Hormones & Health

How Hormones affect Health throughout Life

When we think of sex hormones such as progesterone and estrogen, reproduction often comes to mind. After all, our bodies produce these and other hormones during puberty, the life stage in which our bodies reach sexual maturity and become capable of reproducing.

Our sex hormones are responsible for so much more than controlling reproduction, however! These hormones have a massive effect on our physical, mental, and emotional health as we navigate different stages of life — with puberty, pregnancy, and menopause being the three most critical endocrinological transitions in which hormonal changes occur.

As our sex hormone levels fluctuate throughout these different life stages, our risk of certain diseases, medical conditions, and psychological concerns increases. Males, for instance, experience hormonal changes during puberty, and some also experience changes in mood, libido, and memory as testosterone levels drop with aging. For females, these life stages include puberty, pregnancy, postpartum, perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause.

This is why mood changes occur during puberty and pregnancy, and why postpartum depression is so common after childbirth. It’s also why physical and mental health symptoms often occur during perimenopause and our risk of developing cancer and osteoporosis increases after menopause. Who knew our sex hormones could have such a major effect on our overall health and well-being?

Below, I’ll talk more about the health effects of sex hormones throughout some of the more major life stages such as pregnancy and menopause.

What Are the Female & Male Sex Hormones?

Let’s start by identifying the main sex hormones (also known as reproductive hormones). We’ll focus on estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone in this blog — but there are several others to be aware of (like relaxin, androgens such as dihydrotestosterone, and the Anti-Müllerian Hormone or AMH).

Produced in the adrenal glands, ovaries, or testes, our sex hormones play a role in everything from reproduction to sleep, mood, bone density, muscle mass, and skin health. The hormonal changes that accompany endocrinological transitions such as puberty, pregnancy, and menopause have even been linked to the development of certain autoimmune conditions in women — namely rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis (MS), type 1 diabetes mellitus, and psoriasis.

Health Effects of Estrogen

Estrogen is just one of the hormones that affect our physical, mental, and emotional health in a multitude of ways! High estrogen is associated with cancer and autoimmune disease, while estrogen deficiency is associated with brain degeneration and osteoporosis. Still, estrogen is necessary for fertility, balanced blood glucose levels, cardiovascular and bone health, immune regulation, and healthy brain function. The key is to ensure estrogen levels are balanced with other reproductive hormones.

Symptoms of High & Low Estrogen

When estrogen levels are low, women tend to experience menstrual irregularities, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, loss of libido, and mood swings. Low estrogen in men is associated with low libido and excess abdominal fat.

On the other hand, excess estrogen levels can also cause problems in men and women. Infertility, poor erections, and enlarged breasts are all associated with excess estrogen in men — while some common symptoms in women include fibroids, fibrocystic breasts, fatigue, and weight gain.

Testing Your Estrogen Levels

As a naturopathic functional medicine doctor, I offer in-depth and specialized testing so we can measure your sex hormones, get to the root of any hormonal imbalances that may be preventing you from feeling your best, and rebalance your hormones naturally!

Low Progesterone & Testosterone

Like estrogen, the reproductive hormones progesterone and testosterone play a role in menstruation, fertility, sex drive, and healthy fetal development. Low progesterone in women is associated with miscarriage, preterm labor, menstrual irregularities, mood changes, and hot flashes; low progesterone levels in men may show up as low libido, erectile dysfunction, and mood changes.

In addition to the crucial role progesterone plays in reproduction and menstruation, the sex hormone is also needed for bone formation and neurological health. Research suggests that progesterone plays a complex role in the development or prevention of cancer. For instance, higher levels of progesterone throughout life (especially through pregnancy and breastfeeding) have shown to lower the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

As for testosterone, low levels in men can affect fertility, libido, and breast tissue. Signs and symptoms of low testosterone in men often include low sperm count, low libido, poor erections, and enlarged breasts. In women, low testosterone can also affect sex drive and fertility — as well as menstruation, muscle tone, energy levels, and mood.

What’s more, estrogen dominance can occur when estrogen levels are elevated in comparison to progesterone and testosterone. Estrogen dominance may also occur when progesterone and testosterone levels are low, but estrogen levels are normal. Again, balancing our hormones is key!

Sex hormones are produced in the pituitary gland

Though many sex hormones are produced in the adrenal glands, ovaries, or testes, some are produced in and secreted by the pituitary gland. These include prolactin, luteinizing hormone (LH), and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).

Prolactin is produced during pregnancy and after childbirth, while LH and FSH are chemical messengers that work together to regulate reproductive processes such as menstruation, ovulation, and pregnancy. Abnormal LH and FSH levels can affect menstruation, fertility, and sexual function.

The Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) is another sex hormone that’s produced by the pituitary gland, though it’s primarily produced by placenta cells during pregnancy. This is why hCG is commonly referred to as the pregnancy hormone.

Balancing Your Hormones is Possible!

Though our hormones are constantly changing throughout different life stages, these hormonal fluctuations are much more dramatic during puberty, pregnancy, and (peri-) menopause. But this doesn’t mean you’re stuck with the short- or long-term symptoms that often accompany these endocrinological transitions. Natural relief from hormonal imbalance is possible!

Various hormone therapies, supplements, and nutrition strategies aid to naturally rebalance sex hormones in both women and men and result in improved physical, mental, and emotional health!

Are you ready to seek the root cause of your digestive symptoms, hormonal imbalances, autoimmune diseases, or other conditions?

Contact me to learn how naturopathic functional medicine can help to restore balance within your body and relieve your symptoms both naturally and effectively. 

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