By Ogechukwu Agwu
For seven years, Mrs Obioma Nwachukwu has been married without a child. She suffers irregular menstruation. Often, when she is in her period, it is with unbearable pain. It is so sharp to the extent that she sometimes needs drugs for a relief. Recently, her last menstruation landed her in the hospital .
She said, “ the pain was so unbearable that my husband rushed me to the hospital. I was asked some questions and the answers I gave made the doctor refer me to the laboratory for hormonal profiling. Before now, I had no knowledge of what hormones were or what they do and that they can even affect my health. I learnt that if one’s hormones are not balanced, it could lead infertility. I am currently undergoing treatment, I am hoping to take in while on medication, I feel different, I am positive.
“I dread being on my period, it drains me. When it comes, I am afraid it may never stop, I bleed and bleed and bleed, I can use one pack of pad in three days, I soil my bedsheet every night, on many occasions I have got myself stained and embarrassed because of this, I don’t sleep much. Its so annoying,” another sufferer, Modupe Akintoye (not real name), lamented.
“I am aware of my condition, my hormones seem to have a mind of their own. I am on medication, I am hoping that the medication would work for me, I am honestly very tired, I can’t wait to start living a normal life.”
These cases and many others out there show the importance of hormones and how they function in the body. Hormones are special messengers in the body that are created in the endocrine glands; they are secreted directly into the blood which carries them to the organs and tissues of the body to exert their functions. According to Dr Agumah Nnabuife, a microbiologist at the Ebonyi State University, “hormones are biochemicals secreted by glands and transported by the circulatory system to parts of the body where they carry out physiological functions. They are directly responsible for various forms of behaviours exerted by multi-cellular organisms.”
There are many types of hormones. They act on various aspects of our bodily functions and processes. They control simple bodily functions like hunger, thirst to complex ones like reproduction, development and growth, metabolism of food items, sexual function, maintenance of body temperature, cognitive function and even your mood and emotions. They are of different types and they play a major role in the body’s health and wellbeing. The key to managing and protecting our health is to understand the various roles that they play.
Different glands secrete hormones in the body. They include pituitary gland, pineal gland, thymus, thyroid, adrenal gland, pancreas, testes and ovaries. Nnabuife explained that these glands make up the endocrine gland. “The pituitary gland is considered as the master control gland, it controls other glands, secretes the insulin which regulates the glucose metabolism. It also controls hormones that trigger growth. The pituitary gland(posterior) secretes oxytocin which is responsible for the release of breast milk in females, it also secretes prolactin which is responsible for the production of milk by the mammary gland in females. The pineal gland also called the thalamus is the gland that secretes serotonin derivatives of melatonin which affects sleep. The testes which is only found in males is responsible for the testosterone (development of sexual features in males and libido) and sperm. The ovary which is only found in the females secretes the estrogen which is responsible for the formation of female sexual characteristics. The thyroid gland secretes thyroxine, which increases metabolism.”
Hormones play a very important role in the life of a woman; virtually everything is blamed on hormones, from loss of hair to bad skin to change in voice. Hormones affect the mood, fertility, sexual desire and ovulation in a woman. They are important chemical messengers that affect the many aspects of our overall health.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, a Cardiothoracic Surgeon said, “hormones are like musical instruments in an orchestra. Each plays its own part in creating a prefect concert, until the day one is out of tune and throws off the entire melody.” The work hormones do may seem subtle and little, but when it falls out of balance, the effects it could create may impact negatively on how a women’s reproductive system functions.
Reasons for hormonal imbalance
Hormonal imbalance is a global concern, naturally, women are more likely to feel and face the effects of hormonal imbalance as they grow old, their bodies undergo different changes, they notice some hormonal changes. These changes present themselves during puberty, on the onset of menstruation. That is when they are about to start their menstrual cycle as women, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and even menopause. During all these stages of their lives, different hormones step in and take responsible for these changes. The problem begins when these hormones that are responsible for these changes start to misbehave, then there is an imbalance somewhere.
There are multiple reasons responsible for imbalance of hormones, but the most common of them all is the lack of accurate balance between the progesterone and estrogen level in the body. Any change or variation in the balance between the progesterone and estrogen can affect a woman’s health, causing symptoms like depression, extreme weakness, hair loss, irregular menstrual cycle, abnormal bleeding, menstrual cramps, weight gain, infertility, anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, low libido, changes in appetite, digestive issues, PMS symptoms and facial hair growth. According to Dr. Chinwe Okafor, “The symptoms could be endless, little wonder women blame all their problems on their hormones.”
