Your hormones: decade by decade

20s

YOUR HORMONAL MAP: Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are being pumped out by your ovaries, following a more predictable pattern than during your teens.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOU: Lots of energy, a revved-up libido, killer cognitive skills, and less-severe mood swings.

WHAT YOUR PERIODS ARE LIKE: Pretty regular, which means less-intense cramps.

MAKE IT BETTER: To prevent cramps, take up to four ibuprofen daily on the three days before your period. Ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin) prevents the buildup of prostaglandins, hormone-like chemicals that cause cramp pain. Or try prostaglandin-blocking omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts), or apply heat to the cramped area with a heating pad or hot-water bottle.

HEALTH ALERT: High levels of estrogen keep arteries flexible and plaque-free, but this hormone declines with age, so you become more vulnerable to heart disease. Follow these steps to stave off this deadly condition:

Continue (or start) an exercise regimen. After 20 minutes of working out, your body begins burning off triglycerides.

Check your birth-control pills. If your LDL (i.e., “bad”) cholesterol or triglycerides are high, your Pill could be to blame. Ask your doctor if you need to switch.

30s

YOUR HORMONAL MAP: Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are still cycling in a predictable pattern, but the overall levels of these hormones decline steadily at this age in early preparation for menopause.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOU: You may notice subtle changes in your energy and libido, which decrease as the overall amount of estrogen and testosterone declines.

WHAT YOUR PERIODS ARE LIKE: The length and flow of your period remains regular, but if you’ve had kids by now, you may find that cramps are less severe due to your cervix widening during childbirth.

MAKE IT BETTER: Take an iron supplement or eat iron-rich foods—e.g., beef or enriched cereal—to boost your energy levels, which are especially low during menstruation.

HEALTH ALERT: Less estrogen makes it harder to keep belly fat off, but a waist size that’s over 35 inches significantly increases your risk for developing diabetes and heart disease.

Bone building slows down, so start doing weight-bearing exercises—like dancing, aerobics, or walking—to build up bone density.

In your 30s, the epidermis loses water-storing hyaluronic acid and slows cell turnover and collagen production. This limits your potential for radiant, youthful plumpness and makes you more susceptible to adult acne (through your mid-30s, while your body’s still cranking out sebum-producing testosterone). Hyaluronic-acid-fortified lotions, exfoliating serums, and hormone skin creams with plant estrogens like soy, red clover extract, and grapeseed extract can help (see above), if you start using them early. Louisville, KY, gynecologist Dr. Rebecca Booth, author of The Venus Week, also recommends reducing sugar intake, which boosts testosterone, suppresses estrogen levels, and robs skin of elasticity.

40s

YOUR HORMONAL MAP: You’re entering perimenopause—a transition phase that triggers a steeper decline in estrogen and testosterone and erratic hormone shifts.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOU: You could experience moodiness, irritability, hot flashes, insomnia, lack of energy, and/or lower libido.

WHAT YOUR PERIODS ARE LIKE: Irregular hormone patterns (remember your teens?) can mean spotting, longer or shorter cycles, missed periods, increased cramping, and PMS symptoms.

MAKE IT BETTER: Severe cramping could be a sign of uterine fibroids, polyps, or adenomyosis. If you have spotting or your flow stops for months and then resumes with heavy bleeding, it could be a sign of something serious, like cervical or uterine cancer. Talk to your doctor right away if you notice any of these symptoms.

HEALTH ALERT: After 40, your risk of breast cancer rises. Do monthly breast self-exams and ask your doctor if you should start having mammograms every one to two years.

50s

YOUR HORMONAL MAP: Menopause means your ovaries run out of viable eggs and stop making hormones. Your remaining hormones are pumped out by adrenal glands at about a tenth of the amount that you’ve been used to.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOU: While plunging estrogen causes some to suffer moodiness, depression, fatigue, irritability, hot flashes, aches, difficulty sleeping, and/or a lower libido, other women don’t have any of these symptoms.

WHAT YOUR PERIODS ARE LIKE: When your periods stop for 12 consecutive months, you’ve officially entered menopause. Until then, expect spotting in between periods and skipping cycles for months, only to have your period suddenly spring up again.

MAKE IT BETTER: Any kind of exercise reduces cramping and PMS. Plus, activity triggers the production of feel-good endorphin’s, which help lift mood and ward off heart disease, insomnia, and body stiffness.