What Are Sex Hormones? Dr. Randolph Explains May 09, 2017
Most people know that the hormones, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and DHEA play important roles in human reproduction. What you may not know is that they also help regulate many other functions in the body, from sleep patterns, to your moods and memory, bone growth, muscle strength, and much more.
To understand the many negative effects of an unbalanced hormone ratio -- the most common of which is the condition of estrogen dominance, where there is too much estrogen relative to progesterone -- it is important to understand how these hormones work inside the body. Let me explain...
The word “estrogen” is really shorthand for a group of several different but related hormones that perform similar functions: Estrone (E1), Estradiol (E2), and Estriol (E3). Estrogen circulates through the bloodstream and fits estrogen receptors throughout the body: in women, it affects not only the breasts and uterus, but also the brain, bone, liver, heart, and other tissues.
Estrogen is responsible for the development of women’s “sex characteristics,” breasts, curvy hips, and pubic hair. These hormones control growth of the uterine lining during the first part of the menstrual cycle, cause changes in the breasts during adolescence and pregnancy, and regulate various other metabolic processes, including bone growth and cholesterol levels.
Estrogen also plays a role for men in supporting healthy cholesterol, brain function, and bone health. In women, estrogen is produced in the ovaries, adrenal glands, and fat tissues. Men produce estrogen in the testes through a process involving an enzyme called aromatase that transforms testosterone into Estradiol (E2).
I tend to think of estrogen as "The Mothering Hormone," but that's not all it does for your body. Estrogen:
- Improves heart health
- Improves skin elasticity and aging
- Supports bone health
- Supports brain health
- Maintains healthy levels of cholesterol
- Reduces frequency and severity of night sweats and hot flashes
Progesterone, on the other hand, promotes regular sleep patterns, prevents bloating, maintains the libido, fosters a calming effect on the body, stimulates bone building, and thickens the uterine lining to promote survival of a fertilized egg (ovum). Although progesterone was discovered in the early 1930s, our understanding of its crucial role in the hormone story continues to unfold in the 21st century. Current research shows that many common hormone problems, such as PMS, irritability, and weight gain, are actually related to progesterone, not estrogen, as we once thought. A natural balance progesterone cream can help improve and balance these negative effects of estrogen dominance.
In fact, you cannot understand progesterone without discussing estrogen also. These two hormones operate like two sides of a seesaw, shifting up and down throughout the course of a woman’s monthly cycle. When your body produces the optimal amount of each, you feel healthy and balanced.
As you get older, the amount of estrogen and progesterone your body produces can change, typically dropping lower and lower, from month to month and year to year. However, due to the influence of chronic stress and “environmental estrogens,” hormonal fluctuations can actually occur at any age (as early as a woman’s late 20s or early 30s) and can also affect men’s hormone levels.
The “Seesaw” Effect
When your progesterone levels get low, that side of the "seesaw" hits the ground, and negative symptoms arise: for women, that typically means poor sleep, fatigue, anxiety, heavy periods, weight gain, uterine fibroids, irritability, and even rage. The result of low progesterone is a condition called “estrogen dominance.” This is what happens when the progesterone side of the seesaw gets “stuck” on the ground: the estrogen side is “elevated,” relatively speaking. It’s not (necessarily) that your estrogen level is high — it’s that your progesterone level is so low that estrogen effectively “dominates.”
I usually describe progesterone as "The Feel-Good Hormone," or "The Protector Hormone." Progesterone:
- Balances the negative effects of estrogen
- Promotes regular sleep patterns
- Serves as a natural anti-depressant and reduces anxiety
- Provides an anti-carcinogenic effect on breasts and uterus
- Increases metabolism and promotes weight loss
Testosterone is the best-known of a group of sex hormones called “androgens.” We tend to think of testosterone as the “male hormone,” and indeed it is the primary hormone responsible for male physical and sexual development. However, women require testosterone as well, to maintain healthy mood, sex drive, and healthy muscles and bones. The difference is in the quantity! Women naturally produce 0.25 milligrams of testosterone daily, while men may produce 4 to 7 milligrams: ten to forty times that amount!
In women, testosterone is produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands, and in men, it is produced in the testes and adrenal glands. Women and men both reach their peak of testosterone levels in their 20s, and thereafter levels drop approximately one percent a year. With optimal levels of testosterone, both men and women benefit from increased energy, reduced fat, healthy libido, and a protective effect on the heart and blood vessels.
I usually think of testosterone as "The Energizing Hormone." Here are testosterone’s primary roles:
- Improve energy and cognitive function
- Improve libido
- Support bone health
- Support weight loss
- Improve muscle mass
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is one of the hormones produced by the adrenal glands. After being secreted by the adrenal glands, it circulates in the bloodstream as DHEA-sulfate (DHEAS) and is converted as needed into other hormones.
DHEA is another hormone that influences the levels of your sex hormones thereby also influencing your sex drive. DHEA is called a “precursor hormone” because it can be converted to testosterone.
Levels of DHEA naturally decrease with age. By the time you are eighty years old, your DHEA levels will be about five to ten percent of the amount produced during your reproductive years. Chronic stress also depletes DHEA levels at any age. Surveys of women have linked declining DHEA production in women with a decreasing tendency to think about or initiate sex, as well as reported decrease in feelings of sexual satisfaction.
I typically describe DHEA to patients as "The Balancing Hormone." DHEA provides the following:
- Supports healthy hormone levels
- Helps balance cortisol
- Provides energy
- Anti-aging support
- Modulates the immune system
- Supports thyroid function
Find Balance Today
These four sex hormones are the ones that most commonly develop imbalances (in addition to thyroid and cortisol). We prescribe bioidentical formulations at the Ageless and Wellness Medical Center to help you restore your deficient hormone levels and recapture these natural benefits -- to keep you feeling your best in body and mind!
If you have questions about sex hormones or hormone balance, give us a call at the Ageless & Wellness Medical Center! We offer complete hormone test kits for both men and women that you can order online. We would also love to see you in person, come see us at our practice in Jacksonville Beach, FL. We wish you WELL!