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7 Hormones in Females & How They Affect Our Bodies
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7 Hormones in Females & How They Affect Our Bodies

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Hormones are chemical messengers in the body. The hormone system is like our body’s internal communication system. There are different types of hormones produced in different organs in the body.

You may think of your hormones as those that govern your menstrual cycle and period. Those are your sex hormones, like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. We also have hormones that manage our stress response like cortisol and DHEA. Our thyroid hormones play an important role in metabolism and our digestive hormones, like insulin, help with how we manage blood sugar.

So how do hormones work? How does the body know when to release or decrease a hormone? Basically, the brain is always scanning the body to see what is going on in the body. The hypothalamus is part of the brain located near the base and it regulates hormones and body temperature some other bodily functions.

When the hypothalamus, whose job is basically the watchtower of the body, notices a change or need for a hormone it will send a message to the pituitary gland which is nearby in the brain, who then sends a targeted message to the organ that need to release the hormone. You can think of the hypothalamus like the ‘CEO’, the pituitary gland like ‘middle management’, and the target organ like an ‘employee’ carrying out the function.

Let’s go over these seven important hormones, their jobs in the body, and some signs and symptoms to look out for that may indicate an imbalance.

 

1. Cortisol

 Cortisol is our primary stress hormone and regulates our response to stress. It is produced by the adrenal glands, which are small glands that sit on top of the kidneys like little hats. While we commonly hear about adrenal fatigue, the clinical terminology is actually HPA axis dysfunction. H meaning hypothalamus, P meaning pituitary, A meaning adrenal.

 Normal cortisol levels follow a curve throughout the day, with levels highest in the morning and gradually decreasing to the lowest point in the evening. Chronic stress overtime can result in imbalances in cortisol levels throughout the day. So you could experience high cortisol, low cortisol, or a combination of both.

Common symptoms of abnormal cortisol levels:

  • anxiety or depression
  • blood sugar imbalances
  • brain fog
  • difficulty concentrating
  • feeling wired but tired
  • food cravings
  • gut issues or indigestion
  • hair loss
  • high or low blood pressure
  • infertility
  • low energy or energy drops
  • low libido
  • period problems
  • poor exercise recovery
  • racing thoughts
  • sleep issues

 

2. DHEA and DHEA-S 

DHEA is also an adrenal hormone and plays a role in the stress response. DHEA and DHEA-S are the same hormone just different forms. This is one of the most abundant hormones in the body. It converts into estrogen and testosterone and helps to balance out elevated cortisol levels.

DHEA-S the S stands for sulfated and this is the form that makes up 98% of DHEA in the bloodstream. This is an androgen hormone (so is testosterone). Androgen hormones are typically what we think of as male hormones, but female bodies have them too, just in smaller amounts. You can see this elevated in some PCOS cases depending on the person. Those with PCOS and elevated DHEA, the root cause would be related to stress.

Symptoms of high DHEA include:

  • acne or oily skin
  • aggressive behavior
  • hair loss
  • hirsutism (unwanted hair growth)
  • irritability
  • trouble sleeping

3. Thyroid

You can think of your thyroid as your controller of metabolism. Metabolism just refers to the sum of all of the chemical reactions that occur in the body. The brain signals to the thyroid gland, which is on the front of your neck to release thyroid hormones. It produces T4 which needs to convert into T3 (the active form) to then enter the cell to do its job.

Symptoms of low thyroid function or hypothyroidism:

  • brain fog
  • cold hands and feet
  • decreased sweating
  • dry skin
  • fatigue
  • fluid retention
  • hair loss
  • high cholesterol
  • infertility
  • low energy
  • low libido
  • muscle or joint ache
  • period problems
  • thin / brittle nails

4. Estrogen 

Estrogen is actually a group of hormones that are responsible for our secondary sex characteristics when we hit puberty and the development and regulation of the female reproductive system. Estrogen governs the first half of your menstrual cycle. It rises after your period ends and helps to build up the uterine lining and peaks right after ovulation. There are 3 types: estradiol, estriol, and estrone.

Estrogen gets metabolized, or detoxified in the liver. You can think of this process as three steps. First, it arrives at the liver and gets converted into something else, second a nutrient is added to or combined with this converted product, and then it moves out of the body or is cleared through the stool in step three.

Symptoms of high estrogen include: 

  • anxiety
  • bloating
  • brain fog
  • breast tenderness or pain
  • cramps or period pain
  • cyclical acne
  • fatigue
  • headaches or migraines
  • heavy period
  • irritability
  • long period
  • low sex drive
  • PMS
  • sleep issues

Symptoms of low estrogen include:

  • achy joints
  • anxiety or depression
  • bladder infections (UTI)
  • bone loss
  • infertility
  • low libido
  • mood swings
  • night sweats
  • painful sex
  • poor memory
  • short or light periods
  • trouble sleeping
  • vaginal dryness

5. Progesterone

Progesterone is the hormone that governs the second half of the menstrual cycle. After you ovulate, the sac that remains where the egg was released is called the corpus luteum and it is the corpus luteum that produces progesterone in the second half of your cycle if you ovulate. It is also produced in smaller amounts by the adrenal glands. It helps to balance estrogen and prevent symptoms associated with excess estrogen. Progesterone also has calming/anti-anxiety effects.

Some low progesterone symptoms:

  • anxiety
  • bloating
  • breast tenderness
  • cyclical headaches
  • first trimester miscarriage
  • heavy periods
  • infertility
  • irritability
  • irregular cycles
  • painful periods
  • PMS
  • poor sleep

A Note on Estrogen Dominance:

Estrogen dominance refers to the relationship of estrogen to progesterone. Even though we may think of it as high estrogen, and it can be, it’s really about the relationship of estrogen to progesterone. So you can have a few different pictures of estrogen dominance:

  1. High estrogen and low progesterone
  2. High estrogen and normal progesterone
  3. Normal estrogen and low progesterone

The symptoms of estrogen dominance can really be any combination of elevated estrogen or low progesterone symptoms.

 

6. Testosterone

Like DHEA it is an androgen hormone. It is the dominant male hormone, however women also produce testosterone in lesser amounts and it is very important in our health as well. It plays a role in building and maintaining muscles and bone density, our sex drive, and skin elasticity. This is another one you may see elevated in PCOS. This can be due to blood sugar imbalances and insulin resistance.

Some common symptoms of high testosterone:

  • acne
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • hair loss
  • hirsutism
  • infertility
  • insulin resistance
  • irregular periods
  • irritability
  • long menstrual cycles
  • oily skin
  • rough / dark skin areas
  • skin tags

7. Insulin

Insulin and glucagon are both released by the pancreas and control our blood sugar. Insulin is a storage hormone. Its job is to take sugar from the blood and take it to our cells to use for energy. It’s like a lock and key system. The sugar does not get into the cell without insulin. And what happens if we eat more foods that breakdown into sugar than we can either use right now or store for energy for later, our body will convert the rest into triglycerides which is the storage form of fat in the body. Glucagon is the hormone that signals the body to release stored sugar into the blood when it finds it is low in order to maintain blood sugar levels, which are always tightly controlled in the body. 

Signs of blood sugar imbalances in the body include:

  • fatigue
  • food cravings
  • night sweats
  • sleep issues
  • feeling lightheaded
  • afternoon energy drop
  • poor exercise recovery
  • extra thirsty
  • headaches
  • increased urination
  • irritability
  • feeling hangry