Hormones are chemicals released by glands that travel through the bloodstream to reach the cells and tissues where they exert specific regulatory functions. Its role is fundamental for the proper functioning of the human body, as these are involved in multiple processes such as growth and development, metabolism, sexual function, reproduction, and mood, among others.
Estrogen and progesterone are the main female sex hormones. They receive this name because they determine women’s primary and secondary sexual features, also known as handling women’s physical and sexual maturation.
Very briefly, estrogens and progesterone handle puberty, the first menstruation, the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and even lactation, as well as many other bodily functions. These hormones are kept in permanent balance throughout a woman’s life, allowing the female body to function normally.
How do these chemicals work in the hormone cycle?
Estrogen and progesterone are the regulatory hormones of a woman’s hormonal cycle. Midway through the cycle, the estrogen level increases, reaching its peak during ovulation when progesterone increases. Both hormones prepare the uterus for fertilization. But, when pregnancy does not occur, these levels fall, producing menstruation or bleeding, thus reaching the lowest levels.
They are steroid sex hormones produced primarily by the ovaries, by the adrenal glands to a lesser extent, and by the placenta during pregnancy. They also play a role in properly developing the female sexual organs during puberty.
Estrogens regulate the hormonal cycle during the fertile age of women, being a key chemical in the first part of the menstrual cycle, fertility, ovulation, fertilization, and pregnancy. In more detail, estrogens fulfill functions such as:
- Prepare the body for ovulation, fertilization, and pregnancy.
- Stimulates the maturation of the ovaries and handles ovulation.
- Stimulate the maturation of the uterus in adolescence and prepare it for pregnancy.
- Promotes the development of the breasts, glands, and ducts and prepares them for milk production.
- They participate in the distribution of body fat, depositing more fat in the breasts, hips, and thighs, which gives the female silhouette.
- Helps the development of bones at puberty and subsequently protects them by maintaining bone density
- They intervene in fat metabolism.
- They regulate bad cholesterol levels and produce good cholesterol in the blood. This naturally protects against cardiovascular disease.
- It produces relaxation of the wall of blood vessels (vasodilation), which decreases tension figures.
- They take part in the formation of collagen, allowing the skin’s hydration, giving it a firm and smooth appearance, and contributing to hair growth.
- It promotes and improves cerebral blood flow, giving an excellent memory.
- Promotes vaginal lubrication.
- They stimulate libido or sexual desire.
Also known as the pregnancy hormone, and like estrogen, progesterone is a steroid hormone. It is produced by the corpus luteum, a temporary gland formed by the ovarian follicle.
It acts in the second phase of the menstrual cycle, after ovulation, and its crucial role is to prepare the uterus to receive the fertilized egg and prevent it from being expelled by the body. In short, progesterone is the hormone in charge of helping pregnancy and preventing uterus contractions for a full-term pregnancy.
They call it the ”pregnancy hormone” for a reason: the ovaries and placenta produce progesterone during gestation, a significant need for the fetus’s proper development. Other body functions are:
- It works on the mammary glands, especially the days before menstruation, producing an increase in size.
- It stimulates the kidney’s retention of water and salt before menstruation, known as “premenstrual tension syndrome.”
- Influences body temperature.
- Stimulates the respiratory centers, increasing the respiratory rate.
- It is linked to sexual desire to a lesser extent than estrogen.
- It regulates the menstrual cycle.
- It has a soothing effect. It produces a depressant effect and induces physical and mental relaxation in the nervous system.
Progesterone also has neuroprotective effects that hinder neuronal degeneration and prevent programmed cell death by limiting tissue damage and improving functional outcomes after some brain injury.
Thus, hormones are extremely powerful substances found in tiny amounts in the body; therefore, the slightest change and disorders occur in the body. Even small fluctuations can lead to major symptoms and problems.
Female sex hormone deficiency
Multiple situations can lead to estrogen deficiency, being aging is the most common physiological cause.
Perimenopause is a phase before menopause where estrogen levels fall, inducing symptoms such as mood changes, hot flashes, or sleep problems until reaching menopause, where hormone production becomes null.
Yet, before this happens, there are other reasons your body’s estrogen levels can drop. Conditions in the ovaries, including cysts or insufficiency, thyroid gland disorders, pituitary diseases, excessive exercise, eating disorders, obesity, genetic diseases such as Turnes syndrome, insufficiency of the pituitary gland, cancer treatments (radiotherapy and chemotherapy), among others.
Signs and symptoms
A lot of body changes take place during estrogen deficiency, such as:
- Irregular menstrual cycle.
- Breakthrough bleeding.
- Vaginal dryness.
- Decreased or absent sexual desire or libido.
- Painful sexual intercourse.
- Increased breast tenderness.
- Vaginal and/or urinary tract and bladder infections.
- Dry skin.
- Hot flashes (typical of menopause).
- Weakness and fatigue.
- Night sweats.
- Urinary incontinence.
- Mood swings.
- Emotional lability or instability.
- Sleep disorders and trouble falling asleep.
- Increased heart rate.
- Memory problems.
- Difficulty concentrating.
The causes can also be very varied with progesterone deficiency, including birth anomalies such as hypoplasia (underdeveloped ovaries), cysts or tumors in the ovaries, disorders of the thyroid gland, infectious and inflammatory diseases of the female reproductive system, abortions and hormonal insufficiency after them, and unhealthy lifestyles like excessive stress, smoking, or poor diet.
Signs and symptoms
Similar to estrogen deficiency-like symptoms, your body reacts in response to a decrease in progesterone levels in different ways:
- Tight and swollen breasts.
- Breast pain.
- Overly sensitive nipples.
- Fibroids or cysts in the breasts.
- Fluid retention.
- Edema or swelling in the legs and ankles.
- Feeling of heaviness.
- Weight gain.
- Decrease in body temperature.
- Longer premenstrual syndrome.
- Abnormal the menstrual cycle.
- Breakthrough bleeding.
- Heavy periods.
- Sleep disorders.
- Hair loss.
- Joint pains.
- Decreased sexual desire.
- Mood swings.
- Ease of stress.
- Feelings of confusion
- Memory failures.
Female hormones are critical for many functions, from the most vital ones, such as regulating temperature and breathing, to the most complex, such as the menstrual cycle.
Therefore, a deficiency in any of them is synonymous with alterations that bring different health consequences. With this in mind, it is important to consult a physician in case of unusual symptoms to detect the main problem and provide timely treatment.
A specialist can effectively treat estrogen and/or progesterone deficiency. With suitable treatment, all the symptoms will disappear in a matter of weeks, and your body will work as it should again.
Also, in addition to ensuring body regulation, well-balanced hormones bring multiple other benefits, such as:
- Improves mood.
- It is a natural anti-aging.
- Reduces vaginal dryness and plumps vaginal tissue.
- Help reduce the incidence of heart attacks.
- Provides moisture and hydration to the skin.
- Increases memory and motivation.
- Slows bone loss.
- Protective effect against breast cancer and endometrial cancer.
- Prevents fibrocystic breast disease.
- Increases the body’s oxygen supply.
- Prevents atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases.
- Prevents high blood pressure.
- Improves brain chemistry and neuronal interactions.
- Stimulates new bone formation.
- Delays skin aging and reduces blemishes.
- It is a natural antidepressant.
- Restores sleep patterns.
- Contributes to the prevention of infectious diseases by increasing IgE antibodies.
Remember that these two hormones fulfill not only sexual functions but also impact the metabolism, the brain, and the heart. Visit your doctor regularly and lead as healthy a life as possible.