Female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone, have the most significant effect on a woman’s health, from menstruation to pregnancy to menopause. But your body makes and utilizes a variety of other hormones that affect other aspects of your health – from your energy level, weight, mood and more.
Here’s a closer look at the main hormones within a woman’s body, how they work and what happens when you have either too little or too much of each.
Estrogen is responsible for bringing about the physical changes that turn a girl into a woman during puberty, including enlarging of the breasts, growth of pubic and underarm hair and the start of menstrual cycles. Aside from estrogen’s obvious importance to childbearing, it helps to keep cholesterol in control, contributes to protecting bone health and affects your brain (including mood), heart, skin and other tissues throughout the body.
The primary source of estrogen in women is the ovaries, which produce a woman’s eggs. However, your adrenal glands, which are located at the top of each kidney, also make small amounts of estrogen, along with fatty tissues. Estrogen moves throughout your body in your bloodstream and acts everywhere throughout your body. Estrogen levels change throughout the month and are highest in the middle of your menstrual cycle and lowest during your period. At menopause, estrogen levels drop.
Women with low estrogen, due to menopause or surgical removal of the ovaries may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Menstrual periods that are less frequent or stop altogether
- Hot flashes and/or night sweats
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Dryness and thinning of the vagina
- Decreased sexual desire
- Mood swings
- Dry skin
Women with too much estrogen may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Weight gain, particularly in the midsection (waist, hips and thighs)
- Menstrual problems, such as light or heavy bleeding
- Worsening of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Fibrocystic breasts (non-cancerous breast lumps)
- Uterine fibroids (non-cancerous tumors in the uterus)
- Loss of sex drive
- Feeling depressed or anxious
As a steroid hormone secreted by the corpus luteum, a temporary endocrine gland that women produce after ovulation, progesterone prepares the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) for the possibility of pregnancy after ovulation. Progesterone works to encourage the lining to accept a fertilized egg while prohibiting non-painful uterine muscle contractions that may cause the body to reject an egg. If a woman does not become pregnant, the corpus luteum breaks down and the progesterone levels decrease in the body, causing the woman to menstruate. In the event of pregnancy, progesterone continues to stimulate blood vessels in the endometrium that will nourish and support the growing baby.
Women who have low levels of progesterone often have abnormal menstrual cycles or struggle to conceive, because the lack of progesterone doesn’t provide the proper environment for a fertilized egg to grow. Women with low progesterone levels who do succeed in getting pregnant are at higher risk for miscarriage or preterm delivery, as progesterone helps maintain the pregnancy.
Women who suffer from low progesterone may experience abnormal uterine bleeding, irregular or missed periods, spotting and abdominal pain during pregnancy and frequent miscarriages. However, low progesterone levels can also create higher estrogen levels, which may contribute to the following symptoms:
- Decreased sex drive
- Additional weight gain
- Gallbladder problems
As the primary sex hormone found in men, testosterone plays an important role in a woman’s body, too. Relatively small amounts of testosterone are produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands and released into the bloodstream, where it contributes to a woman’s sex drive, bone density and muscle strength.
Women who produce too much testosterone may experience:
- Irregular or absent menstrual periods
- More body hair than the average woman
- Male-pattern or frontal balding
- Increased muscle mass
- Deeper voice
Women with high levels of testosterone may struggle with infertility and commonly suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), an endocrine condition that is sometimes seen in women of childbearing age who have difficulty getting pregnant. Like their high-testosterone level counterparts, women with PCOS have similar symptoms, which include:
- An apple-shaped body
- Excessive or thinning hair
- Menstrual irregularity
- Insulin resistance
- Carbohydrate intolerance – a condition that makes you prone to gaining weight
- Low levels of “good” cholesterol, high levels of “bad” cholesterol
- Elevated triglycerides
- High blood pressure
When women go through menopause and the ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone, testosterone levels go down as well, though not as rapidly. For most women, the common side effect is a reduced libido, which can often be remedied through receiving supplemental testosterone.
The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland that sits low in the front of your neck, secretes several hormones. If your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), you may have a condition called hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid. According to the Mayo Clinic, women, especially those over the age of 60, are more likely to have hypothyroidism, which upsets the normal balance of chemical reactions in the body. While it seldom causes symptoms in the early stages, untreated hypothyroidism can cause a number of health problems, such as obesity, joint pain, infertility and heart disease.
You may have hypothyroidism if you experience:
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Puffy face
- Muscle weakness
- Elevated blood cholesterol levels
- Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
- Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints
- Heavier than normal or irregular menstrual periods
- Thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Impaired memory
So, take charge of your health! ReVital offers free consultations where you can speak to one of our clinicians about ReVital’s Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy. At ReVital, we can conduct simple blood tests to evaluate the levels of these hormones in your system and prescribe supplements or therapies to treat and control the majority of hormonal imbalances. We also encourage that you connect with your regular doctor about any changes in your health and moods.