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Female_Hormones

Hormonal balance is the key factor that plays a vital role in maintaining women’s health. 

A woman’s body produces several hormones, each performing unique functions. The secretion and release of these hormones are interdependent. This implies the increase or decrease in the levels of any of these hormones could affect the balance of other hormones in the body, which we refer to as hormonal imbalance. 

Hormonal imbalance affects a wide range of bodily functions in women, leading to a multitude of health issues. Hence, maintaining a healthy hormonal balance is essential for overall well-being. 

In this article, we discuss some important female hormones that regulate several bodily functions in women and understand their functions. 

Importance of Hormonal Balance in Females 

Hormones are chemical compounds produced by endocrine glands. Their key role is to regulate the body’s signaling mechanism by instructing the cells, tissues, and organs on what to do. 

In women, hormones help control several body functions, including reproduction, menstruation, ovulation, body temperature, metabolism, heart rate, sleep, growth, and even emotional wellness. However, these hormones fluctuate at different phases of their lives, such as before, during, and after menstruation, during pregnancy and breastfeeding, or during and after menopause.

Due to fluctuations in hormone levels, women usually experience symptoms such as bloating, weight gain, mood swings, fatigue, and spikes in body temperature. 

Even small changes in hormone levels can affect women’s health beyond their reproductive functions. For example, the increase in estrogen levels can cause heavy bleeding, while low progesterone levels can lower sex drive and lead to stress and anxiety. 

While the symptoms of hormonal imbalances are mild to moderate in some cases, others experience severe ones, affecting their personal relationships, focus, general health, and work performance. 

Some common causes of hormonal imbalance in women include:

  • Unhealthy diet and nutritional deficiencies.
  • A high percentage of body fat.
  • Mental stress.
  • Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
  • Poor diet or nutrient deficiencies.
  • Gut dysfunctions such as microbiome imbalances and increased gut permeability.
  • Chronic inflammation.
  • Mold exposure.
  • Environmental toxins.
  • Methylation impairments.
  • Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic condition that causes chronic hunger
  • Dysfunctions affecting the endocrine gland.
  • Pituitary tumors.
  • Hereditary pancreatitis 
  • Unhealthy lifestyle factors such as smoking and alcohol intake. 

If not detected and treated properly, hormonal imbalances can lead to chronic conditions: 

  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Infertility
  • Menopausal symptoms
  • Endometriosis
  • Fibroid
  • Hypogonadism
  • An increased risk of a miscarriage
  • Ovarian tumor

Hence, it is important to understand the functions of female hormones and potential symptoms of hormonal imbalances. This helps you receive timely medical intervention and maintain optimal health. 

The DUTCH test can help you detect subtle changes in your hormone levels, helping you seek timely treatments. It offers a comprehensive way to evaluate the sex and stress hormones in women. In addition, it evaluates metabolites released from the breakdown of hormones and nutrients necessary for the body to use those hormones. 

After the test, you may consult a functional medicine expert to take the next course of action for correcting hormonal imbalances. 

Types of Female Hormones and Their Functions 

Female hormones are broadly categorized into four types: 

  • Primary female sex hormones
  • Secondary female sex hormones
  • Adrenal gland hormones
  • Thyroid hormones

Let us understand the sub-types and functions of each of these categories.  

Primary Female Sex Hormones

Three primary female sex hormones are:

  • Estrogen 
  • Progesterone
  • Testosterone

1. Estrogen

Estrogen is the most important female sex hormone that regulates reproductive functions. It is secreted in the ovaries, adrenal glands, and fat tissues. [1]

Besides reproductive functions, estrogen supports bone strength, cognitive functions, and cardiovascular health.

An imbalance in estrogen levels can cause disruptions in menstrual cycles and reproductive functions. 

What are the different types of estrogen?

The three types of estrogen are:  

a. Estradiol

Estradiol is the most common and potent form of estrogen in women during their reproductive years. [2]

b. Estrone

Estrone is a primary form of estrogen a woman’s body makes in higher amounts after menopause. It is a comparatively weaker form than the other two. The body can convert estrone into other forms of estrogen when necessary.

c. Estriol

Estriol levels rise during pregnancy. It supports the growth of the uterus, thus preparing it for pregnancy and delivery. The levels of estriol tend to peak just before childbirth.

