As women our hormonal balance revolves around two principle hormones,
estrogen and progesterone, both are produced
by the ovaries. The
actions of these balance each other and an imbalance of either has a
marked effect on our hormonal health and medical well-being. Imbalances
between these two hormones have seen the incidences of female hormone
related illness skyrocket over the past several decades. To put things
into perspective, let’s take a brief look back at life for an average
woman 100 years ago. It is estimated that only a century ago, girls
would enter puberty around the age of 16, entering their childbearing years
earlier and having more children. No canned milk substitutes meant a much
higher reliance on breast-feeding. 100 years ago the average woman would
have had approximately 100 to 200 menstrual cycles in her lifetime. These
days the average age of girls entering puberty has dropped to 12 and not only are many women are choosing to start families much later in life, and having fewer children, there has been a significant drop in the ability (and the decision) to breastfeed. Roughly estimated, the modern woman will have 350 to 400 menstrual cycles during her lifetime. What a difference a century makes! Could there be a correlation between these comparative differences that have a bearing on the epidemic of female hormone related illness? Personally, I think so.
Okay, well, let’s take a closer look at the hormones responsible for regulating the female menstrual cycle. Firstly let’s take a look at estrogen. Now estrogen is not a single hormone but three hormones that work together. The three components of estrogen are: estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), and estriol (E3). Estrogen is produced in the ovaries and is responsible for the development of secondary female characteristics during puberty including regulating the menstrual cycle, and the growth and development of the breast and pubic hair. Estrogen affects all female sexual organs, including the ovaries, cervix, fallopian tubes, vagina, and breast. Along with all the physical effects estrogen has, it also is greatly responsible for giving us an overall sense of well-being, a sense of calm serenity by lifting our mood. Estrogen is a pro-growth hormone. As with most things too much of anything is generally not good, so the body has another hormone to offset and counterbalance the
effects of estrogen. It is called progesterone.
Progesterone is made from pregnenolone, which is made from cholesterol yes, cholesterol. It is called a pro-gestational because it supports the growth and development of a growing fetus. Without progesterone at sufficient levels there can be no successful pregnancy. It balances out the "growth effect" of estrogen. After conception has taken place higher levels of progesterone are secreted, stopping further ovulation and protecting the pregnancy. It’s why you can’t get pregnant while you are pregnant. Of course having healthy levels of progesterone in important when we aren't pregnant as well. Progesterone is a building block for many other hormones our bodies require right through our lives.
Progesterone is made in several locations in the body. In women, it’s produced in the ovaries just before ovulation and increasing rapidly after ovulation. It is also made in the adrenal glands in both sexes and in the testes in males. In women, its level is highest during the luteal period (especially from day 19 to 22 of the menstrual cycle). If a pregnancy isn’t underway, then progesterone decreases and menstruation occurs 12 to 14 days later. If fertilization does occur, progesterone is secreted during pregnancy by the placenta and acts to prevent spontaneous abortion. About 20-25 mg of progesterone is produced per day during a woman's monthly cycle. Up to 300-400 mg are produced daily during
We mentioned previously that progesterone
and estrogen balance each other and that progesterone acts as an
antagonist to estrogen. As an example of this is how estrogen increases
fluid retention while progesterone is a natural diuretic. Excess estrogen
has been associated with breast and endometrial cancers, while
progesterone has a protective effect. It is however very important
that both hormones in balance, in their optimal amounts are required. So
what happens when they are out of balance? And, what can be done about it?
Time and time again I hear people ask "why do I feel so bad when they tell me there's nothing wrong?" My goal is to help solve your health problems, to get to the bottom of things, not just symptom control but to bring about a return to good health.