Hormones, saying simply, might be called small chemical messengers that help cells communicate with each other. Thanks to the endocrine system, which is a network of glands, your body grows, develops and ages, sleeps, changes mood, weight and temperature, and is able to conceive and give birth to children. The smallest changes: the lack or excess of these important elements can cause disturbances in the body’s work or even serious diseases.
A doctor who specializes in female reproductive endocrinology is called a gynecologist-endocrinologist. Abroad – actually a reproductive endocrinologist. In this article, Dr. Silina’s School of Women’s Health explains how exactly hormones regulate your sexual health and why regular endocrinologist consultations are must have for every woman.
Hormones and endocrine system
The endocrine system is an amazing and complex mechanism. Your health, happiness, and what is no less important: the ability to bring new life into this world depends on its coordinated work. This is a network of glands of external and internal secretion, which are located in different parts of the body and are responsible for the production of various hormones. The glands located in the brain – the pineal gland, the pituitary gland, and the hypothalamus – control other (peripheral) glands. Yes, the brain leads the orchestra, as usual.
In particular, researcher Professor Walter Pierpaoli calls the pineal gland the “conductor” of the endocrine system, as it regulates the cyclic production of all hormones. At the same time, it is the hypothalamus that “tells” other glands when to secrete certain hormones, and generally regulates the neuroendocrine activity of the brain, let’s call it SEO.
Hormones are released into the blood directly, their job is intercellular communication. They ensure the harmonious transformation of the body, in particular during growing up and pregnancy, and also coordinate the body’s response to external stimuli, for example, threats to life and stress. Your aging also depends on hormones, but we will talk about this in the following materials.
If all of a sudden there was a competition between the nervous and endocrine systems for who is more important and cooler, it would be very difficult to determine the winner, so it’s a good thing that our organs are team players. The role of hormones is to ensure that all team members know what, when, how and how much to do.
Sex hormones (steroid hormones)
Yes, according to their structure, sex hormones are steroids that act like hormones. They are mainly synthesized from cholesterol and are lipids, meanibng fat-soluble. The story of sex hormones is as fascinating as anything related to the amazing body of a Woman. Sophisticated, subtle and extremely intelligent.
It all begins with other hormones – follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), which are produced by the pituitary gland. From the beginning of puberty, the hypothalamus (that SEO, remember) tells the pituitary gland to produce FSH (a lot), which tells other glands – ovaries, adrenal glands, adipose tissue – that it’s time to produce the sex hormone estrogen. Further, estrogen is also produced by the corpus luteum during each ovulation, as well as by the placenta during pregnancy.
Same way, our hormonal leader, the hypothalamus, orders the production of LH, which triggers Woman ovulation. During this, not only the egg is released, but also luteinization begins – the transformation of the remaining follicle into a corpus luteum, which in turn begins to produce another sex hormone – progesterone – to prepare the endometrium for possible implantation, i.e. pregnancy. LH has the task of maintaining the existence of the corpus luteum for about 14 days. In case of pregnancy, LH delegates its task to the trophoblast hormone – chorionic gonadotropin, which already steers during child bearing.
Another important hormone, testosterone, is produced by the adrenal glands, adipose tissue, and ovaries. In men, their main sex hormone is produced by the Leydig cells of the endocrine tissue in the testicles. Another paradox of life really. It is worth noting that testosterone is also used as a basis for the formation of estrogens.
Other important sex (steroid) hormones
You probably recognize dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), at least he would like you to. Maybe your doctor prescribed you an analysis for this hormone. It is really important because it is a precursor to the more hyped estrogens and androgens, as well as androstenediol, a sex hormone that stimulates the immune system for some reason (don’t be surprised, it’s normal for the body to have its own agent among sex hormones in the immune system). That’s why the lack of DHEA will have the consequences as any of them. And taking into account that the DHEA level decreases after 25, and at 50 it is half of the norm – have that analysis.
And there is also completely unpopular dihydrotestosterone (DHT). You may forget it, just copy it to your phone for the doctor if you have problems in the areas listed below, because it is involved in all of them.
Women hormones, sex life and reproduction
Our tireless sexual messengers work non stop to make us want to start intimate relationships and enjoy them. All so that you leave as many of your genes as possible. Our body does things proved by evolution – we have to attract a male and get pregnant, hormones are historically trained to this pattern. So if your plans do not include pregnancy, control the consequences, even if your nature did not count on it.
Estrogen level increases during puberty. Thanks to this, the girl’s breasts grow and her body changes – all these curves, hair not only on the head and menstruation.
Estrogen deficiency, due to poor nutrition or Turner syndrome (when the ovaries are underdeveloped), breasts may not develop and menstruation may not begin. In general medical practice, the treatment of estrogen deficiency – hormone substitution therapy – is used mainly during menopause. But research from Harvard Medical School states that estrogen therapy improves low bone density caused by anorexia nervosa in teenage girls. Science is searching and finding methods to solve the problem of estrogen deficiency at any age. This is exactly what the gynecologist-endocrinologist work is about.
