Navigating Your Hormones: ‘It’s so important to educate and empower women with open conversations’

Experts will speak at an educational event on hormonal health for women in the Johnstown Estate Hotel on Sunday

“I think it took women coming into medicine to focus attention on the role of hormones in general health,” writes endocrinologist Dr Mary Ryan in her book, It’s Probably Your Hormones.

Speaking in advance of an educational event on hormonal health for women in the Johnstown Estate Hotel in Co Meath on Sunday (November 19th), Dr Ryan says that while education on hormonal health is still hugely needed, there is more openness now in society to discuss everything from period pain to the menopause.

“For years, the menopause didn’t get the recognition it deserved and generations of women suffered. I think it’s important to start at the beginning and understanding your hormones right from when girls get their first periods,” says Dr Ryan.

Dr Ryan wants young women to know that if their periods are longer than three or four days, it means there may be a hormonal problem that needs to be sorted out. “For far too long, women suffering in serious pain for six or seven days a month were sent home [to ease the pain] with hot water bottles. That impacts on your self-esteem and drains your energy as well,” she says.


According to Dr Ryan, headaches, tiredness, changes in bowel motions, not sleeping well and period changes are the first big indicators of hormonal imbalances for women. “These are the things I look at first,” she says.

And she is a firm believer in preventing problems from developing by listening to your bodies and detecting subtle signs, rather than waiting years to deal with problems. “It’s about helping younger women so as to prevent fibroids, endometriosis and other fertility problems down the road,” says Dr Ryan. She cites an example of a woman who had been through a couple of unsuccessful IVF treatments only to discover that an undiagnosed underactive thyroid condition was the cause of her infertility.

“It’s so important to educate and empower women with open conversations in schools and in society about women’s health and hormonal health. Often people need to change their lifestyles, building in self-care routines and rituals that help them rest, recover and reset so that their hormones are balanced,” says Dr Ryan.

Her top tips for good hormonal health include healthy eating, appropriate amounts of sleep and relaxation, self-empowerment and regular checkups with your doctor regarding hormonal and overall health.

Dr Ryan is one of several speakers at Navigating Your Hormones from Puberty to Menopause on Sunday (booking on which has been organised by Dr Ryan with Oonagh O’Hagan, pharmacist and managing director of Meaghers pharmacy group. “Pharmacies are the first port of call because they are free and accessible.” says O’Hagan who will speak about the importance of restorative sleep at Sunday’s event. “Women come to us feeling tired and anxious. Many of them don’t realise they are in the peri-menopause which can last between four and 12 years.”

Nutritional therapist and medicinal chef Rachel Graham who runs an online women’s health clinic will speak about the importance of a fibre-rich, protein-rich diet for hormonal health. The author of The Menopause Kitchen, Graham says her advice is to stop counting calories. “Stop pushing yourself and think about what to add to your diet, rather than what to remove and you will feel happier and more energised which will enable you to do things that you previously shied away from.”

Sports therapist Orla Hopkins – who will also speak at the event – advises women to figure out what they like doing rather than over-thinking which exercises they should be doing. “It’s also about listening to our bodies and figuring out which weeks of the month, you can train harder than others,” she says.

She suggests women schedule exercise into their days such as they schedule time for their children’s activities. “It’s about making a plan and sticking to it. Fit in 15 minutes of exercise twice a day if you don’t have 30 minutes to spare at a time but do push yourself to incorporate it most days.”

Hopkins also says that many women enjoy group classes. “It’s about being with people who make you laugh so that you’ll be motivated to go to the classes.”

Experts including consultant cardiologist Dr Blaithnead Murtagh, consultant radiologist Dr Julie O’Brien, Malahide-based GP Dr Sam Burrows, and pelvic floor physiotherapist Aoife Ní Eochaidh will also speak at the event discussing topics including post-menopausal women’s increased risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and dementia.

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, heritage and the environment