Five common hormone myths busted

We often point the finger at our hormones when it comes to health issues, but what is fact and what is fiction? Our experts shed light on some common myths.

From depression and weight gain to excessive tiredness and just feeling out of sorts, we often point the finger of blame at fluctuating hormones.

But what is fact and what is fiction about these chemical messengers that play a key role in pretty much every aspect of how your body functions?

To mark Jean Hailes Women’s Health Week from September 4-8, we asked the experts to clear up some common misconceptions about hormones:

Myth #1: Hormones are to blame for weight gain in midlife

“Weight gain is common at midlife, so it’s understandable that menopausal hormone changes are blamed – but research tells us they aren’t the culprit,” Jean Hailes specialist gynaecologist Dr Pav Nanayakkara says.

Hormonal changes around menopause can affect where you carry weight – fat storage tends to shift from the hips and thighs to your waist, Dr Nanayakkara explains.

“But the weight gain itself is more likely due to lifestyle changes,” she says.

Myth #2: Menopause is an illness

“Like pregnancy, menopause is a normal event and a minority of women have problems and need medical input,” The Royal Women’s Hospital consultant gynaecologist Professor Martha Hickey says. “It’s a common misconception that menopause will be difficult, but women who go into menopause expecting difficult symptoms are more likely to have symptoms.

“It’s important (that) women don’t expect they will have a bad experience.”

Women’s Health Victoria and The Royal Women’s Hospital are launching a new information campaign, In My Prime, to showcase how life after menopause can be positive and healthy.

Myth #3: Hormones are mostly about fertility and sexual health

Hormones do much more than many of us realise.

While they certainly play an important role in fertility and sexual health, their impacts are felt throughout our body.

“For example, oestrogen is a multi-tasking master,” Dr Nanayakkara says.

“We often think of it in relation to reproductive health, but it also helps protect our heart and bones; it contributes to better mood and thinking; and helps strengthen the tissues in our bladder and surrounding areas.”

Myth #4: Hormonal imbalance is a medical diagnosis

The term “hormonal imbalance” actually isn’t a true medical diagnosis, but it describes what happens in conditions such as thyroid disease or polycystic ovary syndrome.

But it can be blamed for everything from fatigue and low libido to feeling out of sorts.

“The myth of hormonal imbalance is heavily marketed,” Prof Hickey says.

“It’s important (for) women (to) have high-quality information and know where to get help if they need it.”

Your GP can discuss your symptoms and work out if they relate to hormone levels or not.

Myth #5: Testosterone is a male-only hormone

When you hear the word “testosterone”, you might think of males because they have much higher levels of the hormone.

But testosterone is important for females too.

“It affects sexual desire, emotional wellbeing, bone health and hair growth,” Dr Nanayakkara says.

Your testosterone level doesn’t start to decrease alongside oestrogen at menopause – levels of testosterone begin to decline in your 20s.

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Written by Sarah Marinos.