The eight major hormones in women explained. Understand why hormone balance matters and how these hormones affect your body.
When you think of hormone balance you probably tend to think of female hormones like estrogen and progesterone or maybe just associate it with your menstrual cycle and fertility. But there is so much more to hormone balance. Let’s take a closer look at the eight main hormones and why they matter (even if you’re not looking to get pregnant!).
What are Hormones?
Hormones are the most potent chemical messengers in our bodies. They control your metabolism, hunger, mood, sleep, stress, sex drive, fertility and so much more. They quite literally tell your body to do what it’s supposed to do and when.
The endocrine glands—including the pituitary, thyroid, adrenal glands, and ovaries, among others—are in control of hormonal production. The interconnectedness of these glands and hormones create a very delicate balance with each other to keep the body functioning optimally. Your temperature, hunger, satiety, sleepiness, fat storage or burn, stress response, and more all depend on the intricate balance. If you’re feeling burnt out, having missing periods, brain fog (or any of these other symptoms) a hormone imbalance may be to blame.
While there are over 50 different hormones in the body, let’s take a deeper look at some of the main hormones that control how your body functions. Here’s an overview of the eight key hormones and how they affect your body.
This main female hormone is actually a group of hormones. You body produces over sixteen types of estrogens with three major types – estradiol (E2), estrone (E1), estriol (E3). These are produced mainly in the ovaries but adrenal glands and fat cells can produce small amounts. Consider estrogen the hormone of femininity. It gives women feminine characteristics like curves and breasts and also jumpstarts puberty in young females.
Estrogen helps regulate:
- Cholesterol levels
- Urinary tract
- Heart and blood vessels
- Breast health
- Mucus membranes
- Pelvic muscles
- Brain health and function
Consider this the “keep calm and carry on” hormone because of its ability to calm the nervous system. Progesterone is secreted by the corpus luteum which the body produces in the ovary during the second half of the menstrual cycle if ovulation occurs. The primary role of progesterone is to prepare the lining of the uterus for pregnancy. If an egg implants into the wall of the uterus, progesterone is responsible for maintaining pregnancy.
But progesterone isn’t only for baby making. It has a key role in protecting the brain from damage by promoting growth and repair of the protective layer nerve fibers that facilitate communication between neurons. Pretty important stuff, right? And that’s not all.
progesterone helps support:
- Breast health
- Cardiovascular health
- Nervous system health
- Healthy brain function
- Mood regularity
- Easing anxiety
- Facilitating memory
- Promoting healthy sleep
You’ve probably heard of cortisol. It’s the body’s main stress hormone that gets released from the adrenal glands at any sign of stress𑁋physical, emotional or mental. Before you start hating on cortisol, you need it for survival. It plays an important role in providing energy and even waking you up in the morning. However, too much of a good thing isn’t always better. When cortisol runs high other organs can shut down. Important systems like digestion and fertility aren’t top priority when your body is under stress.
cortisol’s role In the Body:
- Mobilizing energy from storage sites in the body
- Breaking down molecules to release energy
- Reducing inflammation and allergies
- Preventing the loss of sodium in the urine
- Helping to maintain mood and emotional stability
The thyroid produces two main hormones – T3 and T4. T3 is the active form of T4, most of which needs to be converted from T4. The thyroid hormones regulate metabolism, the health of our hair, skin and nails, energy, weight, and so much more. And even more importantly, thyroid directly impacts your adrenals, insulin or blood sugar levels, and even what your estrogen. It’s all connected.
T3 helps regulate:
- Heart function
- Muscle control
- Brain development
- Bone maintenance
While you may associate testosterone with men, women have testosterone also. It’s produced in the ovaries (testes in men) and small amounts in the adrenal gland. Women need testosterone but only a little. Too much testosterone can cause issues. For instance, testosterone is one of the hormones elevated in PCOS.
testosterone helps women:
- Healthy libido, spark sex drive
- Turn fat into muscle
- Increase bone density
- Boost mood
- Manage stress
- Support cognitive function
- Signal body to support blood cell production
- Support bone growth
- Give sense of power, motivation and assertiveness
Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas. It’s essential for helping your body regulate glucose levels in the bloodstream. As you eat, your glucose levels rise. This signals to the pancreas to release insulin which binds to receptors on cell surfaces. Think of insulin as the gate keeper that allows glucose into the cells for energy. Insulin is extremely important for hormone balance as stable blood sugar is the foundation of maintaining healthy hormone balance.
InsuLin’s role in the body:
- Transforms glucose into energy
- Helps your liver take in excess glucose from your bloodstream for storages
- Signals your muscle and fat tissue cells to stop breaking down glucose to help stabilize your blood sugar level
- Helps maintain stable blood sugar
Think of melatonin as the “sleep hormone”. This hormone is activated in response to darkness/nighttime as one of its main jobs is signaling to your body to go to sleep and stay asleep. Disruptions to melatonin can impact your ability to sleep and poor sleep negatively impacts your other hormones and overall health. For example, sleep deprivation can increase your risk of heart disease, injury, depression, mood disorders, and diabetes, while decreasing immune activity, gut function, and cognition.
Melatonin’s role in the body:
- Responsible for setting our sleep-wake cycle (aka your circadian rhythm)
Final thoughts on why Hormones matters.
As you can see, hormone’s are quite literally keeping your system working. Meaning in order to feel your best, everybody should care about their hormone balance and getting to and maintaining your hormones to an optimal level. This is especially true for women.
Our bodies are more sensitive to shifts in hormones. And even the slightest shift can throw off the entire system. Just one hormone can create a domino effect that can negatively affect the entire balance. The good news? We have control over nutrition and lifestyle factors that can affect hormone function and production.