The state of a woman’s body is closely tied to the state of her complex hormonal system.
Hormones are continually fluctuating and they affect various bodily systems from head to toe, inside and out. To maintain health and a feeling of well-being, it’s important to be tuned in to hormones and their balance.
The information presented here is only the tip of the iceberg as it relates to hormonal functions, but it’s a good place to start becoming familiar with the key hormonal players in women’s health.
- Estrogen – Estrogen stimulates the growth of tissue, such as breasts and reproductive organs. In the brain, it affects sleep, mood, memory and cognitive factors such as learning and attention span. Estrogen preserves bone mass and the skin’s elasticity and moisture content.
- Estradiol – The most potent form of estrogen made by the ovaries, adrenals and fat cells when older, Estradiol affects the functions of most of the body’s organs.
- Estriol – The least active form of estrogen, primarily functioning during pregnancy.
- Estrone – The primary estrogen after menopause produced mostly by fat cells.
- Progesterone — Progesterone ensures the development and function of the breasts and female reproductive tract. It improves sleep and builds bones. Progesterone is also a diuretic. It can also contribute to the efficient use of fat as a source of energy.
- Testosterone — Testosterone is manufactured in women by the ovaries and adrenal glands. It enhances libido and sexual response. It strengthens ligaments, builds muscle and bone, assists brain function, and is associated with assertive behavior and a sense of well-being.
- Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) — DHEA is made primarily by the ovaries and adrenal glands. It provides protection against the effects of physical stress and inflammation. DHEA improves motivation, bolsters a sense of well-being, decreases pain, and enhances immune system function. It may also assist in maintaining normal cholesterol levels. DHEA can be converted into estrogen and testosterone through fat, muscle, bone, and the liver.
- Cortisol – Cortisol (sometimes referred to as “the stress hormone”) is made by the adrenal glands. It regulates the immune response, stimulates the production of glucose, aids short-term memory, and helps the body adapt to stress by increasing heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure. (Think of what happens when you feel a rush of adrenaline in a sudden stressful situation, like a car accident.) Cortisol levels naturally increase early in the morning to prepare to meet the demands of the day, gradually decrease throughout the day and reach their lowest point late in the evening.
- Pregnenalone — Pregnenalone is the building-block for all other steroid hormones. It is converted directly into DHEA and/or progesterone. Made from cholesterol, pregnenolone is produced primarily in the adrenal glands, but in smaller amounts by many other organs and tissues of the human body, including the liver, brain, skin and gonads. Like many health-promoting hormones, levels of pregnenolone drop with age.