Hormones and Young Women Ages 20 – 29
We search for a mate, someone to have our children with. Socially we have fun, focus on our looks, get an education, find a great job, buy fancy clothes, join a health club and become buff. We do whatever it takes to become attractive to the opposite sex. We might be doing all this for cultural reasons, but above it all, it’s for reproductive purposes.
On the outside our social development defines our behavior, on the inside, our hormones are protecting us from harm. Heart attacks, cancer and strokes are not part of the 20 year-olds’ vocabulary. If they occur, they are rare. This great health is due to the fact that our hormones are watching over us. They have created a protective bubble around us. They keep us immortal. We have a goal: The Perpetuation of the Human Species- to fulfill, and our hormones will make sure we achieve it.
At this time in our lives, most women get pregnant. This event reveals a clear picture of how hormones operate. When we are pregnant we are protected from harm: our estrogen and progesterone levels are sky high. We don’t get sick, we just glow. We gain weight and we don’t have problems as a result. Our bones get stronger, our hair gets thicker, and skin is wrinkle free because our increased levels of hormones are protecting us.
High estrogen stimulates bone production, synchronizes heart function, washes away cholesterol deposits from our arteries, stimulates serotonin production that keeps our spirits high. High testosterone stimulates muscle cell growth, protects our heart cells from toxic damage, and maintains our metabolic rate at a high level where we don’t get fat or sluggish.
Our 20s are a joyous time. Beautifully synchronized, our hormones keep us vibrant, healthy, and ready to reproduce. And that we do. In our 20s most of us start our families and have children. But while we usually sail through childbirth and its aftermath without a hitch, occasional problems arise. When they do, we are left baffled and without answers or worse yet, with the wrong answers.
When I had my first baby, I was 27 years old. I was healthy and had a great pregnancy.
One night when my little girl was six weeks old, I was awakened not by the usual crying of the baby, but by an incredible night sweat. I thought the worst. I thought I was dying of tuberculosis or a major blood infection. By the morning, I was feeling better and having no fever or other signs of major illness, I promptly forgot about the incident.
When I returned to work a few weeks later I remembered what had happened and started asking my fellow doctors if they had heard about similar episodes. No one had heard of it. I looked it up in the medical literature and found no mention of it.
As the years passed and I became a specialist in hormones, I realized that the night sweat episode I experienced was normal and was a result of sudden changes in hormone levels.
As I developed clinical methods for treatments of hormone imbalances, I remembered this episode. Routinely we started to ask our young patients about episodes of night sweats after having babies. More than 60% of those questioned answered yes.
Whether we are talking about post-partum depression or night sweats in a young woman, the cause is almost always the same – a sudden change in hormone balance.
The high levels of estrogen and progesterone our healthy bodies make to support the growth and development of the fetus in the womb, suddenly drop when the baby is born and high hormone levels are no longer needed. This sudden drop in hormone levels, albeit normal, manifests as depression and night sweats in some women.
Every woman who has a baby experiences a sudden drop in hormone levels. When the hormone levels drop, some women respond with symptoms, while others don’t.
It isn’t a matter of normal or abnormal, it just is. In fact, the drop in hormone levels after childbirth protects women from far greater harm. What would happen if once the baby were born, the sky high levels of estrogen and progesterone didn’t budge? Remember, the hormone levels are high to maintain and support the growth of the fetus in your womb. Once the baby is born, we must get rid of the high hormone levels as quickly as possible. Otherwise the hormones would kill us. High estrogen would make every cell continue its growth. The constant stimulation by the hormones of pregnancy would undoubtedly end our lives in short notice.
Placed into proper perspective, the depression or the night sweats are a small price to pay to rid the body of hormones that become deadly after the end of pregnancy. Sometimes, the body overshoots the balance. Too much of a drop too suddenly, in a sensitized or genetically predisposed woman, and symptoms will swamp her.
I am not trying to make light of post-partum depression or night sweats. They are real and they create an enormous amount of discomfort. I only want to establish the all-important connection between the fluctuation in levels of hormones and symptoms.