If you’ve been feeling unusually depressed, fatigued, or irritable recently, it might not be your imagination. Nearly 80% of all women suffer from hormonal imbalances that create unexpected physical and mental challenges. Could you be a part of that 80%?
Most women immediately blame estrogen for hormonal imbalance problems, but there are actually five essential hormones that influence female health. Aside from the two main female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone, other hormones like testosterone, cortisol, and DHEA also play important roles in the female body.
What Are Hormones?
Hormones are powerful natural substances produced by the endocrine glands. As soon as they’re produced, hormones travel through your bloodstream to send messages between cells, tissues, and organs.
This gives hormones control over many of your body’s most essential functions and processes. Everything from reproduction to metabolism depends on proper hormone behavior. Due to the incredible influence of hormones on your health, even a slight deficiency or surplus can send your body out of balance.
Estradiol, more commonly known as estrogen, is the leader of all female hormones. It’s produced by the ovaries to influence nearly all aspects of female health and development from puberty through menopause. In particular, estradiol is known for upholding these vital responsibilities:
- Supports growth of female reproductive organs including the vagina, fallopian tubes, endometrium, and cervical glands
- Drives the changes that girls experience during puberty, like breast development, skin changes, and body shape
- Maintains eggs inside the ovaries and works with progesterone to prepare the womb lining for implantation
- Protects pregnancy and helps to initiate labor
Estrogen production fluctuates throughout a woman’s life. It surges during puberty and pregnancy but falls dramatically as menopause occurs.
Signs of Low Estrogen
If your body is suffering from an estrogen deficiency, the symptoms may present themselves in many different ways:
- Painful intercourse
- Irregular or absent periods
- Irritability or depression
- Hot flashes or night sweats
- Tender Breasts
- Fatigue and trouble concentrating
Fortunately, a simple estradiol test can identify your estrogen levels and help you seek hormone replacement therapy to address your symptoms.
As one of the two core sex hormones in the female body, the importance of progesterone can’t be ignored. Think of it as estrogen’s trusty sidekick. In fact, progesterone is known as “the pregnancy hormone” because it plays such a vital role before conception and during pregnancy.
Progesterone is produced in an endocrine gland in the ovaries called the corpus luteum. After ovulation, as an egg travels down the fallopian tubes, the corpus luteum releases progesterone. This process prepares the body for pregnancy by performing a few essential functions:
- Triggers the lining of the uterus to thicken to accept a fertilized egg
- Stops muscle contractions in the uterus that could reject an egg
- Prepares the breasts for lactation
If you become pregnant, progesterone production continues until the placenta takes over progesterone production around Week 10. If you don’t become pregnant, your progesterone levels drop so that you can get your period and begin a fresh menstrual cycle.
Signs of Low Progesterone Levels
Although the female body is meant to produce progesterone in a predictable rhythm, many women suffer the side effects of low progesterone levels. If you aren’t pregnant, the following symptoms may indicate that you have a progesterone imbalance:
- Headaches and migraines
- Mood changes
- Anxiety or depression
- Irregular or absent menstruation
- Weight gain
- Decreased sex drive
If you are pregnant, low progesterone levels could put your pregnancy at risk, which makes testing and supplementation especially important for the health of you and your baby.
Although testosterone is known as the ultimate male sex hormone, it actually plays an important role in the female body as well. Women rely on small amounts of testosterone to support energy levels, sex drive, and primary body functions like producing new blood cells.
Up to 10% of women of reproductive age have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a condition that causes abnormally high testosterone levels. Too much testosterone interferes with normal reproductive functions and causes the following symptoms:
- Missed or irregular menstruation
- Infertility due to lack of ovulation
- Excess hair growth
- Ovarian cysts due to eggs never released from ovarian follicles
- Skin problems
- Unusual male characteristics like deepening voice and increased muscle mass
Signs of Low Testosterone
On the other hand, it’s also possible for women to experience unusually low testosterone levels. These symptoms often mirror the side effects that men with Low-T experience:
- Lost libido and sexual desire
- Muscle weakness
Medications and therapies are available to help women of all ages reverse both high and low testosterone levels.
Cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, is produced from cholesterol by the adrenal glands. This hormone is best known for triggering your “fight or flight” response in a stressful situation, but it also plays other important roles as well.
Balanced levels of cortisol circulate throughout the female body to play many important roles:
- Regulates immune response
- Triggers glucose production
- Reduces inflammation
- Increases heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure in response to stress
- Prevents fatigue and brain fog
Symptoms of a Cortisol Imbalance
High cortisol levels are only meant to exist as a protective measure in times of extreme stress, but our modern lifestyles cause consistent high stress levels. This can lead to chronically high cortisol levels that restrict normal reproductive, digestive, and immune functions. As a result, the symptoms of high cortisol levels are directly related to the body functions that cortisol shuts down:
- Weight gain
- Weak immune system
- Blood sugar imbalance
- Chronic inflammation
You can use a blood, saliva, or urine test to confirm the presence of high cortisol levels in your body. There are many different natural ways to safely bring your cortisol levels back under control.
DHEA is produced in the adrenal glands of the female body. It’s known as “the parent hormone” because the body uses DHEA to produce other sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen. Thanks to its role as the “parent” of the two most important sex hormones, DHEA contributes to more than 150 different metabolic functions:
- Boosts production of natural growth hormones that build lean muscle mass
- Improves bone density
- Promotes heart health
- Controls cholesterol levels
- Regulates sex hormones testosterone and estrogen
- Supports cognitive function
Symptoms of a DHEA Imbalance
Like most other steroid hormones, DHEA production spikes around puberty and begins to decline around age 30. Since DHEA influences so many important body functions, a DHEA imbalance can trigger many different symptoms:
- Depression and anxiety
- Decreased sexual desire
- Weakened immune system
- Loss of muscle mass
- Dry skin and eyes
Research indicates that DHEA supplementation may help women overcome symptoms of deficiency, especially women over age 70.
The Bottom Line
The many different hormones streaming through your body dictate everything from your energy and mood to fertility and weight.
Since one hormone imbalance can dramatically affect all other hormones, only hormone testing can identify the hormone surplus or deficiency causing your symptoms. Use the results of your hormone testing to receive the customized therapy you need to embrace a healthier, happier quality of life.