Women’s hormones are your body’s most powerful chemical messengers–regulating everything from your mood to your menstrual cycle, and almost everything in between.
The key to unlocking a healthy weight, great hair, supple skin, and a positive mindset lies in getting to know these 7 key hormones. While estrogen and progesterone get a lot of attention, there are 5 other important chemical messengers that regulate women’s health and wellness, and which could likely be the culprit of symptoms like low energy, mood swings, and hair loss.
No matter what your health goal, healthy hormones can help you get there.
Key things to remember:
- Hormones are chemical messengers that tell your body how to feel, eat, sleep, and grow.
- In women’s health, estrogen and progesterone are two reproductive hormones, but there are several others you should know.
- Hormone levels can be influenced by the way you eat, sleep, behave, exercise, and toxins you’re exposed to.
- When hormone levels are out of balance, you may feel tired, have irregular periods, weight gain, or have difficulty getting pregnant.
What Are Hormones?
Hormones are signaling molecules released into your blood that travel to tissues or organs to help them do their job. Hormones control essential processes such as eating, sleeping, energy, growth & development, and so much more.
Nearly every function in your body is regulated by hormones in some way.
What do hormones do in women?
For women, all hormones fluctuate throughout the day or month. For example, after you eat, your pancreas releases insulin to help use food for energy. When you’re stressed, your adrenal glands release cortisol to help you mobilize extra resources to get you through the struggle. Or, estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate depending on the day of your cycle.
Because hormone levels change based on the foods we eat, our behaviors, and lifestyle, sometimes they can fluctuate a little too much, and we experience uncomfortable symptoms indicating a hormonal imbalance.
Common Hormonal Imbalances
Hormonal imbalances are incredibly common–so much so that nearly 75% of women experience some kind of hormone imbalance during their life. Here are some of the most common:
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
- Estrogen dominance
- Hypo- or hyperthyroidism
Other conditions, like PMS, endometriosis, and even day to day symptoms like headaches, mood swings, and food cravings can also be driven by hormones.
I formulated Hormone Helper specifically to make healthy hormone balance an easy part of your daily routine.
The 7 Hormones in Women’s Health
Estrogen is primarily responsible for the regulation of your reproductive system, your menstrual cycle, and the development of female characteristics. In short, you can thank estrogen for curvy hips, healthy hair growth, and great skin. There are 3 different types of estrogen:
- Estradiol – The strongest form of estrogen in the body, and highest just before ovulation.
- Estrone – The storage form of estrogen, produced by not only the ovaries, but the adrenal glands and adipose (fat) tissue as well. Estrone is a weaker form of estrogen, and can be an indicator whether or not you are detoxing or metabolizing estrogen properly.
- Estriol – Increases only during pregnancy.
If you have PMS, mood swings, uncomfortable or heavy periods, this could be a sign you’re experiencing high estrogen levels, commonly called estrogen dominance.
If your estrogen levels are lower than normal, you may experience symptoms like painful sex due to dryness, headaches, depression, frequent UTIs, or hot flashes. Estrogen declines naturally during menopause.
Myo-inositol promotes healthy levels of estrogen in women, and is also a beneficial supplement for those who have PCOS (1).
Progesterone is also made by your ovaries, and levels fluctuate depending on day of the month, and increase if you’re pregnant.
Progesterone’s main role is to prepare a woman’s uterus for pregnancy after ovulation. This is why progesterone should rise during the latter half of your cycle (day 14 or so).
Synthetic hormones called progestins are often paired with estrogen to develop hormonal birth control, but even though progestins have progesterone-like properties, they don’t function in the body the same way as your own progesterone.
If progesterone is imbalanced, you may not be ovulating, and may struggle with fertility. Low progesterone (or excessive estrogen levels) during the second half of your cycle is a common cause for worse PMS symptoms and mood swings.
In women, androgens are made in the adrenal glands and ovaries, and they help regulate energy levels, hair growth (on the head and body), and libido.
Testosterone is one type of androgen, and even though you may recognize this as a male sex hormone, women also need small amounts of this important hormone to feel energetic, alert, and interested in their partner.
When androgens like testosterone are out of balance you may feel tired, lethargic, and unmotivated (2).
PCOS is one common hormone imbalance condition in which androgens run high (3). High androgens in PCOS is also what causes increased body hair, and acne.
