Hormones are biological chemicals produced primarily by the endocrine glands. These are the pituitary, pineal, thyroid, parathyroid, thymus, pancreas, adrenals, and ovaries. The endocrine glands and the hormones they produce interact with each other in very complex manners to regulate, control, and coordinate a variety of bodily functions and systems.

The best known female hormones are estrogen and progesterone. These are part of the steroid hormone family. Steroid hormones are made from cholesterol and synthesized in the ovaries, adrenals, and various tissues such as fat, skin, brain, liver, and uterus. The steroid hormones are responsible for sexual development, fertility, reproduction, and stress management. Thus, they play a central role in energy levels, stress levels, blood sugar levels, and overall emotional functioning.

As mentioned, all the hormones work together in the body. In an ideal situation they are at specific levels and relationships with each other. When hormones get out of balance, the body gets out of balance, and various symptoms are presented. The endocrine system is usually the first bodily system affected by nutritional deficiencies. A variety of vitamins and minerals are required to make hormones. When these are lacking, the body suffers.

Estrogen is made primarily in the ovaries and in fat cells. The fat cells become the primary site in menopausal women. There are actually three types of estrogen – estrone, estrodial, and estriol. So, it is important to understand these levels and relationships as well. Progesterone is made in the ovaries, adrenal glands, brain, and peripheral nerves. One of its main missions is to balance estrogen.

Sometimes a woman will be deficient in estrogen. She may experience hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, mood swings, poor memory, vaginal dryness, bladder and urinary irritations or infections, headaches, migraines, decreased sexual response, depression, or lack of stamina. Her risk for osteoporosis or cardiovascular disease is increased. Women may also have too much estrogen in relationship to progesterone. This condition is called estrogen dominance. In this case she may experience heavy bleeding, clotting, cramping, water retention, breast issues (tenderness, lumpiness, cystic breasts, enlarged breasts, or fibrocystic breasts), weight gain, headaches, migraines, emotional instability, depression, anxiety, anger, decreased sexual response, thyroid dysfunction, cold hands and feet, blood sugar instability, sweet cravings, insomnia, gall bladder dysfunction, or acne.

Sometimes a woman will be deficient in progesterone. Note many of these symptoms are similar to estrogen dominance. She may experience PMS, heavy bleeding, clotting, cramping, memory problems, muscle tension, fibromyalgia, water retention, insomnia, breast issues (tenderness, lumpiness, cystic breasts), weight gain, thyroid dysfunction, acne, headaches, migraines, anxiety, moodiness, hot flashes, depression, decreased sexual response, irregular periods, or spotting. A situation of excess progesterone is less common, so will not be discussed here.

Progesterone functions best when it is in the correct proportion with estrogen. They work together. While a woman is cycling, the proportions change throughout the cycle. When menopausal, the proportion should stay fairly constant.

This discussion is only scratching the surface of female hormones, but is intended to provide a basic understanding and serve as a starting point for your personal exploration of what may be happening in your body. If you currently suffer from any of the symptoms described above please be aware that this does not have to be the case. As mentioned, the endocrine system is one of the first to be impacted by nutrient deficiencies. Once specific hormone levels and relationships are determined a nutritional program can be developed to provide what the body needs to once again produce and manage hormones and have you feeling youthful and energetic.

Bernard Rosen, PhD is a Nutrition Consultant and Educator. He works with individuals, groups, and at corporations to create individualized nutrition and wellness programs. His office is in Mequon, WI. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, e-mail at bernie@brwellness.com, call (262) 389-9907 or go to www.brwellness.com.