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Health & Balance

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Feeling Hormonal?

WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Aviva Patz
Redbook Magazine Logo

Hey, we all are. Hormones control just about every aspect of our physical and mental health — and when they go off-kilter, they can trigger anything from acne and insomnia to memory loss and weight gain. It's enough to ruin any woman's day. Here, 6 common side effects of hormonal flux, plus how to balance yours.

Think hormones take over your life once a month — the cramps, cravings, bloat, and mood swings that make so many of us miserable? That's giving these natural chemicals far too little credit. The reality is that our bodies produce dozens of hormones that control virtually everything we do: from how we think, eat, sleep, and cope with stress to how clear our complexions and how fit our figures are. And when levels of just one hormone fluctuate, the shift can have serious consequences for your mental, emotional, and physical health. Here, six signs your hormones may have gone awry, and what you can do to help restore a healthy balance.

Stubborn Acne

Nearly half of women suffer embarrassing breakouts during the week before their period thanks to normal hormone shifts. But if you've got acne all month long — the deep, cystic kind that no over-the-counter cream can conquer — androgens (male hormones such as testosterone) may be to blame. "A lot of people think acne comes only from diet or lack of hygiene, but it's essentially hormonal, and testosterone is always at the root of it," says endocrinologist Geoffrey Redmond, M.D., author of The Hormonally Vulnerable Woman. Testosterone stimulates excess production of sebum, or oil, that gets trapped beneath the skin's surface and mixes with acne-causing bacteria and dead skin cells, Redmond explains. The result: clogged pores and ugly blemishes. And the higher a woman's testosterone levels — or the greater her sensitivity to the hormone — the more severe her breakouts.

To restore balance: If you're not already taking birth control pills, consider starting. "Oral contraceptives lower levels of free testosterone — the type that's floating around in your blood and causing blemishes — by 50 percent," says Redmond. If you're on the Pill and it's not helping your skin, it may be the formulation. Redmond's top complexion-clearing picks: Ortho Tri-Cyclen and Yasmin, both of which have higher levels of estrogen and lower levels of androgen than certain other pills. Also, avoid any made with levonorgestrel, such as Alesse and Levlite. This synthetic form of progesterone mimics testosterone's effects and may cause breakouts.

If you'd rather not take oral contraceptives at all, spironolactone (marketed as Aldactone) may be your best bet. This drug was shown to safely clear up women's skin by blocking testosterone receptors, thus inhibiting the hormone's activity, according to research at the University of Toronto and elsewhere. Spironolactone has been approved by the FDA only for treating hypertension — not for acne — which means you'll need to find a doctor who will prescribe it off-label. (Note: You can't take it during pregnancy.)

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