When thinking about women’s health and fertility, we tend to get caught up in the practical biochemistry of our bodies. Understandably, the functioning of hormones, gut, adrenals and other aspects of our heath are incredibly important. However, in this blog, we’re taking a big step back and talking about our hormonal health on somewhat less scientific level.
First and foremost, for all aspects of our health, we must understand that women are not small men. Period.
In the vast majority of research studies in health, fitness and nutrition, women are largely under represented.
This is not discriminatory, but merely a means of simplification and an effort to minimise any variables that might influence the validity of the results. After all, women have cycles and different hormonal phases across the month. As you are probably well aware, this can have a significant impact on how we think, feel and act every single day.
For example, maybe you tried fasting or the ketogenic diet and never felt worse; despite the claims of mental clarity and unlimited energy. While this might be the case for our male counterparts, as a general rule, many females need to eat regularly and include carbohydrates in their diet to feel their best. Our hormone systems and the way our bodies function is just inherently different to that of the male physiology.
Let us explain.
Male vs. female hormones
It’s fairly obvious that men and women are different. Our hormone structures are different, our physiological response to stress is different, and the way we support optimal health is also different.
As Lisa Grey of BePure puts it in a self admitted simplified comparison, the male hormone system can be compared to a Toyota Hilux. They are straight forward, reliable, and will go and go and go until one day the engine explodes without warning.
In comparison, female hormones are like Formula One race cars. Incredibly complex and capable of such amazing things (like growing a human for example), however it really doesn’t take much to throw it out of balance. Like a Formula One engine, a small change to our hormone balance can make a huge difference in either a positive or negative way.
Physiologically, female hormones are more sensitive to stress than males are. While you might like to think you can have as many coffees or drinks as your male counterparts and still function as well, often this just isn’t the case.
The modern day woman
Going back some time to a more Palaeolithic era, men were traditionally the ‘hunters’ that provided food for their people. The male brain is geared towards this, thriving off big hits of adrenaline and dopamine (testosterone and dopamine go hand in hand).
Women on the other hand, stayed at home, looked after all of the children together and gathered fruits and berries - requiring much less ‘hits’ of those stress hormones. There were certainly no spin classes, HIIT training, box jumps or burpees.
Quite simply, the role of women has evolved dramatically in the past few hundred years and our physiology hasn’t quite caught up yet.
In relative terms, women in the workforce is a reasonably new phenomenon. Not all that long ago, women would work until they had a baby. Before this generation, women wouldn’t work at all - running a household was a full time occupation.
Today, many women are doing it all. We’re continuing to run a household, have children and care for everyone; but we’re also juggling professional careers and training like athletes. Trying to do it all and constantly feeling like there isn't enough time in the day isn’t doing our sex hormones any favours.
In no way are we saying that this new way of doing things is wrong, it’s just important for women to recognise these new stressors, understand how they’re impacting our hormones and health, and mitigate them where we can.
For many women, modern day life is ‘masculine’ - fast paced, with little time for rest. We smash ourselves in the gym, work long hours then come home to a lengthy to-do list that seems impossible to get on top of.
There is so much of a push for women to be like men, we’ve forgotten that being feminine is actually very powerful. Femininity is nurturing, compassionate, emotional, yet strong and sexy in its own way.
It’s easy to forget that the ability to grow a human is a miraculous thing. If only one person on this earth was capable of bringing babies into the world we would treat them like a god; because it happens every day, we forget just how amazing it is.
We are quick to take pregnancy for granted and assume that it is our right as a woman to have a baby if we want one; but biologically, it doesn’t always work like that. Our hormones simply won’t allow us to bring another person into the world if it doesn’t perceive the world to be a safe place.
Perhaps the world is a safe place, you’re just under the pump at work and eating a restrictive diet - our bodies don’t know that. We have to let them know that a baby would be safe, well fed and nurtured before they will allow it to happen.
It’s a precious process, but for a lot of women, fertility is really just about slowing down. It’s about resting, embracing your femininity, and giving to yourself as much as you give to others.
Don’t forget to check out our blog 5 Common Signs of Hormone Imbalances to see if those physical sensations you’re experiencing could be hormone related.