The word “hormones” often carries a negative connotation, because it is associated with turbulent transitional life stages, such as puberty, and their side effects: awkward body changes, confusing feelings and rampant mood swings. In fact, the expression “feeling hormonal” is a euphemism for feeling moody, angry, upset or experiencing other extreme emotions. Hormones also affect a woman during her menstrual cycle, as well as during pregnancy, postpartum and menopause, when the body begins to slow production of hormones to signal the end of fertility. But there’s more to hormones than meets the eye. Read on to learn about what hormones do in your body. You’ll discover that it’s not all bad.
The Great Leaders of the Endocrine System
Hormones are called “chemical messengers” because they send messages through the bloodstream to regulate metabolism. All of the body’s processes are “commanded” by hormones. Thus, hormones influence nearly every cell, organ and function in the female body, from menstruation and mood to body temperature and bone health. For women, the most important natural hormones are estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).
The endocrine system controls and regulates hormone levels and keeps them in a healthy balance according to what the body needs. When hormone levels become erratic during certain stages in a woman’s life — such as puberty, pregnancy or menopause — uncomfortable physical and emotional symptoms can occur. Keep reading to find out more about what hormones do.
Natural Hormones and You
Perhaps the most notable role that hormones play in the female body is to regulate the monthly menstrual cycle. During the first few days of the cycle, estrogen is produced in the follicle — the sac containing the developing egg — and secreted into the bloodstream. It travels to the pituitary gland, where it relays the message that it is time to prepare for ovulation.
Then the ovaries stimulate production of another hormone, luteinizing hormone (LH) — which triggers the release of the egg. The egg travels to the uterus and waits to be fertilized. If fertilization does not occur, estrogen and progesterone levels decrease, causing the uterine lining to shed and leave the body in the form of menstrual bleeding.
Aside from menstruation, here are just a few of the effects hormones have on the female body:
- General health. Hormones regulate energy levels, sensations, tissue function, metabolism, and brain processes — memory and concentration.
- Sexual health. Good levels of estrogen and testosterone help to maintain a healthy libido. Additionally, estrogen helps keep the lining of the vagina moist, avoiding vaginal dryness.
- Mood and emotions. Progesterone and estrogen are thought to have an impact on mood and emotion through their interaction with the neurotransmitter serotonin.
- Bone health. Estrogen enhances the ability of osteoblasts to produce bone.
Fortunately for women experiencing the symptoms of hormone imbalance, a number of treatments are available, from making simple lifestyle changes to taking herbal supplements. Click here to read more about treatments for natural hormone imbalance.
Medline Plus: Hormones Overview
Dr. Love, Susan, and Karen Lindsey. Dr. Susan Love’s Menopause and Hormone Book. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003.