Hormone Descriptions

Estrogen - Every Aspect Of Female Health

Three types of estrogen are found in the human female, Estrone (E1), Estradiol (E2) and Estriol (E3). The major estrogen produced in the human ovaries is Estradiol. Estrogen can also be converted from some of the adrenal steroid hormones. Estrogen is a steroid hormone derived from cholesterol and underlines almost every aspect of female health. When talking about estrogen, we are usually referring to Estradiol, unless otherwise specified.

Estrogen also carries out critical functions in the male body, where it is converted from testosterone. However, the ratio of testosterone to estrogen is much smaller than in women.

The three estrogens each have a different structure and role to play. Estrone is the predominant estrogen produced after menopause, mainly from testosterone. Estradiol is dominant during the fertile years and is the main estrogen we rely on. Estriol is produced in large amounts during pregnancy. Estriol is also converted from Estradiol and Estrone and acts mainly on the urogenital area.

Progesterone - Vital for balance

Another steroid hormone made from cholesterol, progesterone is critical for good health in both women and men. The role progesterone plays in keeping the uterus healthy is generally recognized. However, it has many other functions, which are far more important for the maintenance health and balance. Progesterone and Estradiol act together in synchrony to keep the mind and body in balance. It is one of the greatest misconceptions in medicine that progesterone is only needed for the health of the Uterus. Another tragic misconception is that synthetic progesterone is the same as bioidentical Progesterone. This is a dangerous assumption. Synthetic Progesterone only acts like bioidentical progesterone in triggering a period. It has been shown to be detrimental in other important tissues. Synthetic progesterone is the only hormone that has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer (in the WHI study).

The ratio of progesterone to estrogen and testosterone varies between men and women, yet it plays a vital role in the health of both sexes. Progesterone affects cell function directly, and also converts into other hormones such as testosterone in men. It balances estrogen and carries out its own functions, as do all steroid hormones.

Testosterone - The most important hormone for men, testosterone defines masculinity
Made primarily in the testes, testosterone is the principal sex hormone in men and plays a critical role in maintaining overall health. It is also found in women, and performs many but different functions in each sex.

Testosterone production declines gradually but progressively with age. This means that as men get older they experience many changes. These include decline in muscle mass, weaker bones, increased body fat, reduced confidence and mental function. These changes can also occur in younger men if they have testosterone deficiency.

Testosterone acts directly on the body’s cells, but also indirectly with other hormones. It’s a complex situation, and for this reason testosterone replacement has to be balanced carefully within normal limits.
Some of the many functions of testosterone include:

  • Brain function, including memory
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Sexual function
  • Growth hormone release and optimization
  • Insulin sensitivity and metabolic syndrome
  • Lipid profile function
  • Musculoskeletal protection
  • Energy
  • Confidence
  • Mood

Adrenal Glands - The importance of the adrenal glands cannot be overstated
Two small glands located above the kidneys, the adrenal glands produce hormones essential for health. Any disorder concerning the adrenal hormones can lead to a variety of diseases including Addison’s disease, Cushing’s syndrome and birth disorders.
The adrenal hormones play a major role in helping you cope with stress. Stress is the number one factor in predicting health, and the way the body handles it involves a complex interaction between hormones and neurotransmitters.

Stress affects men and women differently. When women undergo extended stress, they experience a change in ovarian function, sometimes leading to a temporary lack of libido and infertility. Men also suffer from inadequate adrenal function, but in ways less understood.

Without the adrenal glands we will go into immediate health crisis. The adrenal glands do not switch off in mid life the way the ovaries do; however, they are subject to stress and fatigue. Some of us have genetically healthier adrenal glands than others. In addition to neurotransmitters, the adrenal glands make steroid hormones including Cortisol, Aldosterone, Androstenedione and DHEA.  Testosterone is converted from Androstenedione and DHEA. Also, a very small amount of estrogen is converted from the testosterone, which was derived from the adrenal glands.

Adrenal gland function is incredibly complex. Replacing adrenal hormones should be done extremely judiciously for many reasons. Adrenal glands are designed to stay with us throughout our life. They receive communication from the brain hormones and chemicals as well as other glands. If they are stressed or fatigued, it is better to address the stressors, whatever they may be, than to blindly march into taking adrenal hormones and supplements. Studies have shown that long-term use of adrenal androgens (DHEA, Androstenedione and their derivatives) has a negative log term impact on adrenal health.

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Cortisol - Essential For Life

One of most important hormones for life, cortisol is made in the adrenal glands. It’s another steroid hormone, made from cholesterol. Adrenal glands have numerous receptors for cholesterol to enter and be converted to steroids hormones.

Cortisol production fluctuates during the course of 24 hours. It is typically highest early in the morning and lowest late at night. It is the early morning rise in cortisol that helps you wake up and be hungry. The normal pattern of cortisol can be upset with unhealthy sleep/wake cycles and other medical diseases.

