Estrogen is one of two main “female” hormones. FSH and LH, two hormones produced by the pituitary gland, stimulate the ovaries to produce estrogen. Some estrogens are produced – in smaller amounts – by other tissues such as the liver, adrenal glands, fat cells, and breasts. These secondary sites for estrogen production become especially important in postmenopausal women. When the body has been taxed from stress and improper nutrition, these secondary sites cannot produce adequate amounts to make up for the ovary’s declining production. Menopausal symptoms occur as a result.
Estrogen levels vary through a woman’s cycle, with the highest levels occurring just before ovulation.
Estrogen maintains healthy blood vessels and skin; increases bone formation, platelet adhesion, triglyceride levels, fat deposition, and HDL; decreases LDL; reduces bowel motility; and is implicated in hormone-dependent cancers and appears necessary for their growth.
Much research has centered around the issue of increased estrogen exposure during a lifetime and increased rates of female cancers and menopausal symptoms in our culture. We believe these issues are actually the result of incorrect ratios of progesterone and estrogen in the body. For example, a patient may have normal estrogen levels but declining progesterone levels which, in her body, manifests as symptoms of estrogen dominance, or “too much estrogen.” This is the reason why testing individual hormone levels before prescribing them is paramount. The only way to know is to test.
Typical symptoms of an estrogen-dominant picture (which is just an imbalance in the estrogen to progesterone ratio, whether or not the absolute values are high or low) include:
Mood swings, irritability
Short term memory loss
Bone mineral loss
Thinning of skin
Progesterone is the other “female” hormone. It is mainly produced in the ovary and also in the adrenal glands, the brain, and – during pregnancy – in the placenta. Progesterone is produced in increasing amounts in the second half of a woman’s menstrual cycle and helps to prepare the uterus lining for a potential embryo. If no fertilization occurs, progesterone levels drop, and the uterus lining is shed.
Progesterone has been found to be produced in the brain. Research into the neurocognitive effects – in memory and cognitive ability – is currently being studied.
Progesterone is thermogenic (it helps to maintain body temperature), acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, supports the immune system, regulates collagen production and aids in healing, decreases gallbladder activity, supports bone health, prevents endometrial cancer by mediating the effects of estrogen in the uterus, and maintains skin elasticity.
Please note that birth control pills contain progestins and not progesterone. Progestins do not have the same protective effects as progesterone.
Testosterone is produced in the testes in males and in the ovaries and adrenal glands of women. At any age, thirty times the amount of testosterone is found in males compared to serum levels in women.
Testosterone enhances libido, protects against osteoporosis, enhances immune function, increases muscle mass and red blood cell production (which can reverse anemia), and promotes facial hair growth (in women, this is called hirsutism) and scalp hair loss.
Testosterone declines gradually with age in men. The clinical significance of this fact is debated: for example, is this the response that would occur in a male with optimum health? This process, in current society, has been termed “andropause.”
What is andropause?
Male menopause, known as andropause , refers to declining testosterone levels commonly seen in men beginning in their forties. This occurrence is similar to menopause in women when ovarian production of estrogens and progesterone begins to decline. Unless the level of free testosterone is investigated, a man’s symptoms are often ignored and he is described as having a “mid-life crisis”, or his physician diagnoses depression and he receives an antidepressant.
Testosterone is an important anabolic hormone in men, meaning it plays important roles in maintaining both physical and mental health (increases energy, prevents fatigue, helps maintain normal sex drive, increases strength of all structural tissues such as skin/bone/muscles-including the heart, prevents depression and mental fatigue). Testosterone deficiency includes symptoms such as night sweats, decreased muscle mass, osteopenia, increased risk of diabetes, decreased mental acuity, fatigue, erectile dysfunction, night sweats, and increased joint and ligamentous injury. It is an important hormone in both men and women.
At Aletris we work to address the cause of decreased testosterone levels – which includes stress, diet, exercise, and nutritional deficiencies. Oftentimes, however, supplementing testosterone for a period of times gives our patients the energy they need to adjust their lifestyles to increase endogenous – or self-produced – testosterone levels.
We also see an excess amount of estradiol relative to progesterone, which is known to be associated with prostate gland diseases such as benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) and prostate gland cancer. It is important – even in men – to investigate estrogen levels.
Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Its production is increased in response to stress. Cortisol production is diurnal, meaning that it is produced in high levels in the morning and in low levels in the middle of the night.
Cortiso increases blood pressure and blood sugar, suppresses the immune system, and reduces bone formation
An excess of cortisol in the system over extended periods of times leads to muscle wasting, central obesity, insulin resistance, and lowered immunity. In essence, these are the effects of prolonged stress.
A deficiency of cortisol is most likely due to a prolonged excess – with adrenal gland exhaustion following. Symptoms such as fatigue, hypoglycemia, and frequent infections often occur.
DHEA is a prohormone produced predominantly in the adrenal glands – although it is also produced in the gonads, brain, and skin. It is the precursor for estrogen and testosterone. Because most of the body’s DHEA is produced in the adrenal glands, it can be used to measure adrenal activity. We have clinically observed that low levels of DHEA tend to indicate adrenal gland fatigue.
We employ various naturopathic techniques to address adrenal gland fatigue. DHEA supplementation is always a consideration.
DHEA has been shown to modulate the immune system, prevent depression, increase libido, lower cholesterol levels, improve progression of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, and prevent bone loss.
The thyroid hormones T3 and T4 are produced by the thyroid gland. They are synthesized from the amino acid tyrosine and the element iodine.
Thyroid hormone Increases cardiac output and heart rate, increases basal metabolic rate, bone breakdown and the body’s sensitivity to the hormone adrenaline, and is needed for proper development of the brain and cognitive functions.
Symptoms of too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) include heart palpitations, thinning hair, anxiety, shakiness, increased hunger, weight loss and sensitivity to heat. Symptoms of too little thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) include constipation, dry hair and skin, depression, brain fog, cold intolerance, and weight gain.
Melatonin is released in a pulsatile fashion from the pineal gland in the brain. Darkness and nighttime stimulate its release. Melatonin plays a crucial role in achieving deep sleep. Melatonin also regulates our circadian rhythm, immune system, and is important in the prevention of cancer. It is a potent anti-oxidant.
Melatonin restores proper sleep rhythms, enhances natural immunity, and is a potent antioxidant.
Human Growth Hormone
Growth hormone (GH), or somatotropin, is a hormone which stimulates growth and cell reproduction in humans. It is a protein-based hormone which is synthesized, stored, and secreted by anterior pituitary gland.
Stimulators of GH secretion include growth hormone releasing hormone (GHRH), ghrelin, sleep, exercise, low levels of blood sugar (hypoglycemia), dietary protein, estradiol, and arginine.
Inhibitors of GH secretion include circulating concentrations of GH and IGF-1 (negative feedback), dietary carbohydrate, and glucocorticoids.
Effects of growth hormone on the tissues of the body can generally be described as anabolic (building up). Like most other protein hormones GH acts by interacting with a specific receptor on the surface of cells.
Human growth hormone strengthens and increases the mineralization of bone, increases muscle mass, promotes lipolysis (which results in the reduction of adipose tissue), increases protein synthesis and stimulates the growth of all internal organs excluding the brain, reduces liver uptake of glucose (an effect that opposes that of insulin), and stimulates the immune system.