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Understanding Female Hormones

A brief breakdown of the most critical female hormones, their functions, and symptoms of imbalance to encourage awareness among women. 


By: Eva Fournel


Girl sitting on a bench looking off into the distance
Graphic By: Sarah Tocci

HORMONES: The icky word your mother or 9th-grade health teacher used in an attempt to explain what’s going on with you. 


While hormones aren’t guaranteed to be a tool of 100% accuracy for understanding our bodies and moods, they are definitely worth considering. 


Female hormones have plenty of serious implications on aspects of our health and behavior – such as weight loss or gain, energy levels, sex drive, and irritability. The two most familiar female hormones are estrogen and progesterone, which affect menstruation, fertility, and more. Becoming aware of our hormones’ functions and their balances and imbalances allows us to better strategize how to work with them, not against them.


Estrogen 


Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone, mainly produced by the ovaries. Estrogen is responsible for maintaining our sexual and reproductive health. It’s also behind all the lovely and wild changes of puberty – breast development, pubic hair, the menstrual cycle, and fertility. Estrogen levels change throughout the month, reaching its highest during ovulation (when we are most likely to get pregnant) and the lowest during our periods (when we are the least likely to get pregnant). 


  • Your period stopping or becoming less frequent 

  • Hot flashes, night sweating 

  • Fatigue, irritability, and depression

  • Loss of sex drive

  • Tender breasts 

  • Weight gain

  • Noticeably light or heavy bleeding during your period


Common causes of low estrogen include age, eating disorders, autoimmune diseases, and excessive stress. On the other hand, high body fat, excessive alcohol, and certain medications can cause estrogen levels to become too high. 


Progesterone


Progesterone is most commonly referred to as the pregnancy hormone because its primary function is to prepare the lining of the uterus for fertilized eggs to implant and grow. 

Estrogen and progesterone often work together, so symptoms of imbalances in estrogen levels often project in progesterone levels as well. 


Testosterone 


Men are known to produce more testosterone than women, but our ovaries also produce it and release small amounts of it into our bloodstreams, contributing to our sex drives, muscle strength, and bone density.


Testosterone levels being too high can result in: 

  • Irregular periods

  • Excessive body hair 

  • Frontal balding

  • Deeper voice 

  • Acne 


Testosterone levels being too low can result in: 

  • Obesity 

  • Thinning hair

  • High blood pressure 


An imbalance in testosterone can have damaging impacts on our physical health and sex drive. 


Cortisol


Cortisol is the stress hormone that affects almost every organ and tissue in our bodies. Cortisol is intended to regulate stress and maintain body fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and metabolism. 


An imbalance in cortisol levels may result in:

  • Weight gain and rounding of the face

  • Thinning skin

  • Bruising easily

  • Headaches and difficulty concentrating 

  • Severe fatigue 

  • Flushed face


Thyroid Hormone


The thyroid hormone, produced in the thyroid glands, helps balance our body’s systems by regulating breathing, body temperature, heart rate, and metabolism. 


An imbalanced thyroid can result in: 

  • Tiredness

  • Sensitivity to cold

  • Constipation 

  • Weakness and muscle aches

  • Muscle cramps 


By familiarizing ourselves with our hormones, we can learn how to better listen to our bodies and catch warning signs of imbalance. Avoiding excessive toxins like alcohol and tobacco, sticking to a balanced diet, and checking in with your gynecologist regularly can help you keep those hormones in wack.  


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