How much do you really know about your hormones? While in recent years, as research on women’s health issues has expanded, including studies on hormones and your health, most of us still don’t fully understand what hormones do and why. Instead most of what you know or believe is passed down, sometimes erroneously from friends or family, even your doctor, that confuses what you think and even worse, gets in the way of you being more proactive about your health.
This two part blog seeks to explain what each of your most critical hormones do and takes on the most common myth around each.
First, the big 3- Estrogen, Progesterone and Testosterone.
Estrogen: Your Feminine Hormone
Estrogen is known for its ability to promote your femininity, enhance your feelings of intimacy, and support your libido. But did you know that it’s also closely linked with your general sense of well-being? Many women are unaware that estrogen works in conjunction with serotonin, a “feel-good” brain chemical that enhances feelings of happiness and pleasure, improves moods, and decreases feelings of anxiety. In fact, research shows that the ebb and flow of your estrogen level corresponds with the rise and fall of your serotonin level. This explains why you may experience mood swings, and feel depressed, before your periods, when your estrogen level is lowest.
Made in your ovaries and adrenal glands, estrogen is also critical for the health and elasticity of your vaginal tissues, which include your inner and outer labia, clitoris, and urethra. These are “estrogen- dependent” tissues that rely on estrogen to remain healthy, moist, and flexible. Without adequate estrogen, your body’s natural ability to lubricate your vaginal tissues can diminish, and pleasurable sex may become challenging, if not impossible.
Estrogen may be essential to your vitality in many other ways as well. It supports all your connective tissues, and just as it helps keep your vaginal tissues lubricated, it can act as a natural moisturizer throughout your body. By improving your collagen content, it helps make your skin more supple, well- toned, and wrinkle- free—just one of the ways that estrogen keeps you growing younger every day.
MYTH: Estrogen is the only hormone I need to worry about in menopause.
TRUTH: Estrogen’s effects are closely tied to progesterone. Too much estrogen without progesterone to balance it creates estrogen dominance.
During the years that you menstruate, every month estrogen promotes your fertility and builds the lining of the uterus that leads to either a period if an egg isn’t fertilized, or a pregnancy if fertilization occurs.
Estrogen also potentially helps maintain your memory, supports your bone health, and heightens the touch-sensitivity of your breasts. In addition, estrogen helps protect you from urinary tract infections, as well as vaginal infections caused by yeast or bacteria, by helping to maintain a beneficial pH (the level of acidity) of your vaginal tissues.
When you have a healthy level of estrogen, it’s your strongest ally. Too little, however, can lead to irritable feelings and unpleasant moods, postpartum discomforts, and worsened menopausal symptoms of hot flashes, vaginal dryness, anxiety, and insomnia. On the other hand, too much estrogen can result in exacerbated premenstrual symptoms, heavy menstrual flow, uterine fibroid tumors, breast or ovarian cysts, and a higher risk of estrogen-related cancers.
As you can see, you have a lot to gain from having the right amount of estrogen in your body. In the pages ahead, we’ll explore ways you can enhance your body’s ability to maintain a healthy estrogen level that contributes to a more resilient, youthful hormonal balance.
Progesterone: Your Age-Defying Hormone
Produced in your adrenal glands and ovaries, progesterone assists you in sustaining a stable, rejuvenating hormonal equilibrium. It can increase your overall health by promoting calmness, relieving tension, helping to “relax” your connective tissues, and aiding your ability to sleep soundly. Because of its effects on mood-altering brain chemicals such as “feel-good” serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, balanced progesterone can be highly conducive to balanced moods. Progesterone can also help soothe your nervous system, lessen anxiety linked with menopausal hormone fluctuations, and may even contribute to “glowing,” younger-looking skin, nails, and hair.
Many of the benefits you get from progesterone are uniquely related to other hormones that you’ll look at in the pages ahead: it can enhance your libido by acting as a precursor to testosterone, boost your energy because it’s a precursor to cortisol, and support your thyroid hormone, which affects the metabolism of every cell in your body. In addition, your monthly release of progesterone after ovulation helps inhibit estrogen, thereby preventing heavy periods.
Many women have decreasing progesterone levels beginning in their 30’s. Whether this is due to a stressful lifestyle or simply because they’re naturally less fertile at this time in their lives, they tend to have deficiencies of progesterone compared to estrogen, particularly during the second half of their menstrual cycles.
Symptoms of this progesterone-estrogen imbalance, which is called estrogen dominance, include breast tenderness and swelling, exacerbated PMS, more acute menstrual cramping, heavier periods, menstrual flow with increased clotting, bloating (particularly of the abdomen), and water retention in tissues.
Myth: Progesterone is less important than estrogen, which is the ‘Queen’ hormone.
Truth: Progesterone shouldn’t be relegated to a lower status than estrogen. Both play, unique important roles in your well-being.
If your progesterone level is insufficient, one of the telltale indicators is insomnia that occurs during the second half of your menstrual cycle, especially if you wake frequently in the middle of the night and are unable to resume sleeping. Since progesterone can activate receptors in your brain that promote mental calmness, another strong indicator of low progesterone is anxiety that happens exclusively during the second half of your cycle.
All too often, women attribute the symptoms of low progesterone to aging, without realizing that gradual hormone decline is a critical factor. But many symptoms of deficient progesterone and estrogen dominance can be effectively treated with lifestyle changes and herbal support.
Testosterone: Your Creative Hormone
Although testosterone is often portrayed as the exclusive province of men, it’s every bit your hormone, too. In fact, you can claim it as your birthright, because it’s naturally produced by your ovaries and adrenal glands. Your testosterone is vital to your health and sexuality, energizing you on a daily basis and heightening your zest for life.
Testosterone can enhance not only your sexual energy but many other capacities of your body, mind, and spirit as well. It may boost your creativity by helping you feel more aware, more perceptive, and more attuned to new sensations. It may also give an extra “edge” to your personality by increasing your assertiveness, nourishing your self- confidence, and accentuating the more dynamic side of your nature.
Research shows that testosterone can additionally improve your sense of well-being because of its role in affecting the actions of dopamine, a brain chemical that promotes feelings of happiness. People with insufficient dopamine are prone to feelings of despair, reduced ability to tolerate stress, and diminished libido. Other benefits provided by testosterone include helping you build your bones and prevent bone loss, supporting a healthy balance of lean muscle and fat, and improving overall muscle strength.
MYTH: Testosterone is the ‘male’ hormone, so it’s only for men.
TRUTH: Testosterone is also a women’s hormone; both women and men have testosterone in their bodies.
During midlife, testosterone can help reduce menopausal symptoms of headaches, hot flashes, and night sweats. To enjoy testosterone’s many benefits, you need to have an adequate level of testosterone coursing through your body. If your testosterone level is low, symptoms may include disinterest in pursuing new activities, lack of motivation, reduced libido, frequent exhaustion, general malaise, feelings of being “worn-out,” and a blasé attitude toward sex.
When women with previously low testosterone have their levels restored to normal, they often report feeling reenergized, reinvigorated, more alive, and younger than they’ve felt in years. Testosterone is a critical hormone that we have to embrace rather than fear it will make us too “masculine”. Without artificially altering your testosterone levels you’ll never have enough to make you look like a man.
These three hormones all have unique and important roles they play in your body and health. So much so that any of them truly out of balance with one another can have a major negative impact on your life. The more you know and understand them though, the better you can control how you feel rather than be reactive to your symptoms either only during your period, or any other time your body is stressed.
In our next blog, the other, even less understood hormones: DHEA, Thyroid and Cortisol.
The Daily Wellness Team