Aside from the imbalance between the progesterone and the estrogen, other causes include poor nutrition, lifestyle, stress, exercise, using hormone replacement therapy and birth control pills. “The strangest thing about hormones is that it depends on nutrition, exercise, your lifestyle, amount of exercise for the hormones to function properly. So, invariably the amount of hormones a woman produces may vary from month to month. She definitely needs to keep herself in a perfect healthy condition. Birth control pills, drug use, stress, frequent use of coffee change the proteins in the brain and this not allow the body to ovulate properly.”
Women of all ages may experience hormonal imbalances during their premenstrual cycle with symptoms becoming evident in their late 20s and throughout their 40s. “Every month, the female body produces the estrogen and the progesterone, sometimes it could be that the level of estrogen is high compared to the progesterone, this condition is referred to as estrogen dominance, other times it could be that the progesterone is high and the estrogen is low. There is another hormone called androgen which is converted to estrogen, this hormone influences and regulates the functions of most organs like the kidney, liver,reproductive system and whether it is imbalanced, that is, high or low can have a drastic effect on a woman’s health.
“Since most women suffering hormonal imbalance are estrogen dominant, they find out that their breasts seem bigger, tender or sometimes hurt. They also battle with irregular periods, painful periods with large clots of blood present and sometimes, they miss their periods. There may be hair loss also, frequent headache, memory problems, skin problems, the presence of fibroids, endometriosis, and growth of cysts, they become angry and suffer mood swings, they may be depressed too.
“When the level of progesterone is higher than normal, the symptoms to look out for are excessive sleepiness, vaginal dryness, scanty bleeding. When the progesterone level becomes low, it could result to weight gain, water retention, and low blood sugar.
“Hormonal imbalance of androgen could result to lower sex drive, tiredness and feeling sick, excessive acne, excessive hair growth on the face and arms, putting on weight around the stomach, thigh and hips,” Dr Okafor said.
Whether you want to believe it or not, hormonal imbalance is becoming an epidemic. The average female or male over 30 years of age suffers from hormonal imbalance. The condition is a multi-factorial disorder. According to Chinwe, “this simply means that it could be caused by a combination of factors such as your diet, medical history, genetic, stress levels and exposure to the toxins in the environment.
“When we think of the decline in the rate of people who engage in physical exercise, the rise of stressful lifestyles in combination with poor and imbalanced diet, no wonder younger women and men are falling prey and developing hormonal imbalances.”
The effects of such imbalances increases as we age and become more devastating and harder to treat, the longer, the worse they become. Because most of the symptoms come gradually, it is difficult to figure out initially, until the problems become more pronounced and the hormones become even more imbalanced.
Hormones can keep you young, fresh, strong and healthy when checked and available in the right proportions, it determines how your body responds to stress and on the long run how your body manages itself to keep diseases at bay, it determines the flight or fight response of your body, but once imbalance sets in it can not only destroy your looks but also your health.
What to do
“Science has made things easy. It is easy to detect and ascertain when one has hormonal imbalance. The way to diagnose any form of hormonal imbalance is by carrying out a hormone test also known as hormone panel or hormone profiling. Only trained specialists like the gynaecologists, obstetricians and endocrinologists can do so”
“it is not every woman that needs to do the test, for most women who have ordinary symptoms of hormonal imbalance, the test may simply won’t tell them anything that they do not know, especially for women who are very conscious with their body and are trendy, I mean they like to find out things for themselves and as you know, we are in a jet age. Virtually everything any information can be found on the internet these days.”
However, Dr. Okafor said the reason she encourages her patients to do the test is because there is usually more to it. “Most times, we tend to discover something more than what made me advise that the test be carried out from the hormone test, I sometimes discover that it may be cause of fibroid or polycystic ovary syndrome, or even infertility that could be making the hormones go haywire.
Hormonal imbalance if not checked, becomes a vicious cycle that slowly robs you of your energy, vitality and life and even lifestyle. It also robs your loved ones of their lifestyle. Unless properly diagnosed and evaluated, proper recovery is very difficult to achieve.
“This is where a trained health care professional is important. One would require a doctor who is up to date in hormonal function and can discover sub-clinical hormone imbalances, not just diseased glands or organs,” she said.
Depending on the type of hormonal imbalance that one is suffering from, a proper diagnosis will help determine the conventional treatment to follow which could be in the form of drugs, injections.“Conventional treatment for hormonal imbalance includes synthetic hormone replacement therapies, birth control pills, insulin injections, thyroid injections etc. However, every woman can benefit from a healthy and balanced diet. This is important for hormonal health and overall wellbeing. Eating foods containing plenty of fruits and vegetables can do your body good on the long run.”
