Hormone Knowledge is Power

Hormones are the directors of health, enabling us to reach our personal full potential. To unlock the power of hormones and harness our hormone networks, we need to be empowered with understanding. This was the motivation for my book “Hormones, health and Human Potential: A guide to understanding your hormones to optimise your health and performance

I was one of the panel discussing hormone power at Bloomfest last week. I started by suggesting that if you are ever labelled as being “hormonal”, take this as a compliment. After all, Horme is the goddess of action and energy. We discussed how to navigate the lifetime female hormone odyssey

Female Hormone Choreography

Hormone networks are complex. Out of all the networks, those of the female hormones is the most intricate. A beautiful interactive dance of hormones occurs every menstrual cycle, following characteristic choreography. However, this hormone dance will be personal to each woman, with subtleties in timing, hormone levels and crucially individual biological response. This is why knowledge is power when it comes to female hormones. Tuning into your personal variation of hormones in terms of how you feel, takes away the mystery. This empowers you to be proactive and work with your hormones, not against them. Periods are the barometer of internal hormone health and a free monthly medical check. I mentioned the potential flash points of the menstrual cycle in terms of menstruation and the luteal phase (occurring after ovulation, in the 2 weeks or so before menstruation) and practical strategies to put in place. This area is discussed in detail in Act 1, Scene 5XX “Of Mice and Men….and Women”.

Hormonal Contraception

Hormonal contraception is often an area of confusion. It is every woman’s choice regarding her personal choice of contraception. However, in order to make an informed choice about the most suitable form, it is really important to clarify the different types available. Non hormonal options, barrier methods include condoms and the copper coil. Hormonal contraception can be divided into combined (synthetic oestradiol and progesterone) and synthetic progesterone-only options. Incidentally a hormonal contraception was trialled men, but they didn’t not like the side effects. As I explain in my book, it is really important that women (and their doctors) know that combined hormonal contraception (eg combined oral contraceptive pill) and certain types of synthetic progesterone-only options, suppress the internal production of female hormones across the board. This is why these medications are very effective contraception. This suppression of internal female hormones can be very useful for women with endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) which are conditions effectively fuelled by female hormones. However, this suppression of female hormones is absolutely not suitable for women whose periods have stopped. After writing to NICE, I am pleased to report the guidelines are now updated to advise against giving hormonal contraception to women who are not experiencing periods.

Hormone Injury

Unbalanced external lifestyle choices, rather than harnessing hormones, can cause female “hormone injury”. In my book Act 1, Scene 10 “In the Red” goes into the detail of how an imbalance in behaviours around exercise and nutrition can derail female hormone choreography. I outline practical advice of how to recover from this type of “hormone injury” and what to do to restore and reboot hormone networks and return to full health.

Graduation to Menopause and beyond

Variation in female hormone choreography occurs over the longer time scale of a woman’s lifespan. Menopause is a hot topic. Although it is great to see this being discussed, I suggest we need a more positive narrative. I prefer to talk about the graduation to menopause, rather than a decline. This stage in a woman’s life is something I cover in depth in my book in Act 2 looking through the “The Seven Ages of Man and Woman”. In some cultures, being older and wiser is revered. Menopause is something that all women will experience during their life. A point in time when the ovaries retire in their production of hormones and release of eggs.

The graduation to menopause can be the most challenging. During the perimenopause the ovaries work on an unpredictable, part time basis. The female hormone choreography works smoothly in some cycles. Other cycles there will be a mistiming and confused choreography, causing some of the typical indicators of menopause. These include changes in cycle length and nature, temperature regulation issues, labile mood and brain fog being some of the most frequent. We discussed that probably the most helpful approach for women in the workplace is to facilitate discussions, sharing experiences and putting in place practical things that are helpful for the individual: for example, having a desk fan nearby, sitting near a window. From the medical support point of view, providing the facts and practical aspects of taking HRT is something that I am very pleased to be able to provide.

The quote from the Vice President of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists: “Treat women as individuals, not statistics” is something that resonates when it comes to discussing how to unlock and harness the power of female hormones, throughout each woman’s personal female hormone odyssey.

