It is easy to see that girls start to mature at an earlier age than boys. They may be quite young when they start to experience the hormonal shifts that start developmental changes, with the accompanying mood swings and emotional challenges. Some girls may begin to menstruate as early as 8 to 10 years but it is more common around the age of 12. Nevertheless, boys catch up and also experience mood swings as well as having their own particular problems to deal with.
With the use of good food, occasional herbs and other balancing modalities, teenage hormonal mood swings can be partially alleviated and supported, making it easier for adolescents to step out of childhood and into adulthood.
It is essential that we remember that adolescents themselves do not enjoy their own mood swings and emotional outbursts – or parental reactions. During adolescence, many new hormones are circulating in the system and may not be stabilised for some years. Hormones can dramatically affect the energy of the body as well as moods and feelings. In cultures where the passage of maturing into adulthood was traditionally celebrated, this recognition of the transition may have served to help adolescents develop a greater understanding of the responsibilities and immense challenges that lay before them as young adults.
Young men and women need to know they are special at this turbulent time of sexual change. Denial of this passage can lead to many problems, including anorexia, bulimia, depression and liver problems. Also essential to grasp is the understanding and acceptance that the seemingly "abnormal" need for extra sleep is actually vital for emotional and physical development, especially for the brain.
Functions of oestrogen, progesterone & testosterone in the adolescent body
Herbalist James Green, author of “The Male Herbal”, points out that in many ways boys and girls, men and women, are all quite similar. He explains that the prostate can be interpreted as the male uterus and, although it manifests no cyclic menstruation, it is dependent on the endocrine system. Some would say it could also be the counterpart to the breasts in the female. He points out that testicles are ovarian tissue that has dropped down. Certainly, when a male suffers a blow to the testicles, he says, much of the pain is felt in the vicinity of where the ovaries are located in a female's body. He goes on to draw similarities between vaginal and penile tissue and the "hood" found on both the clitoris and the penis; and points out that the male scrotum and the female labia majora are of homologous tissue. Having said that there are major differences!
Oestrogen guides the female from babyhood to womanhood, partially explaining why girls behave as they do (such as playing nurturing games) and why eventually they grow breasts and develop higher voices and broader hips.
- Helps in the growth of the endometrial tissue that forms a "nest" for a fertilised egg – it is the primary fertility hormone.
- Helps to relax blood vessel walls and aids circulation and tone in the genital tract. This relaxation causes cervical secretions that are inviting to the sperm.
- Helps to retain bone calcium.
- Needs to be balanced in order to prevent dramatic mood swings, painful cramping during menstruation and more problems in later womanhood. A joyful woman has balanced oestrogen.
- Levels increase after menstruation and ovulation, then decrease pre-menstrually, although this hormone is present throughout the whole cycle. Herbs like agnus castus can help to gently nudge "out of sync" hormones to a more balanced and level production.
- Excessive production of oestrogen creates an imbalance in the production of another hormone called alderosterone and this, in turn, disturbs water balance in the body, resulting in swelling and tenderness of the breasts, stomach and ankles. Excessive oestrogen will also lower progesterone levels and cause a chemical imbalance in the brain, involving adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine, affecting mood and behaviour. It will also cause poor metabolism of some vitamins, minerals and fatty acids and will over-stimulate the body, potentially causing paranoia, anxiety, palpitations, hot and cold sweats, shaking and lowered blood sugar.
- A deficiency in oestrogen interferes with the successful breakdown of tryptophan and other mood-balancing and enhancing chemicals in the brain.
- Oestrogen also encourages the development of male hormones in pubescent boys.
Progesterone is the precursor of the other sex hormones, oestrogen and testosterone. It is the predominant hormone in the second phase of the menstrual cycle, acting to retain the womb lining and any fertilised eggs.
- Mainly prepares for and supports pregnancy (in fact the word progesterone is derived from the Latin meaning "supporting gestation"). Without it, spontaneous abortion can take place. It is vital for the survival of the embryo and foetus throughout gestation.
- Protects against breast cysts and endometrial and breast cancers, is a natural diuretic and can alleviate a pre-menstrual bloated feeling. It helps to use fat for energy (oestrogen encourages production and storage of fat; progesterone works to balance this).
- Is a natural antidepressant – lack of it will bring on apathy, sluggishness and depression. However, an excessive amount of progesterone can also cause depression, lack of concentration and weepiness.
- Helps thyroid action and resulting energy levels.
- Normalises blood clotting. If clots are seen menstrually, progesterone-supporting herbs will help.
- Helps normalise blood sugar levels; often pre-menstrual sugar cravings mean that there is too little progesterone available.
- Normalises zinc and copper levels, which are especially vital for the immune system.
- Stimulates bone growth, which is vital for development in children and to prevent osteoporosis in later life.
- Is a precursor of cortisol, which is essential for sustaining the balance of the adrenal glands. This in turn directly supports the thyroid.
- Restores proper cell oxygen levels and therefore helps concentration and, in particular, mental agility.
Testosterone is produced by the testes in the male body (and in the ovaries in females). The testes lie dormant throughout infancy and early childhood, until the onset of puberty, when the male organs enlarge.
- Triggers development of the male sexual characteristics, including promoting hair growth on the face, abdomen, pubis, chest and armpits and increasing larynx development, which results in the adult male voice becoming lower.
- If levels are low during the development of the male foetus, the testes will not descend properly if at all. The development of sperm may also be adversely affected.
- Causes aggression which, when channelled correctly, is a major human survival instinct.
- Increases the protein content of muscles, bones and skin.
- Testosterone also encourages the development of female hormones in pubescent girls.
Why liver health for young men & women is so important for better hormones & moods
- The liver is responsible for keeping hormones in optimum balance. A fully functioning and balanced liver will be able to process hormones efficiently, minimising the effects of hormone surges and ensuring there is no backlog of unprocessed hormones, thus also helping to stabilise positive mental states.. The liver is constantly working to break down food, environmental chemicals and other metabolic by-products. When it is constantly dealing with high levels of sugars, fats, coffee, tea, alcohol, drugs etc., it has to work harder – this means it has fewer resources for processing hormones, potentially making hormone swings much worse.
- Men produce ten times more testosterone than women. This gives men their more muscular features, just as oestrogen produces the female curves. For the adolescent male these testosterone surges can be quite alarming and can be reflected in loud, reckless behaviour, which is often difficult to handle for them as well as those around them. Add to this a congested liver unable to efficiently process the testosterone, and the result can indeed be explosive.
- Acne can be a problem for male and female teenagers and confidence levels can suffer. With good food and herbs and a fully functioning liver, this problem can be reduced. See our page on acne for further information.
- For young women the liver has an important role for regulating menstruation (including ensuring a smooth pre-menstrual phase) and for those who are not yet menstruating but are cyclic. The liver produces many of the sex-related hormones itself, as well as processing others which are produced elsewhere in the body. With young women the premenstrual days/weeks are difficult when progesterone is in high levels. If the liver becomes congested with excess hormones and is not processing the progesterone – and toxins – efficiently, this can make symptoms worse. The liver is joyful if functioning properly and angry and depressed if overworked and under-functioning so, at key hormone times, it can become quite an emotional time-bomb. Herbal support can be helpful to decongest the liver and stop it becoming sluggish.
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