The female body is a complex balance of hormones that keep us not only physically healthy, but mentally as well. Exercise can help you lose weight and change your appearance, but it can also boost your body’s most important chemicals.Just as certain behaviors can support your body’s internal balance, others can completely throw it off. Today, we’re taking a look at all the lady hormones and the role they play in our overall health.

Estrogen

Estrogen is a sex hormone responsible for the development of female reproductive systems and sexual traits, according to Medical News Today. Thanks to estrogen we have breasts, wide hips, narrow shoulders, higher voice pitch, a menstrual cycle, body hair and most importantly, babies. 

Estrogen works in the brain influencing neuron function, happy hormones and body temperature. These functions also improve substantially with exercise.

Estrogen helps regulate our skin’s oil production, collagen and thickness, making us less likely to develop acne than men.

Estrogen plays an important role in bone, liver and heart health.

Estrogen can get thrown off by prescription medications and chronic conditions, but it can also be affected by your lifestyle choices. Certain foods, being overweight or severely underweight can hamper production of the hormone, especially if you are exercising a ton. Athletes and physique competitors might suffer deficiencies when they get to an extremely low body fat percentage.

You’ll know your estrogen is off if any of your lady parts start acting up. If your vagina or boobs hurt, you keep getting UTI’s or your period is off schedule, you might be low on estrogen. It’s not a condition that’s easy to overlook. 

Progesterone

Progesterone comes into play in the last phase of your menstrual cycle. Your body has four phases leading up to your actual period, the last of which is called the luteal phase. This is when your body revs up your progesterone and estrogen to prepare your uterus for pregnancy. But if you don’t get pregnant, your progesterone and estrogen drop, causing your uterine lining to shed and your period to start, according to Fitness Genes. As if bleeding wasn’t enough, this drop in progesterone also causes the period symptoms we all know and love. Cramps, fatigue, irritability, bloating, headaches, the works.

Progesterone bounces back on its own, but it can have a temporary affect on how carbs digest. Higher fat meals and extra snacks for energy during your period can make you feel a lot better.

Prolactin

Prolactin is named for its role in lactation, but it’s not all about breastfeeding. Prolactin also influences your general behavior, metabolism and immunity. Prolactin works with dopamine, telling your brain to produce more or less. This can affect how satisfied you feel in your sex life.

If you are low on estrogen, it can throw off your prolactin which can make you lactate despite not being pregnant. Prolactin problems are very rare and usually genetic.

Being severely underweight, low blood sugar, over exercising and not eating enough can spike your prolactin as well.

Irisin

Irisin or “the exercise hormone” is released during any activity that revs up your heart rate and exerts your muscles, according to Psychology Today. Irisin activates stored fat, allowing it to be more readily burned for energy even after you leave the gym. It also can keep your body from storing more fat. 

If you commit to an active lifestyle and keep this hormone pumping, it can help you maintain a healthy body weight and prevent obesity. It also helps keep your heart and bones healthy.

Testosterone

Testosterone isn’t just for the guys, women produce this hormone along with estrogen and it has an effect on a lot more than just reproductive organs. It can boost your sex drive, mood, concentration, and energy. Without a little testosterone, you wouldn’t be able to build muscle or burn fat very well at all.

But obviously, if your testosterone is too high because of a preexisting condition or anabolic steroid use, your body will start to take on more masculine features. 

Thyroid hormones

1 in 8 women will develop thyroid problems. Thyroid hormones work with almost every function of every cell in the body, according to Medicine Net. From cell growth to metabolism to body temperature and sleep rhythms, thyroid hormones keep just about everything running smoothly. Thyroid disorders originate in the thyroid gland, which is a butterfly shaped organ in the front of your neck. Signs of thyroid issues include inflammation, fatigue, weight gain, and aching joints. The cause is almost always genetic.

Like many other hormones, exercise is a proven treatment for thyroid-related problems. Getting your body moving can help your body produce energy, shake off the stiffness, rev up your metabolism and of course, manage your weight. 

Diet changes can also help with thyroid conditions. Foods like gluten, soy and leafy vegetables are irritants so avoiding those should help.

Adiponectin

Adiponectin determines the kind of fat that’s being stored in your body. Your body tucks away fat in adipose tissue. Adipose tissue is just below your skin or around your organs. If the fat stores under the skin, that’s subcutaneous fat. If it sticks around your organs, that’s visceral fat and is much more dangerous. 

Healthy adiponectin levels will help your body steer clear of visceral fat storage. The more pounds you pack on, the lower your adiponectin and the more risky your fat accumulation becomes for your health. Trying to cut down on over-eating habits can keep this hormone regulated and efficient.

Human growth hormone

Human growth hormone naturally occurs in both men and women, and is in charge of all kinds of cellular processes. HGH builds and repairs tissues in the brain, organs and muscles as well as boosting metabolic, skin and bone health. It’s your body’s secret weapon when it comes to burning fat or toning up. 

HGH deficiencies are usually detected early in childhood and if they develop later in adulthood, it’s because of a tumor or major surgery. 

HGH can be injected as a synthetic supplement, much like a steroid, but it’s important to note that they pose more of a health risk to women than men. 

Insulin

Insulin takes all the sugar from the carbs you eat and stores it away for energy. It helps keep your blood sugar from getting too high or too low. Our cells can’t absorb sugar directly, so insulin attaches itself to the sugar to help our bodies break it down, according to Endocrine Web. If you’ve eaten more sugar than you need, insulin will save it for later and slowly release it when you need energy. For example, when you go for a while without a meal or when you’re working out. 

Eating too many carbs can make your body less susceptible to insulin. The worse your eating habits, the more insulin your body has to try to produce to keep your blood sugar levels stable. Overtime your body won’t be able to digest carbs properly, you’ll put on weight and miss out on vital nutrients. This is why our lifestyle choices play such a huge role in our chances of developing diabetes. 

Cortisol

If you’re constantly suffering mental or physical stress, it may have something to do with a hormone called cortisol. Stress may seem like an emotional condition, but it has a massive biological impact. Elevated levels of stress over long periods of time can wear out your adrenal glands and flood your brain with cortisol, leaving you more vulnerable to depression and physical weakness, according to Body Logic MD.

Cortisol flows in healthy amounts when you’re excited or getting through a tough workout, but it’s all about balance. Cortisol is a prime example of why mental health is just as important as physical health in any fitness journey. A lifestyle of balanced meals and physical activity is the best method to keep cortisol on track.

Women are also more likely to struggle with cortisol fluctuations than men.