When dealing with hormones, women's greatest tool is information. By having a greater knowledge of how hormones affect emotions and mood, women are better equipped to minimize their negative effects and maximize their positive qualities.
Some hormones have long-term influences, such as those associated with growth and the onset of puberty, while others will have more short-term effects. Hormone influences vary greatly, but generally include:
- Mood control
- Regulation of the reproduction cycle
- Preparation for new activity (fighting, fleeing, mating)
- Influence over the immune system
Continue reading to gain a better understanding of the different roles that hormones play in the body, and how to distinguish between normal hormonal fluctuations and serious hormonal imbalance.
Role of Hormones in the Body
Hormones play a role in nearly every aspect of the body's day to day functioning. For example, they regulate sexual functioning, menstruation, pregnancy, bone health, and the body's overall mood and emotions.
Role of Hormones in Menopause
Menopause is the final menstrual period in a woman's life. It marks the end of a woman's reproductive years in a similar way that the first menstrual period marks the beginning. As a woman approaches menopause, the production of hormones including estrogen and progesterone begins to slow, eventually to a level where menstruation will cease altogether. As a result of the change in hormonal levels, women can suffer a variety of symptoms associated with menopause. For example, symptoms can include hot flashes, night sweats, dizziness, weight gain, anxiety, mood swings, and sore joints.
Role of Hormones in Sexual Health
Hormones play an important role in regulating sexual function in women. Due to aging and menopause, many women experience some changes in sexual function as they age. Poor vaginal lubrication and decreased genital sensation are problems associated with changes in estrogen levels. Furthermore, research suggests that low levels of the hormone testosterone also contribute to a decline in sexual arousal, genital sensation, and the ability to experience orgasms. Researchers are still investigating the benefits of hormones and other medications to treat sexual dysfunction in women.
Role of Hormones in Mood and Emotions
Estrogen hormones affect mood because of their ability to increase serotonin, acetylcholine, the body's memory neurotransmitter, and beta-endorphins levels, which are associated with positive mood states. Estrogens are neuroprotective by encouraging the formation of new synapses in the brain, increasing the number of receptors, and increasing brain derived growth factor. Estrogen helps maintain serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine levels.
There are research studies that show an association between decreased levels of estrogen and panic attacks. Many women develop symptoms of depression, anxiety, and mood swings as estrogen levels begin to fluctuate during perimenopausal years.
Hormone's Role in Bone Health
The important role different hormones play in bone health becomes apparent in women going through menopause. This is because women going through menopause experience lowered estrogen production levels in the ovaries, which then accelerates bone loss for a period ranging from five to eight years. A drop of estrogen enhances the ability of osteoclasts to absorb bone and because osteoblasts, the cells which produce bone, aren't simultaneously able to produce more bone, a greater amount of bone is lost than is produced. This causes older women to lose more bone mass than is normal.
Effects of Hormones in the Body
Individuals whose hormone levels are abnormal, either due to over-secretion or under-secretion of a particular hormone, will show signs of abnormal symptoms and illness. As well as physical changes, changes in hormonal levels may have significant effects on intellectual capabilities, memory, learning, and emotional states.
Hormone Effects in the Ovaries
In women the ovaries produce estrogen, progesterone, and also androgens. These hormones regulate a woman's menstrual cycle and ovulation. Even though androgens are sometimes referred to as “male hormones,” every female produces them.
In women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the ovaries produce higher than normal amounts of androgens. Some of the eggs develop into cysts, which are little sacs filled with liquid. Instead of being released during ovulation, as an egg is during a normal menstrual cycle, the cysts build up in the ovaries and may become enlarged.
Hormone Effects in the Vagina
Vaginal dryness is the loss of the usual moist and soft feel of the lining of the vagina. Women at all ages and stages in their lives can suffer from vaginal dryness, but it is most often experienced by postmenopausal women.
Normally, the vagina is kept moist by mucus membranes that are located at the mouth of the uterus. Estrogen in a female's bodyaids these membranes in producing lubrication that works to keep the vagina moist, strong, and to avoid the painful frictions as a result of vaginal dryness. The lubricant also has a minor acidity level that protects the vagina from foreign bacteria, thus keeping it free from infection.
Hormone Effects in the Brain
The brain manages a number of complicated body processes such as breathing, digestion, circulation, growth, reproduction, and repair. To do this, the brain utilizes two separate systems, the nervous system and the endocrine system. The nervous system is the faster of the two. The messages are sent in a few thousandths of a second through electrical impulses that travel through nerve cells as fast as 650 feet (200 meters) per second.
The endocrine (hormonal) system sends messages comparatively slowly. Hormonal messages travel through the blood stream to produce longer lasting effects. It may take several hours or days to reach the destination or to effect a change. The endocrine system is a collection of ductless glands throughout the body that secrete hormones directly into the blood stream. These glands include the pituitary, thyroid, thymus, adrenals, pancreas, ovaries or testes, and many others. The function of these glands is to control the internal environment of the entire body.
Hormone Effects in the Breasts
Hormonal imbalance during the menstrual cycle affects the amount of estrogen and progesterone in the body in different ways. When estrogen levels are lower than progesterone levels, which is a common occurrence during menstruation, the breasts increase in size. During menopause, hormonal imbalance can further disrupt the system and increase the breasts to even larger size than is normally experienced, making the breasts more susceptible to pain for longer periods of time.
Having discussed the various roles and effects that hormones have on the body, continue reading to find out about detecting hormonal imbalance using hormone tests.