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Female Hormones: Master Regulators

We all talk about female hormones and the effects they play on women's bodies, but how many of us really know what hormones are? Surprisingly enough, most people have no idea of what hormones are or what they do. Now is the time to change that as we embark on a journey through the world of female hormones, master regulators.

Hormones are chemical messengers carrying signals, one cell to another, via the blood. They are involved in every body function, secreted into our systems by special organs and controlled by two glands in the brain (the hypothalamus and the pituitary). The balance of hormones directly affects levels of energy, weight, sexual desire, appearance, aging, immunity and mental clarity.

Estrogen is made in the ovaries, the adrenal glands, and fat cells. Its main purpose is to make everything grow - puberty’s outward signs such as body hair, preparing the uterus for pregnancy, growing breast tissue to prepare for milk, maturing the ovum to prepare for ovulation and after the actual pregnancy begins, aiding in the growth of the fetus.

Beyond reproduction, estrogen is vital to women’s bone density, a good balance of good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol, insulin levels, and the health of blood vessels. Proper balances of hormones can keep hypertension at bay, as well as keeping circulation to the heart pumping. On the opposite end of the spectrum, unchecked estrogen production leads to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, endometriosis, depression and gallbladder disease, among other problems.

Estrogen works hand in hand with progesterone in a sort of chemical check and balance in our bodies. The functions of progesterone center around that balance and also influence sex drive and helping to maintain the body’s levels of insulin, blood sugar, and ability to clot. When progesterone is too high, the negative effects are minimal at best; bloating, tiredness, acne. All can be dispersed with an increase in estrogen.

While identified as a predominantly male hormone, women still have - and need - testosterone in their systems. Libido, energy, and sexual desire all fall under the influence of testosterone. An over stimulation can lead to high cholesterol, aggression, and hair production either increasing or decreasing beyond normal levels.

Though not all the nuances of the balance of hormones is known, doctors and scientists know that women can experience significant symptoms from even the minutest changes in hormone levels. When the partnership between estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone is not in sync, the entire body is thrown out of whack.

Because the changes can be so small and the effects so large, hormone fluctuations are a roller-coaster every woman must ride throughout her life. It’s important to remember that there are factors we can control which influence our hormone levels. Stress and an unhealthy diet high in processed foods can wreck the balance so necessary in hormonal health.

The concern is almost always a lack of natural progesterone levels. When restored, the negative swing can be balanced; this can be achieved by having natural progesterone prescribed by a health professional. Progesterone is created in the ovaries during ovulation and problems arise when a woman is not ovulating for significant periods of time. Without ovulation, progesterone is not created. Without ovulation, the lining of the uterus is not cleaned of the buildup of fiber and can lead to endometriosis, uterine cysts, painful and severe symptoms during PMS and menstruation, and other serious health issues. The balance is critical in preventing these symptoms and conditions from becoming worse or permanent.

After menopause, the ovaries are no longer producing hormones at its previous levels. Estrogen production is down to only 40 percent, though that is sufficient for most women. Progesterone is no longer produced at adequate levels (or at all). Doses of natural progesterone will restore the balance, causing menopausal symptoms to abate.

So the next time you hear a woman complain about hormonal changes, listen to her and take her words seriously. If a woman feels out of balance, chances are it’s her hormones communicating exactly that!

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