a whole array of devastating emotional and physical changes. Many women feel emotionally vulnerable at this time and may find themselves becoming extremely irritable, angry or even violent.

The physical symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome are less well known but may be equally distressing.  The most common is fluid retention, which may lead to abdominal bloating, swollen hands and feet, and breast pain or tenderness.  In some cases abdominal cramps or lower back pain can occur before the period starts, and cravings for carbohydrates (especially chocolate) are also common.  In the most severe cases symptoms can include fatigue, constipation, muscle or joint pain, recurrent vaginal thrush, acne, swollen glands and migraines.

During pregnancy women are given a break from their periods, but not from the effects of fluctuating hormones. The first three to four months of pregnancy bring nausea and vomiting, constipation and fatigue, and for the unlucky ones, migraines and acne. The following five to six months, while more pleasant for some, bring haemorrhoids, varicose veins, heartburn and sciatica to many; and more serious problems such as underactive thyroid, gestational diabetes, or obstetric cholestasis to an unlucky few.

After the baby is born, another huge shift in the hormone balance occurs. Those that were present at high levels during pregnancy suddenly drop, leaving the woman prone to postnatal depression, which is a great deal more likely if she has little or no help or emotional support, not to mention the difficulties of coming to terms with a new body shape! Meanwhile, prolactin (the hormone responsible for milk production) sets about ensuring nutrition for the newborn; as well as sparking the nesting instinct, and for some women, obsessions about cleanliness or the amount of support they are receiving from their partner.

As the childbearing years come to an end, you might expect that the long-suffering woman would get a little break from the hormonal rollercoaster, but you would be wrong. In the years leading up to the menopause, the symptoms of PMS may become much worse. Many women also experience very heavy and prolonged periods and other common symptoms include depression, anxiety, insomnia, exhaustion, poor concentration, memory loss, low libido and thyroid hormone imbalance.

As more and more women delay having children until their thirties or even forties, it is increasingly during this difficult time that many women are trying to cope with young children or teenagers; and juggling a career while taking care of the home, often with very little support. Since the adrenal glands (which are responsible for secreting the hormones that help us to cope with stress) are also partly responsible for maintaining the balance of the female hormones, high levels of stress tend to make all these hormone fluctuations much more severe.


Even when the periods stop at the time of the menopause, there is no let up in the hormonal effects. As oestrogen levels begin to drop, hot flushes, vaginal dryness and lack of libido ensue, and it can take several years for the body to become accustomed to the new level of female hormones. It can also take time for a woman to come to terms with leaving her child-bearing years behind and children flying the nest.

Fortunately, there is plenty of help available to for women suffering from the effects of hormone imbalance, and over the next few weeks we will take a look at how to improve your physical and emotional well-being in the face of changing hormones and the stresses and strains of life as a woman. In the meantime, practitioners from the Lismore Clinic will be giving a talk on Wellbeing for Women at the Old School House, Ballinvella, on Monday 12th March at 8pm. The talk is being organised by Ballinvella Ladies’ Group, but it is open to all women who are interested in learning more about improving their wellbeing.