Below we will analyse all the different hormones of the female’s reproductive system and why we need them.
I imagine many of you wonder why we need all those hormones, and which role is assigned to each one of them. And more: what happens when we reach menopause and their production decreases?
This is considered a typical male hormone. Women produce a small amount of testosterone (compared to man) but it is also as important for them. In women its produced in the adrenal glands and ovaries. Along with the biggest female sex hormone, Oestrogen, testosterone plays a role on the growth and maintenance of the female reproductive organs and bone mass. These hormones also influence behaviour.
Women secrete much lower amounts compared to men, with normal levels considered to be between 15 and 70 ng/dL. Hormones levels also change through the day, for example testosterone levels are much higher in the morning. High testosterone levels are associated with skin acne, excess of hair, irregular periods, loss of libido, mood change, and it can be associated also with infertility and obesity. In the middle ground, balanced levels of testosterone are pivotal for fertility, sex drive, red blood cell production and muscle mass and fat distribution. In the other end, low testosterone can cause one or more of the following symptoms in women:
- muscle weakness
- sleep disturbances
- reduced sex drive
- weight gain
- fertility issues
- vaginal dryness
- loss of bone density
So, if you experience one of these symptoms its better you get checked by a doctor, especially if you are menopausal or perimenopausal (which can start as early as 35 years old).
Oestrogens are a group of sex hormones very important for women. They play an essential role in growth and development of female secondary sexual characteristics, and the regulation of the menstrual cycle and the reproductive system. The ovaries are the main location for oestrogen production in the body. Oestrogen also influences the structural differences existing between the male and female bodies. Synthetic oestrogen has a range of uses in medicine, including birth control and managing the effects of menopause. It is one of the most important hormones for women, alongside progesterone. Progesterone instead, helps to maintain pregnancies and implant a fertilised egg in the uterus. The hormones present in the wide oestrogen family include:
- Estrone (E1): This is a weaker form of oestrogen and is the only type found in women even after the menopause. Small amounts of estrone are present in most tissues of the body, but mainly in fat and muscle. The body can convert estrone to estradiol and estradiol to estrone.
- Estradiol (E2): This is basically the strongest type of oestrogen in the family. Estradiol is a steroid that is produced by the ovaries. It is thought to contribute to a range of gynecological problems, including endometriosis, fibroids, and some type of cancers that occur in females, especially endometrial cancer.
- Estriol (E3): This the weakest of all the oestrogens and is basically a waste product after the body uses or metabolises all the estradiol. Pregnancy constitutes the only time in which significant amounts of estriol are made. Estriol cannot be converted to estradiol nor estrone.
When your oestrogen levels decrease especially in the menopause, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) aims to relieve some of the symptoms of the menopause by raising the levels of female hormones back to normal or to levels similar to normal (knowing each woman’s physiological levels can differ slightly). The treatment can be provided either as oestrogen-only or as a combination of both oestrogen and progestin.
For women who still have an uterus, the hormone progestin is always used alongside oestrogen in order to prevent the overgrowth of the uterine lining, which can lead over time to endometrial cancer. HRT is available in different formulations, such as a pills, nasal sprays, patches, skin gels, injections, vaginal creams, or rings, according to personal needing, preference and availability.
The use of HRT may help relieve some of the symptoms of menopause, such as:
- hot flushes
- vaginal dryness
- painful sex
- mood swings
- sleep disorders
- decreased libido
When entering the menopause be sure you check with your doctor before taking any medications.
Progesterone belongs to a group of steroid hormones. It is secreted mainly by the corpus luteum in the ovary only during the second half of the menstrual cycle. It plays an important role in the menstrual cycle and in maintaining the early stages of a pregnancy. During the menstrual cycle, when an egg is released from the ovary at ovulation (usually at day 14), the remnants of the ovarian follicle that contained the developing egg form a structure that is called the corpus luteum. This in its turn secretes progesterone and, to a lesser extent, estradiol. The progesterone then prepares the body for pregnancy in the event that the released egg happens to be fertilised. If the egg is not fertilised then, the corpus luteum eventually breaks down, and the production of progesterone falls and a new menstrual cycle begins. However if the egg is fertilised instead and a pregnancy starts, progesterone stimulates the growth of blood vessels in the lining of the womb (endometrium) and stimulates glands that are in the endometrium to secrete hormones and supply all the nutrients that will nourish the embryo in the early stages. In short, progesterone prepares the lining of the uterus to allow the fertilised egg to implant, and helps maintaining the endometrium. Progesterone is also used as HRT for women to relieve symptoms of the menopause. Due to its role in preparing the womb for pregnancy, its use as an HRT form basically will also help protecting the endometrium during and after the menopause. It is important to know that a decrease in progesterone does not affect you the way the loss of oestrogen does, but, taking oestrogen only HRT could increase your chances of uterus cancer, also known as endometrial cancer. Nonetheless if you had a hysterectomy done, you do not really need progesterone and you can take oestrogen-only HRT. Just always remember: whatever HRT you decide are going to take, always seek medical advice first and be informed of all the available options for you. This will allow you to make an informed decision.
By Team MM