There are so many different hormones that help your body function like the super complex organism it is. There are about 50 different hormones in the body and scientists may discover more . When it comes to the time around menopause, there is a hormonal trinity that needs to be in balance for you (and consequently whoever else is around you so they don’t suffer too) to experience true peace and happiness. All hormones are important but there are three that can put you in limbo during menopause and those include estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, which we will focus on.

Estrogen

Like Shania Twain says, “I feel like a woman!” Estrogen is what makes women feel like women. It’s what teenage girls crave as they move on from stuffing their bras with toilet paper to filling in cups on their own. It’s also what we crave again as we approach menopause and our once perky breasts start to droop. It’s what makes us feel sexy, spicy, and vibrant. However, estrogen can become your “frenemy” around the time of menopause. During the period of perimenopause, the stage before your period has completely stopped for good, estrogen often goes up and down, with levels too high one day and too low the next. This hormonal rollercoaster ride can leave you moody, hot flashing like a campfire, drenching your bed sheets with night sweats, and suffering from the other perils of midlife.

Estrogen is an umbrella term for a group of sex hormones that promote the development and maintenance of female characteristics of the body. Three major estrogens include estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), and estriol (E3).

  • Estradiol (E2): This is the strongest form of estrogen, which the body can convert back to a weaker form called estrone.

  • Estrone (E1): This is the second weakest form of estrogen that is highest in women after menopause. The body can convert this into a stronger form of estrogen called estradiol.

  • Estriol (E3): This is the weakest form of estrogen and is the highest during pregnancy. It cannot be converted into other types of estrogen and is actually just a waste product after the body uses its main estrogen, estradiol.
  • Number 2 is, in fact, number 1 in your body — Estradiol (E2) is the head honcho of female sex hormones. It runs the show on everything from heart health to bone growth. Meanwhile, Estriol (E3) and Estrone (E1) are its minor sidekicks. Estriol has been studied for its protective effects against breast cancer .

    Estrogens are amazing hormones and have over 400 different functions in a woman’s body. They are responsible for the difference between female and male bodies. In females, they make the bones smaller and shorter, the pelvis broader, and the shoulders narrower. This group of hormones is responsible for promoting the development and maintenance of female sexual characteristics in the human body including breasts, pubic and armpit hair, and regulation of the menstrual cycle and reproductive system.

    Estrogens are best known for the role they play in sexual development and reproduction, but, like any modern woman, estrogens are multitaskers that wear many important hats and also have a place in many other systems in the body including the neuroendocrine, cardiovascular, skeletal and immune systems. They also act as “house manager,” contributing to the overall balance in the body.

    The main estrogen factory in the female body is the ovaries. The adrenal glands also make estrogens but in smaller amounts. Adipose (fat) tissues also produce estrogen. This is why overweight and obese women tend to have more estrogen and are more likely to suffer from “Estrogen Dominance” (we will get into that later) than their leaner peers. However, no matter their size, many women will eventually suffer from the effects of low estrogen.

    Common symptoms of low estrogen include:


    • Hot flashes
    • Night sweats
    • Mood swings or depression/anxiety
    • Sleep difficulties
    • Difficulty concentrating/Brain fog
    • Dry skin and hair
    • Weight gain or increase in belly fat
    • Vaginal dryness, painful intercourse
    • Headaches or an increase in pre-existing migraine occurrences
    • Fatigue
    • Low libido
    • Irregular, short, light, or absent periods
    • Increase in urinary tract infections (UTIs)
    • Frequent urination, leaky bladder

    Although commonly thought to be “the female hormone,” estrogen is found in both men and women in differing amounts. Women generally have more estrogen than men, which is why it is considered to be a female hormone, while men have more testosterone, which is why it is considered to be a male hormone. But both men and women have the same hormones in their bodies, just in differing amounts, which are constantly working to find a balance for optimal functioning. Man or woman, each body has its own ideal balance when it comes to hormones and that can change every…single….day. It’s important to remember that your hormone levels are not always the same, they are constantly ebbing and flowing like the tides, constantly adapting and attempting to find the right balance as things change in your body and also around you. This is influenced by every facet of your life, from your stress levels, to your diet, to your environment, and even by your genetics.

    Finally, as we age, the estrogen/testosterone ratio decreases. This means that you will see women developing male sexual characteristics such as facial hair and men often develop female sexual characteristics such as breasts. Maybe if we were to live 150 years old, men and women would be alike.



    Progesterone

    In women, estrogen is balanced by another hormone in the body, progesterone. Progesterone is one of the primary hormones made by the ovaries and adrenal glands in menstruating women, along with estrogen and testosterone. Progesterone is actually not a sex hormone at all, as it doesn’t contribute to your female sexual characteristics. However, it plays a huge role in your reproductive life and how you feel. Progesterone, while an active hormone on its own, is also a precursor to estrogen and other hormones. That means progesterone can convert into estrogen and other hormones through the cascade.

    Progesterone is the Aphrodite of hormones and peacemaker within. Progesterone spikes around the time of ovulation, and along with testosterone, puts you “in the mood for love.” It protects your growing baby when you’re pregnant and its decline after birth triggers your body, along with another hormone prolactin, to produce milk for your new little bundle of joy. Considered to be a “calming” hormone, it’s no wonder that most women feel their best in their third trimester of pregnancy when progesterone production is very high but then suffer from postpartum depression or “baby blues” when production drops after childbirth. It’s also no wonder that some women feel anxious and depressed when their body stops making progesterone around the time of menopause.

    Common symptoms of low progesterone include:


    • Depression/Anxiety
    • Mood swings
    • Fatigue
    • Bloating
    • Tender breasts
    • Low libido
    • Sleeping difficulties
    • Weight gain
    • Increased fat in butt and hip area
    • Irregular, heavy periods
    • Increased PMS
    • Headaches or an increase in pre-existing migraine occurrences
    • Difficulty concentrating/Brain fog
    • Hot flashes

    Testosterone

    Testosterone is one of the most overlooked hormones that women going through menopause need more of to feel their best. It is an “androgen” hormone we generally associate with men. If estrogen is considered feminine, then testosterone is considered the masculine hormone. However, like I mentioned before, both men and women have estrogen, progesterone and testosterone in their bodies, just in differing amounts. In women testosterone is mostly secreted by the ovaries but the adrenal glands also produce around 25%. When the sex organs (i.e. ovaries) and adrenal glands are healthy, our bodies are capable of regulating testosterone levels naturally, unless we have an underlying condition prohibiting this. Levels also fall as we age. Testosterone is what makes us feel sexy and energetic around the time of ovulation and as you can probably guess, it’s part to blame for menopausal women with low libido and energy.
    Testosterone also helps maintain reproductive tissue and bone mass levels. However, as you read on, you will notice levels can vary drastically among women. Let’s explore why having too much or too little testosterone in the body can make women feel lousy. You’ll notice that the symptoms of low testosterone overlap with symptoms of low estrogen.

    Common symptoms of low testosterone in women


    • Low libido
    • Difficulty reaching orgasm
    • Vaginal dryness
    • Fatigue
    • Weight gain, especially around the midsection
    • Brain fog/Difficulty concentrating
    • PMS symptoms (bloating, headaches, fatigue, moodiness, skin changes, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath)
    • Sleep disturbances (especially night sweats)
    • Loss of muscle/Muscle weakness
    • Sluggishness
    • Loss of bone density
    • Irregular menstrual cycles
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