Estrogen has a direct effect on our sexual desire. A decrease in libido after the menopause is associated with its lack, and taking estrogen remedy can improve this situation. Strange as it may seem, consistently too high levels of estrogen reduce sexual desire. In the same way, the increased level of progesterone lowers sexual desire. Nature loves balance. Therefore, some women do not feel the need for sex in the second phase of the cycle or during pregnancy.
But testosterone, on the contrary, increase sexual desire and excitement during sex, but just natural testosterone in normal amounts. If its level is increased, women usually notice it immediately, in particular due to higher hair growth. And if it is not enough, the doctor can prescribe you a testosterone drug. But it is a gynecologist-endocrinologist or an endocrinologist, or a doctor of integrative medicine.
However, there is no evidence of a guaranteed effect of taking testosterone medicines, moreover testosterone therapy is often used off-label, so women use either modified-dose testosterone drugs approved for men or combination therapy. That is why a number of highly respected medical organizations have adopted a joint statement of global consensus position on the use of testosterone therapy for women. It contains recommendations for the approach with the appointment of testosterone, how to determine the expediency of such an appointment and dosage, as well as what not to rely on, because the results have not been sufficiently studied.
Just the first sentence of the statement: There are no clearly established indications for testosterone therapy for women.
Actually, it gives a little insight into what science still knows about testosterone treatment for women. Therefore, it is better to consult with the one who understands this the most – a gynecologist-endocrinologist.
Other hormones, FSH, DHEA, DHT, also affect libido, and this is logical.
Estrogen makes sex comfortable – it keeps the walls of your vagina thick, elastic and lubricated. This is necessary for painless penetrating sex. Falling estrogen levels can cause physical and emotional changes that make sex less pleasurable, or even painful. In particular, thinning and dryness of the mucous membrane of the vagina, which leads to painful intercourse (dyspareunia). As a prevention of age-related changes in the vulva and vagina, Natalya Silina recommends starting plasma therapy of the intimate zone in time.
Mood and emotions
It is almost impossible to live a happy and joyful life without the main female hormone estrogen. Tel Aviv University has proven that even strong antipsychotic drugs will not help with severe estrogen deficiency unless they are supplemented with additional estrogen.
Testosterone improves brain activity and gives you that feeling of self-confidence, basically regulates mood and psycho-emotional state. An excess of testosterone makes you irritable and aggressive, a lack of it makes you sad and apathetic.
Therefore, if you are very sad, do not sleep well, are often irritated and have lost the taste for life – check your hormones first – maybe you don’t need antidepressants.
Fertility: your menstrual cycle and pregnancy
Hormonal interactions between the hypothalamus, anterior pituitary, and ovaries regulate the female reproductive system. It is about such delicate and filigree settings that even the most well-tuned symphony orchestra cannot match it. Your cycle and the ability to have children depend on the correct combination of hormones.
Both high and too low levels of sex hormones, particularly estrogen, cause menstrual cycle disturbances and can sometimes cause amenorrhea (complete absence of menstruation). Painful menstruation, heavy menstruation – this is also here. If ancient women had known about hormones, they would have prayed to Estrogen and Progesterone instead of Aphrodite and Demeter. Spasms in the lower abdomen, gastrointestinal problems and pain, PMS symptoms were associated precisely with a decrease in progesterone.
Finally, it’s progesterone’s turn! He waited a long time. In fact, he consistently fought estrogen every month, reducing its activity, ensuring menstruation, preparing the body for pregnancy and thickening the epithelium. And this happy day has come – the egg is fertilized! Now progesterone will become the main deputy of the SEO Hypothalamus for a whole 9 months. Your hormonal system is undergoing a significant restructuring, so the supervision of an endocrinologist will help you go through pregnancy and childbirth as safely and happily as possible.
If you’ve been trying to get pregnant for a long time and you can’t, you should start with a visit to a reproductive endocrinologist. This specialist may check the work of Her Majesty’s Thyroid gland, the level of hormones necessary for pregnancy and help restore fertility.
Hormones and your look
Yes, your beauty is also a matter of hormones. Moreover, you have a feminine look because of them, or more precisely, testosterone, which is responsible for the formation of breasts and curves (that difference between hips and waist). A deviation from the normal level of this hormone in the body can cause obesity, excessive hair growth, rashes and seborrheic dermatitis.
Due to DHEA deficiency, the skin loses moisture and elasticity, and signs of premature aging appear. The latter symptoms are also caused by a lack of estrogen. And its excess causes us to become overweight.
Of course, other hormones also affect our beauty, but this is another fascinating endocrine story, which we will tell in the next articles.
Just remember: in your body, as in life – communication is a king. Your task is to respond in time to endocrine “misunderstandings” and eliminate them together with your gynecologist-endocrinologist. And we wish you and your hormones only successful “communication”.
More about the magical ways in your body that make you feel like a happy woman are in my courses: Growing up together – a girl becomes a woman, All about you. What it’s like to be a Woman, Everything about you 35+.
And if you are planning hormonal changes in the form of pregnancy, this is the place for you.
Issued by Dr. Silina School of Women’s Health, journalist Maria Zavialova
All materials published on the website “Dr. Silina School of Women’s Health” were reviewed by a gynecologist-endocrinologist, the founder of the educational project, candidate of medical sciences, Natalya Silina.