Reference

Hormones, Health and Human Potential: A guide to understanding your hormones to optimise your health and performance”

Hormone Intelligence

Applying artificial intelligence to modelling female hormones enables women to access hormone intelligence at her fingertips

Female hormone networks form the most complex aspect of the endocrine system. The menstrual cycle depends upon a delicate web of feedback mechanisms that trigger significant changes in hormone levels. This intricate physiological process generally operates reliably, but its timing and the hormone levels are affected by internal and external factors going on in a woman’s life. This is why women differ in their experiences of menstrual cycles and why an individual woman may notice differences between cycles.

Apart from being fascinating from a physiological point of view, why is this so important from a practical point of view for women? The reason is that female hormones are not just about fertility. The ovarian hormones oestradiol (most active form of oestrogen) and progesterone have significant effects through the body. Every biological system is dependent on these hormones: bones, muscle, nervous system, including brain function, skin, the cardiovascular and digestive systems [1]. This is why female hormones impact all aspects of health: physical, mental and social [2].

The cyclical fluctuations in female hormones occurring every menstrual cycle will also change over a woman’s lifespan. Completion of puberty is marked by the start of menstrual cycles: menarche. During her adult life a woman can expect regular menstrual cycles. However, subtle hormone disruption can be missed. Although blood testing is the most accurate way of measuring all four of the key female hormones, the standard protocol of taking a blood test at one time point in the cycle, when hormones are at their most quiescent, can miss subclinical menstrual cycle hormone dysfunction.

For example, in subclinical anovulatory cycles, although a woman may experience regular menstrual periods, subtle mistiming of female hormones will not be detected with a routine single blood test. Yet this type of hormone disruption can have potential adverse consequences on health. This is particularly relevant for exercisers, athletes and dancers who are either on the brink of or recovering from low energy availability. Early identification and prevention of relative energy availability in sport (RED-S) is important for both health and exercise performance [3].

A similar situation arises for women in the perimenopause when the responsiveness of her ovaries starts to decline. This is further complicated by the fact that the decrease in ovarian hormone production is not a smooth linear process. A blood test at a single time point may not identify these changes in key female hormone networks. Although perimenopause is a natural physiological process, it can be a challenging time for women, magnified by uncertainty. All change for female hormones

Women need a new, more supportive approach, to take away uncertainty and to empower them with insights into their hormone networks.

How can a woman understand the details of her female hormone network? In theory she could take daily blood tests for the four key hormones: pituitary control hormones follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinising hormone (LH) and ovarian response hormones oestradiol and progesterone. Clearly this is not practical, but it may be possible to use fewer blood tests over a cycle. Machine learning, specifically Bayesian inference, can help by optimally combining test results with background information. This background knowledge includes medical understanding of hormone networks and the characteristics of the individual woman. Machine learning can revolutionise healthcare, as outlined in the report from the Chief Medical Officer of England [4]. It is an approach widely used in modelling biological systems [5]. Artificial intelligence is an important clinical tool to support the optimisation of personalised health [6].

It has recently become possible to create a personalised digital fingerprint of a woman’s menstrual cycle hormone network from just two finger prick capillary blood samples taken during a cycle. Artificial intelligence combines deep medical and mathematical understanding of female hormone networks with the individual details of a woman’s menstrual cycle length, age and activity levels. An expert report, providing an explanation of results with actionable, evidence-based advice, can be supplemented with a personal clinical medical discussion. This gives women the long-needed opportunity to connect with their personal female hormone networks. It empowers each woman to adopt a personalised, effective and proactive approach to optimise her hormone health.

To learn more about artificial intelligence applied to female hormone networks, have at look at previous discussions and forthcoming events where I am presenting on this topic and application of this approach for female health.Presentations

Every woman’s hormone network fluctuations are personal to her. Every woman is an individual.

References

Article St John’s College, Cambridge University

[1] Keay, N. What’s so good about Menstrual Cycles? British Journal of Sport and Exercise Medicine 2019

[2] Keay, N. Of Mice and Men (and Women) British Journal of Sport and Exercise Medicine 2019

[3] Keay, N. Relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S) British Journal of Sport and Exercise Medicine 2018 and British Association of Sport and Exercise educational website Health4Performance

[4] “Machine learning for individualised medicine” Mihaela van der Schaar, Chapter 10 of the 2018 Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer. Health 2040 – Better Health Within Reach. Accessed 2021

[5] Van de Schoot, R., Depaoli, S., King, R. et al. Bayesian statistics and modelling. Nat Rev Methods Primers 1, 1 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43586-020-00001-2

[6] Artificial Intelligence AI council. UK Government 2021