What are the functions of estrogen?

Estrogen brings physical changes in young girls at puberty to support the development of primary and secondary sexual characteristics, such as:

  • Growth and development of the breast tissues
  • Growth of underarm and pubic hair
  • The beginning of menstrual cycles

In addition, this hormone helps control menstrual cycles and is vital for pregnancy. 

Women may suffer from menstrual issues, low libido, or infertility due to estrogen imbalances. Seeking early expert help can help improve this hormonal balance and restore reproductive and sexual functions.

 

2. Progesterone

Progesterone is another important female sex hormone produced in the ovaries after ovulation during the menstrual cycle. During pregnancy, some amount of progesterone is provided by the placenta.

The primary function of progesterone is to support conception and pregnancy. It plays a vital role in preparing the uterine lining for the implantation of a fertilized egg. After ovulation, progesterone levels rise, and they help create a receptive and nourishing environment within the uterus, supporting the implantation process. [3]

Low progesterone levels can lead to anxiety, infertility, and insomnia. It may also trigger mood swings and increase the risk of depression. Weight gain, menstrual irregularities, and more severe symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats during menopause are a few other symptoms of progesterone imbalances. 

3. Testosterone

Though it is a primary sex hormone in males, testosterone is produced in women’s ovaries in very small amounts. It is also produced in the adrenal glands and skin cells of both men and women. [4]

In women, a majority of testosterone produced in the ovaries is converted into the primary female sex hormone called estradiol.

The hypothalamus and pituitary gland regulate the secretion of testosterone. 

What are the functions of testosterone in women?

Testosterone plays a key role in maintaining reproductive health in women. It helps promote the development of follicles in the ovaries. Hence, having adequate levels of testosterone is crucial for conceiving. However, too much or too little of testosterone may lead to fertility issues. 

Further, this hormone is linked to normal sex drive or libido in women. It can affect women’s fertility and their chances of conception indirectly. [5]

Testosterone promotes bone health and produces a neuroprotective effect on the brain and nerves. 

As testosterone levels tend to lower after menopause, women are exposed to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Secondary Female Sex Hormones

The secondary female sex hormones include:

  • Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
  • Luteinizing Hormone (LH)
  • Prolactin

1. Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH)

FSH (Follicle-stimulating hormone) is produced in the anterior pituitary gland located in the brain. It is a form of gonadotropin, which has a primary role in stimulating the activities of the gonads. [6]

In women, the gonads refer to the ovaries, while in men, they refer to the testes.

What are the functions of FSH?

The primary function of FSH is to stimulate the growth and development of ovarian follicles, each containing an immature egg called an oocyte. 

FSH regulates the different phases of menstrual cycles and the production of eggs by the ovaries. Throughout the menstrual cycle, FSH levels vary and are the highest just before ovulation (just before the egg is ready to be released by the ovary). 

After ovulation, FSH is not needed for that particular phase of the menstrual cycle. Hence, the production of FSH decreases or stops temporarily. It resumes when the anterior pituitary gland receives signals that the ovaries need to grow for the possibility of conception in the next menstrual cycle. 

2. Luteinizing Hormone (LH)

LH is a gonadotropic hormone that affects the growth, development, and functions of sexual organs in men and women. It is produced in the pituitary gland located beneath the brain. 

In women, LH affects the ovaries and plays an important role in fertility, puberty, and menstruation. [7]

What are the functions of the luteinizing hormone? 

In women, LH stimulates the ovaries to produce a form of estrogen called estradiol. 

During the second or third week of the menstrual cycle, the levels of luteinizing hormone rise. This results in the stimulation of the ovaries to release an egg, thereby inducing ovulation. 

If fertilization occurs, LH stimulates the corpus luteum, a mass of cells formed in an ovary. The corpus luteum regulates progesterone production during the early stages of pregnancy. 

3. Prolactin

Prolactin is a hormone released by the pituitary gland. Dopamine and estrogen control prolactin production and release from your pituitary gland. 

Prolactin plays a key role in supporting milk secretion in women after childbirth. It transmits signals to the breast tissues to induce milk secretion during pregnancy and after childbirth. Imbalances in prolactin can lead to difficulties in conception and breastfeeding. [8] Higher-than-normal levels of prolactin can cause irregular periods and infertility. 