Stress places additional demand on the adrenals, which the adrenals are designed to cope with and respond to. However, prolonged stress can lead to adrenal fatigue.

Too much or too little cortisol can have severe psychological and physiological symptoms. Low levels can make you irritable, apathetic and depressed. Too high can cause psychological disturbances. As with all steroids, an initial feeling of well-being can give way with prolonged exposure to emotional instability and depression. It can also increase stomach acid and lead to ulcers.

Some of the functions of cortisol:

  • Regulates bloods glucose
  • Breaks down protein
  • Helps cardiac output
  • Enhances anti-inflammatory response
  • Helps bone marrow respond to injury or infection
  • Provides energy in times of short-term stress
  • Makes glucose and ensures a response from the cardiovascular system

DHEA

This is one of the downstream hormones of the adrenal androgen pathway. DHEA production fluctuates, and unfortunately, we have very little real knowledge of the details. After leaving the adrenal glands, DHEA is converted to other steroid androgens, including Testosterone.

If the Adrenal glands are healthy, so will be the production of DHEA. Many physicians have fallen prey to replacing DHEA too quickly. DHEA was once called the “fountain of youth”, but that enthusiasm didn’t last long and as with most steroids, indiscriminate use caused more imbalances. A lot more research is needed before DHEA can safely be administered, but in reality, “the cat is out of the bag”.  We are the only first world country where DHEA is available without prescription. We are also prey to the misinformation provided on the Internet. Now, more than ever, the consumer has to be cautious.

During perimenopause and menopause, women often develop acne and chin hair. This is due to excess DHEA converting to testosterone and not being balanced by progesterone and estrogen.

Post-menopause, women can also lose their feminine figure and become slightly more masculine. They develop coarser features, a balding hairline and even a slight change in their voice. They might feel otherwise well. This is due to the adrenal glands over-compensating for a decline in estrogen and progesterone, producing more DHEA and testosterone.

Thyroid

Thyroid hormones are derived from amino acids, in a very complex process. A vital hormone also involved in every aspect of health. Thyroid hormone is produced in the thyroid gland, which is located in front of the neck.

Thyroid function is needed throughout life. However, the levels slowly decrease with age with a range of symptoms following if left unchecked. Indeed, this can eventually lead to dysfunction and imbalance elsewhere, as the thyroid is connected to all other functions and hormone systems in the body.

The main thyroid hormone T4 converts to the active form T3 with signaling from other hormones and messengers. Levels of T3 vary in the body throughout the day, but are usually higher in the morning.

Thyroid hormone interacts with other hormone systems. As estrogen levels decrease, thyroid function is also compromised, even though levels may still be in normal ranges.

The thyroid gland is very sensitive to viral infections, high stress and imbalances in other hormone systems. Women appear to be more prone to thyroid deficiency than men.

 ‘Hypothyroidism’ is the name given to low thyroid function, with ‘Hyperthyroidism’ referring to overactive function. Symptoms of imbalance include cardiac dysfunction, heat and cold intolerance, weight gain or loss, mood symptoms, hyper or hypo activity, among many.

Some of the many functions of Thyroid hormone:

  • Helping fetus develop in the womb
  • Cell function, metabolic rate, metabolism
  • Energy production
  • Balanced function of every organ system – especially liver, heart and kidneys
  • Fat synthesis / breakdown
  • Protein synthesis / breakdown
  • Lipid balance / metabolism – including cholesterol levels
  • Absorption/utilizing of glucose – insulin
  • Muscle movement
  • Brain and nervous system development, maturation and function
  • Cognition and mood balance
  • Healthy scalp hair and pigmentation

Growth Hormone

Growth hormone is vital in the development of children, yet also plays a key role in maintaining adult health. Made in the pituitary gland, too little growth hormone causes dwarfism in children, while too much leads to gigantism with heights in excess of 8 feet possible if untreated. In adults, excess growth hormone causes an increase in the size of ‘flat’ bones such as the skull, hands, feet and face, although there’s no corresponding increase in height.

Whether too much or too little, an imbalance in growth hormonal levels diminishes your quality of life. Altered body composition, reduced muscle mass, excess fat, reduced mobility, physical and mental fatigue and mood swings are all symptoms of low Growth hormone.

The FDA has limited growth hormone use. Due to abuse by athletes many years ago, physicians do not have the privilege to prescribe growth hormone unless a documented deficiency is demonstrated by a specific test. Unfortunately, with this test almost all people fall within the normal range, even if they are not normal for themselves, and would greatly benefit from replacement. The other limitation is cost. The good news is that by optimizing Estradiol, Progesterone in women, and Testosterone in men, growth hormone secretion and utilization will be optimized.

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