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Women's Hormones 101

Hormones regulate the activity of cells and tissues in various organs of the body. The balance of hormones produced by your body is essential to good health and a feeling of well-being.

In women, various sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and other hormones like cortisol, and DHEA, exert powerful effects throughout life.

Knowing the function of your hormones is a step to creating hormone balance.

The three major naturally occurring estrogens in women are estrone (E1), estradoil (E2) and estriol (E3). Estradoil (E2) is the predominant form in non pregnant females, estriol is the primary estrogen of pregnancy and estrone is the primary estrogen measured after menopause.

Estrogen stimulates the growth of tissue, such as development of breast and reproductive organs, and ensures their function. In the brain, it boosts the synthesis and function of neurotransmitters that affect sleep, mood, memory, libido, and cognitive factors such as learning and attention span. Estrogen decreases the perception of pain, preserves bone mass, and increases HDL - the good cholesterol. It also preserves the elasticity and moisture content of the skin, dilates blood vessels, and prevents plaque formation in blood vessel walls.

Estradiol - E2 is the predominant sex hormone present in females and is also present in males but at a higher level.  In females it is only being produced    3 out of 30 days of a cycle.  Estradoil has a critical impact on reproductive and sexual funcioning yet also effects other organs and the bones.  It is the most commonly measured type of estrogen for non pregnant women.  After menopause estradoil production drops to a very low but constant level. 

Estriol - The weakest and least active form of estrogen primarily functioning during pregnancy.

Estrone - The primary estrogen measured after menopause to determine estrogen levels.  

Progesterone is made primarily by the ovaries. The adrenal glands, peripheral nerves, and brain cells produce lesser amounts. Progesterone ensures the development and function of the breasts and female reproductive tract. In the brain, progesterone binds to certain receptors to exert a calming, sedating effect. It improves sleep and protects against seizures. Progesterone is a diuretic. It enhances the sensitivity of the body to insulin and the function of the thyroid hormones. It builds bone and benefits the cardiovascular system by blocking plaque formation in the blood vessels and lowering the levels of triglycerides. Progesterone also can increase libido and contribute to the efficient use of fat as a source of energy.

Testosterone, which is manufactured in women by the ovaries and adrenal glands, enhances libido and sexual response. It strengthens ligaments, builds muscle and bone, assists brain function, and is associated with assertive behavior and a sense of well-being. The level of testosterone influences both stamina and restful sleep. It has a protective effect against cardiovascular disease in both men and women.

DHEA is made primarily by the ovaries and adrenal gland; lesser amounts are produced in the skin and brain. DHEA is the most abundant circulating hormone. It provides protection against the effects of physical stress and inflammation. DHEA can increase libido and sexual arousal. It improves motivation, engenders a sense of well-being, decreases pain, and enhances immune system function. DHEA facilitates the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep, enhances memory, and assists in maintaining normal cholesterol levels. DHEA can be converted in into estrogen and testosterone through fat, muscle, bone and liver.

Cortisol is made by the adrenal glands. It regulates the immune response, stimulates the production of glucose, aids short-term memory, and helps the body adapt to stress by increasing heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure. The level of cortisol increases early in the morning to prepare to meet the demands of the day. It gradually decreases throughout the day and reaches its lowest point late in the evening (a pattern known as “circadian rhythm”).

Pregnenalone is the precursor (building-block) for all other steroid hormones. It is converted directly into DHEA and/or progesterone. DHEA converts to testosterone and estrogens; progesterone converts to estrogens, cortisol, and aldosterone. It is this succession of conversions that makes human life possible. Without pregnenolone, there can be no human steroid hormone production. Made from cholesterol, pregnenolone is a natural steroid hormone produced primarily in the adrenal glands, but in smaller amounts by many other organs and tissues of the human body, including liver, brain, skin, gonads, and even the retina of the eye. Like many health-promoting hormones, levels of pregnenolone drop with age.
Some of the earliest investigations of pregnenolone¹s many benefits showed it to be an energizing, anti-stress biochemical. During the 1940s, Drs. Pincus and Hoagland gave 50-100 mg/day of pregnenolone to various types of factory workers, as well as pilots and students trained to use a flight simulator. The factory workers noted improved production rates while taking pregnenolone. They felt less fatigued, better able to cope with their jobs and experienced an enhanced sense of happiness and well-being.
The classic studies on pregnenolone and stress in the 1940s by Pincus and Hoagland generally used only 50 mg/day to achieve excellent results, while arthritis studies typically used 200-500 mg daily. Thus, although pregnenolone appears amazingly safe and beneficial, there are still many unanswered questions regarding proper dosage, metabolism, and clinical effects.

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The Canary Club is an educational advisory group with a team of medical advisors headed by Richard Shames, M.D.