What are the functions of prolactin?

Prolactin promotes the growth and development of mammary glands in the breast tissues during pregnancy and prepares them for breastfeeding after childbirth. 

Prolactin supports the growth of sacs called mammary alveoli in the breasts. Mammary alveoli are the mammary glands’ major components, where milk’s actual secretion occurs. They help prepare the breast tissues for milk secretion and storage for breastfeeding the baby. 

If you have symptoms associated with imbalances in primary and secondary sex hormones, seek expert guidance to restore healthy hormone balance and treatment of the root cause of your symptoms.  

Hormones of the Adrenal Glands 

The four types of adrenal gland hormones include: 

  • Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
  • Aldosterone
  • Epinephrine (Adrenaline) and Norepinephrine (Noradrenaline)
  • Cortisol

1. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)

The adrenal gland produces DHEA, which regulates the production of other hormones, including estrogen and testosterone. DHEA levels typically rise during early adulthood and decline slowly as women age. [9]

Nowadays, many anti-aging therapies use a synthetic version of DHEA available in the form of tablets, capsules, powders, topical creams, and gels. It also aids in managing depression and severe symptoms of menopause.

2. Aldosterone

The adrenal cortex produces aldosterone. Its primary function is to regulate the secretion of urine and control the amount of salt and water in the blood.

3. Epinephrine (Adrenaline) and Norepinephrine (Noradrenaline)

The adrenal medulla produces epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are collectively referred to as catecholamines. They act as chemical messengers called neurotransmitters in the nervous system. 

Epinephrine is released during short-term stressful events such as fear or sudden shock. It leads to increased blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels. Norepinephrine constricts the blood vessels and increases blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels.

Imbalances in epinephrine levels can affect heart functions and other vital organs, thus creating a cascading effect on women’s overall health. 

4. Cortisol

Cortisol is another hormone produced by the adrenal cortex. It helps the body use carbohydrates, fats, and protein and regulates the metabolic process. It can suppress the immune system and help the body manage stressful situations. [10]

Also, cortisol is a stress hormone released in response to stressors, be it physical or psychological. 

Some other significant functions of cortisol are: 

  • Suppressing inflammation 
  • Regulating blood pressure 
  • Regulating blood sugar 
  • Controlling the sleep-wake cycle
  • Regulating metabolism

However, high cortisol for an extended period of time can lead to severe health issues. Some potential consequences include: 

  • Weakened immune system
  • Weight gain 
  • Muscle weakness
  • High blood pressure
  • Hirsutism
  • Weak bones and fractures

Thyroid Hormones 

Two major hormones of the thyroid gland are: 

  1. Thyroxine (T4)
  2. Triiodothyronine (T3)

Thyroxine (T4) and Triiodothyronine (T3)

The primary thyroid hormones produced by the thyroid gland are T3 and T4. They are directly released into the bloodstream and are carried to all organs and tissues. 

A large percentage of the total T4 is later converted into T3, which is an active form of thyroid hormone. 

What are the functions of thyroid hormones?

Thyroid hormones affect the body’s metabolic rate and reproductive functions. They help regulate many bodily functions, including heart rate, breathing, digestion, body temperature, and metabolism. [11]

Increased or decreased levels of T3 and T4 can lead to hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, respectively. This negatively affects a woman’s fertility, the menstrual cycle, metabolic functions, and emotional wellness. 

Conclusion 

Primary and secondary female sex hormones, adrenal gland hormones, and thyroid gland hormones work in synergy to promote women’s optimal health. Imbalances in any of these hormones have mild to adverse effects on reproductive health, leading to menstrual irregularities and fertility issues. 

Besides, hormonal imbalances are linked with other health issues, including the increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and fractures, thyroid disorders, and breast-related health issues. 

If you experience any symptoms of hormonal imbalances, you must consult a healthcare provider, especially a functional medicine expert, who can identify the root causes of your symptoms and provide a personalized treatment. 

References: 

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30855848/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31747204/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK558960/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26358173/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15889125/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30571063/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30969514/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507829/
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25879093/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538239/
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29767691/

Dr Menka Gupta

IFMCP, MSc, MBBS

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