How Do Women's Hormones Cycle?
The human body produces more than 100 different hormones originating in various endocrine glands. This vast array of hormones is responsible for countless functions in the body and it can be a little overwhelming to understand them all. So we are going to highlight just a few “major players” that have a significant impact on women’s health and how they cycle.
Progesterone is primarily produced by the corpus luteum—a temporary follicle formed on the ovary after an egg is released. Although this is the major site of production, progesterone is also produced in small amounts by the adrenal glands and by the ovaries themselves.
Progesterone is the dominant hormone during the second half of the menstrual cycle and its main role is to prepare the body for pregnancy. It causes the uterine lining to thicken and prohibits muscular contractions in the uterus which would cause the rejection of a fertilized egg. It also helps maintain the uterine lining during pregnancy. If a woman does not become pregnant, the corpus luteum breaks down, progesterone levels drops, and menstruation occurs.
Although menstruation and pregnancy are the main work of progesterone, it also has a couple of other key roles in the body. Progesterone plays a role in the development of breast tissue and the preparation of breasts for milk production and lactation and also interacts with the GABA receptors in the brain to create a sense of calm and well being.
Women with low levels of progesterone may have trouble conceiving or may be at higher risk for miscarriage. Also, without proper levels of progesterone to balance it out, estrogen may become the dominant hormone which can lead to weight gain, mood swings, depression, breast tenderness, heavy bleeding, fibroids, and decreased sex drive. The body produces less progesterone in the years approaching menopause, so this can be an especially important time to monitor levels and take steps to optimize progesterone production.
You can assist the natural balance of progesterone by ensuring an adequate intake of the B vitamins, vitamin C, omega-3’s, and zinc which are all necessary for progesterone formation. Chaste berry and evening primrose oil have also been known to increase progesterone levels. Situations of high stress lead to the release of cortisol, which in turn decreases the amount of progesterone available to the body, so reducing stress is another important way to balance hormones.
Whether in the thick of child-bearing years or approaching menopause, it is always a good time to take steps to achieve optimal levels of progesterone in the body.
Estrogen, one of the female sex hormones, is responsible for sexual and reproductive development in women. The ovaries are the primary location of estrogen production, although small amounts are also produced in the adrenal glands and fat tissue. Estrogen brings about the physical changes of puberty including growth of breasts and the start of menstruation and it continues to be a significant factor in menstrual cycles during a woman’s child bearing years. Aside from these roles, estrogen also helps regulate cholesterol, aids in bone formation, affects mood, impacts blood clotting, and is a factor in healthy skin and hair.
A woman’s estrogen levels fluctuate throughout the month as well as throughout her lifetime. As part of the monthly cycle, estrogen levels are highest around ovulation and lowest during menstruation. As part of the life cycle, estrogen levels are naturally high during puberty and pregnancy but drop after childbirth and when approaching menopause.
Troubles can occur when estrogen levels are too high or too low. Too much estrogen can lead to weight gain, heavy bleeding during periods, mood swings, cramps, fibrocystic breasts, low sex drive, and depression. Too little estrogen, on the other hand, can also lead to mood swings and low sex drive but may instead cause irregular or absent periods, hot flashes, sleep disturbances, dry skin and lack of lubrication.
Lifestyle and diet can contribute to both the creation and reduction of estrogen imbalance so it’s important to observe symptoms and take action to help the body find equilibrium. Keeping this vital hormone balanced is key to good health and vitality.