Hormone Blues-Hormones…While some women hardly notice them, others dread the havoc hormones wreak on their weight, mood, food cravings, and desire for sex. Some women feel as if for a time they have lost control of their life. But hormones don’t have to overwhelm you.

First, what are hormones? Secreted through your glands, and traveling through your body in the bloodstream, hormones can control what happens in different cells and organs. Men and women share many of the same hormones. But a number of distinctive hormones are found only in women, or at least in much higher levels in women, such as estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are produced mainly by the ovaries, and they rise and fall at different points in the menstrual cycle, as well as when women experience menopause, which is when hormone levels drop.

Women who are struggling with physical symptoms PMS (cramps, diarrhea, breast tenderness) perimenopause and menopause (hot flashes, night flashes) may also feel overwhelmed by emotional ones – mood swings, decreased desire for sex, melancholia, depression, even anger and self-hatred. The good news is that although you can’t change your physiology, even small changes in your lifestyle can make a huge difference in the way you feel.

Although it seems simple, reducing salt intake is the first thing you should do. Limiting salt will reduce bloating and – wait for it — water retention in the brain. No wonder women struggle with mood swings. You can also experiment with cutting out sugar, limiting caffeine, and avoiding diet sodas containing aspartame (NutraSweet) and food with MSG. Try increasing your vitamin B6, either with vitamins or by adding more beans, nuts, and fortified grains, zinc, and magnesium. If you’re in your thirties and forties, and haven’t already cut back on sugar, white flour, and salt, do it now. You should begin to feel relief in just one cycle.

Experts advise women to maintain a healthy weight and learn to handle stress in healthy ways. Exercising regularly helps to ease PMS and premenopausal symptoms and make them easier to cope with. Because hormones are exacerbated by stress, go for a walk, meditate, listen to music, and you’ll see a positive difference in your symptoms.

For additional help, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. There are answers for hormone relief for every woman at every life stage from PMS to menopause.

SOURCES: National Cancer Institute; Women’s Health Foundation; U.S. Food and Drug Administration.