Insulin’s primary function is allowing your cells to use glucose (sugar) for energy after you eat. But it’s one of the hormones that dictates all the others, meaning–if it’s out of balance, the effects can be catastrophic to your health.
Insulin resistance occurs when your cells don’t respond well to the message insulin sends, this causes insulin to remain elevated for a longer period of time, resulting in more body fat storage and the production of inflammation.
Blood sugar and your hormones
The less sensitive your cells are to insulin, the longer your blood sugar remains elevated while insulin works to do its job. When blood sugar is high, it triggers inflammation, and can actually cause physical changes in the ovaries, resulting in increased androgen production. This is common with those who have PCOS.
High blood sugar can also contribute to worse endometriosis symptoms, estrogen dominance, and PMS (4). Hormone Helper is formulated to support healthy blood sugar balance.
5. Thyroid Hormone
Known as your body’s “master hormone,” thyroid hormone controls everything from body temperature, to appetite, plays a role in digestion, and helps to regulate other hormones like estrogen and progesterone.
Hypothyroidism, or a low thyroid, is the most common cause of thyroid disorders in the U.S., and can often trace its root cause to autoimmunity.
Thyroid issues are common post-pregnancy, or if other immune problems exist already (5).
Why You Should Avoid Gluten if You Have Thyroid Problems
Gluten, the protein found in wheat and wheat products, can pose a big danger to your thyroid health. This is because the shape of the gluten protein itself closely resembles that of your thyroid hormone.
If your body develops a sensitivity to gluten such as with celiac, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, your immune system will flag those molecules for destruction, but it may also confuse your thyroid as an invader as well, also flagging it for destruction.
Autoimmune Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of low thyroid hormone, so if you have thyroid problems, it’s best to avoid gluten as much as possible.
Your body produces cortisol in response to stress due to mental, physical, and emotional triggers.
A release of cortisol helps our body quickly mobilize energy in preparation to deal with the stressor, and can kick in our “fight or flight” reflexes just in case we need them.
Cortisol is also crucial for proper immune function, as well regulating metabolism. If cortisol levels are too high for too long, you may experience weight gain, insomnia, and an increased susceptibility to getting sick.
When Stress Harms Women’s Health
When our cortisol response developed, most of our stressors were physical in nature–like a natural disaster or fleeing from a predator. These types of things were usually relatively short in time, and often ended with a quick and intense bout of physical activity–burning off the excess cortisol.
In modern times, your brain doesn’t know the difference between a high-pressure job, a fight with your spouse, or financial troubles versus fleeing from a lion or tiger. And there’s usually no quick burst of energy to bring stress levels back down.
This type of chronic, unresolved stress can lead to OAT axis dysfunction and reduced progesterone levels, leading to insomnia, fatigue, brain fog, PMS, infertility, and low thyroid hormone.
DHEA is made in your adrenal glands, and is an important precursors for our primary sex hormones (estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone). Precursors are substances that get converted into hormones.
As such, if you don’t have enough DHEA your body will struggle to make all other hormones.
DHEA is made from cholesterol, and begins slowly increasing just before puberty, peaking in your mid-20s, and decreases with menopause as you age.
When to Get Your Hormones Tested
Hormones are a little like dominoes–when one of them is out of balance, it’s only a matter of time until it starts to affect the others. And it’s important to intervene before too much (or irreversible) damage is done.
Things to keep in mind when testing hormones:
- If you have a period, the cycle day you test is important. Some hormones can only be tested on certain days, and because they’re always fluctuating, the “normal” range on most tests may not give you the most accurate picture.
- Your doctor should discuss your results with you. A holistic or integrative physician can help you interpret your hormone levels.
- There is always an underlying cause for your symptoms, and your doctor should allow you to feel understood while you’re at your appointment. If he or she doesn’t see a benefit in testing hormone levels, continue to advocate for yourself and seek a second opinion.
Women’s health and hormone balance are inextricably linked. And since hormones fluctuate, they’re prone to imbalance at some point throughout your life. Understanding women’s hormone function is important to develop a plan for healthy hormones..
Often, holistic diet and lifestyle changes are an incredible way to restore balance to women’s hormones, with much of that work beginning with small daily choices you can start at any time.
Restore balance by discovering your Power Type, and take a deeper look at which hormones may be impacting your health.