cells under a microscope

Hormones come hand in hand with growing up and sometimes get a bad rap. But what are they exactly and how do they work? Let’s take a closer look at each of the main hormones in puberty (that’s oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone) to find out more.

Hormones get blamed for a lot of things: skin problems, restless nights, heavy or light periods (to name a few). But what exactly are they?

Hormones are essentially chemical messengers released by glands, that travel through our bodies to tissues and organs, instructing them what to do . [1] They play an extremely important part in triggering puberty and the menstrual cycle. They also control things like our heart rate, sleep cycles, metabolism, appetite, growth and development and body temperatures – pretty much everything! In fact, they make sure the body is growing and working as it should.

Given that hormones are so mighty, they can sometimes change the way we feel too. The mood swings, irritability, sadness and anxiety you may have been feeling since puberty can all be put down to pesky hormonal changes. So it’s perfectly normal to feel a little more emotional or sensitive than usual.

Hormonal changes can also be quite noticeable thanks to things like pimples, pubic hair, and increased body odour – that’s what makes them so ‘pesky’: [2] while they help us to mature and bring about important changes, they can also make our emotions hard to deal with, and our body seem like a bit of a stranger.

Having said this, hormones shouldn’t get in the way of your life. Even though mood swings and pimples may not get anyone excited, good news is that hormones do tend to balance out as you get older. 

Let’s take a look at the key hormones that come with puberty and how they can affect you, so that you can understand more about what’s going on inside of your body…

Let’s talk about oestrogen

You’ve probably already heard the name of this hormone being thrown around when learning about puberty and the menstrual cycle at school. Oestrogen plays a huge role in our sexual and reproductive development. It is mainly produced in the ovaries, but adrenal glands and fat cells make small amounts of it too.

You first start to produce oestrogen during puberty and your body will continue to make it up until you reach menopause, where it will drop. Your oestrogen levels also change throughout the month, going all the way up in the middle of your menstrual cycle and all the way down during your period.

Even though oestrogen is a sex hormone, it also controls much more than your menstrual cycle and sexual growth. It can also affect your mood, urinary tract, heart and blood vessels, breasts, skin, weight, hair, pelvic muscles, brain, and bone health. [2] You could say oestrogen is a pro at multi-tasking!

Let’s talk about progesterone

Progesterone is also produced in the ovaries and is released just after ovulation, during the second half of the menstrual cycle. Its job is to build up the uterus lining so there’s a nice environment in the womb for a potential baby.[3] This means that regardless of whether you want to be become a parent or not, your body makes progesterone just in case. But if there’s no pregnancy in sight, the levels of this hormone fall and the uterus lining is simply shed as your period blood.

Let’s talk about testosterone

When someone mentions testosterone, we may automatically associate it with manly qualities, but actually we all have some testosterone inside of us. This hormone is also produced in the ovaries (and yes, in the testes for males) and adrenal glands, much like oestrogen. The balance between testosterone and oestrogen helps our ovaries to function properly – you may like to think of them as a team that works together!

Testosterone also has an important effect on increasing our muscle mass, bone structure, and sex drive. [4] So if some days you’re feeling a little friskier than usual – then it likely has to do with your testosterone levels!

Hormones and your mood

Like most things in puberty, hormones come with lots of pros and cons. Increased oestrogen levels during ovulation can make us feel energetic and even a little sexual, and a build-up in progesterone may leave us all hot and bothered and craving sugary foods. But on the other hand, when oestrogen begins to fall and progesterone starts to rise, we might experience PMS (premenstrual syndrome), which tends to mean anxiety, mood swings, and aches and pains.

Dealing with these different types of emotions and behaviours can feel confusing and frustrating; one day you may be jumping out of bed and the next you may not feel like getting out of bed at all. However, all of these emotional and physical changes are an extremely common part of the menstrual cycle. So if you’re fed up of feeling like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster, remember – it’s absolutely normal, and you’re definitely not alone. And if you ever feel too overwhelmed or like something is off with your body, you can always chat to a friend, relative or seek advice from a doctor for a medical opinion. At the end of the day, we can’t control our hormones, but we can learn how to better deal with them with practice, patience and support from others.

Knowing and understanding more about the different hormones and their effects can help you realise why you may sometimes feel different or out of sorts. If you want to keep learning about the inner workings of your body, head over to our articles on getting to grips with your monthly cycle and how puberty changes your body.

Medical disclaimer

The medical information in this article is provided as an information resource only and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please consult your doctor for guidance about a specific medical condition.


[1]  https://www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones

[2]  https://www.thewellforhealth.com/blog/heres-what-happens-to-your-body-when-your-hormones-are-imbalanced

[3]  https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/estrogens-effects-on-the-female-body

[4]  https://www.health.harvard.edu/drugs-and-medications/testosterone--what-it-does-and-doesnt-do

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