Aside from the conventional treatment, one can attempt to tackle the problems of hormonal imbalance naturally. Advocates of this method promote it because of the side effects of treating hormonal imbalance the conventional way. They argue that one can be addicted to prescription drugs. Also, they believe that the medications simply mask the symptoms and do not solve the problem which means the patient can continue to develop abnormalities in other areas of the body while the disorder progresses. In treating hormonal imbalance the conventional way, there is a higher risk of experiencing side effects of the medications which include oestoroporisis, anxiety, reproductive problems, cancers and more.
To treat hormonal imbalance the natural way, the first thing to do is to start taking a healthy and balanced diet. The body cannot make its hormones when it does not have enough proper building blocks which are gotten from food. Stocking the body with enough high quality proteins, fat and vegetables can help give your body what it needs. In the case where the body isn’t strong enough to break down food or maybe the person is sick, then you can incorporate supplements like Omega-3, Vitamin D, Magnesium etc.
Sleep is another tool to help control and correct hormonal imbalance. It can also help to maintain a proper weight and blood sugar regulation. Striking a balance between your food and sleep is very important.
Individuals should limit the amount of caffeine intake, coffee is a major source of caffeine, therefore, people should watch how much coffee they drink. Caffeine wreaks havoc on the endocrine system especially if there are other hormone stressors involved like pregnancy, presence of toxins or stress. Another factor that should be considered is exercise, one cannot over-emphasise the importance of exercise. If you are having adrenal or thyroid deficiency, you should consider working out. Start with light exercises like walking, swimming, biking and work your way up to what you think your body requires.
How to keep your eyes healthy, strong –Dr Lilian Lucky
By Doris Obinna
The delicate nature of the eyes as well as its importance in comparison with other organs of the body cannot be overemphasized.
When a baby is born, the health of its eyes is subject to a lot of factors which may be genetic or acquired. We may not have control over vision that is subject to genetic factors but when it comes to acquired it is good to know what to do to maintain and possible improve our eyesights.
According to Dr Lilian Lucky, Medical Director, Rhema Eye Center, Satellite Town, Lagos, from macular degeneration (degeneration of area responsible for central vision) to the blur that comes after staring at a computer screen or the partial vision loss, we experience after looking directly at an intense light, it is no joke that our eyes deteriorate as we age.
Research has shown that our health is linked to diet and lifestyle. Being overweight, smoking, having diabetes, uncontrolled blood pressure, eating high-fat diet, excessive alcohol consumption and low fruits and vegetables intake all increase the risk of eye diseases.
Our pair of eyes have been given for an entire life time,knowing what to do to maintain them is key. Some of them are as follows:
Eat green leafy vegetables (these are known to help avoid macular degeneration. Example of such vegetables are spinach, pumpkin leaves, lettuce. Fish such as salmon, tuna, titus are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which improve eye sight. The flavonoids in chocolates help protect blood vessels in the eyes. Eggs contain protein that are beneficial to the lens of the eyes. This could in the long term prevent cataract (which is the whitening of the lens).
Oranges, grape fruits, lemons and berries are high in vitamin C which may also reduce the risk of cataract and macular degeneration. Almonds, cashews and peanuts help to reduce dry eyes and some eye diseases. Tomatoes are also an excellent source of vitamin C which are packed with carotenoids. This helps prevent light induced damage to the retina.
Carrots and pawpaw are high in vitamin A, a nutrient essential for good vision.
Lutein in avocados helps to maintain healthy eyesight as we age. Lean beef can boost eye health. Beef contains zinc which helps the body absorb vitamin A. Remember to take it in moderation. Onions and corn are also helpful.
Behaviours we exhibit over time can help to maintain or destroy vision. Drinking water regularly helps to keep your eyes hydrated. Always wear a pair of sunglasses with UV filters in sunny environment.
Use protective eye wears when working with machineries that emits harmful objects or sparks into the atmosphere. Don’t stare at a computer screen for too long. Take a break every 20 minutes. For 20 seconds , look at something about 20 feet far farther. This allows your eyes to refocus, and relax and prevents blurry vision that can occur from digital eye strain. Regular exercises and avoiding high fat diet help in the long run to maintain good vision. Regular visit to your eye doctor helps prevent age related ocular conditions. People over 40 years should have early eye exams and children should have their first eye exam as early as possible. When visiting your eye doctor it is important to give a thorough and accurate health history, mention your lifestyle, hobbies and leisure activities you like. This will help the doctor to make correct recommendations for correcting vision and keeping your eyes healthy.
For those who use contact lenses, be sure to replace your contact lens cases every 2 or 3 months. This will help to prevent contact lens related diseases.
Contact lens wearers should use rewetting or lubricating eye drops before boarding the airplane because the quality of air there is drier than normal and could cause eye irritation. Also bring along an extra pair of lens and glasses. Never expose contact lenses in swimming pools or hot tub water because they are full of irritating chemicals and bacteria that can cause infections.