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5 hormones all women should know about

02nd December 2015

Hormones are chemicals produced by our tissues, that travel through body fluids and influence many or our organism’s functions. They’re consider “messengers” because they act on different processes, changing the way we behave or develop.

The action of hormones depends on the amounts of these compounds secreted by glands. Some hormones are naturally produced in higher amounts in women, and some decrease with age. These changes influence our body, from development, growth and metabolism to sexual function, mood and cognitive function, appetite and body temperature.

It’s therefore important to know your hormones, what they do and how to keep them balanced, as well as the symptoms that may be experienced in case of low production. Given below is a list of 5 hormones all women should know about – these aren’t the only chemicals produced by your glands, but they’re the ones that affect your mood, behavior and growth the most.

1. Estrogen

Probably the most known of all female hormones, estrogen is the one that ensures the growth and development of female sexual characteristics and reproduction function.The term estrogen refers to a group of chemicals – estrone, estradiol and estriol, all of them produced by the ovaries, adrenals and fat tissue. During pregnancy, the placenta also produces these substances.

Estrogen travels through the bloodstream and binds to specific receptors, affecting the development of the breasts and uterus, as well as the growth and function of the brain, liver, bones, heart and other tissues. It influences the thickening of the uterine lining during the menstrual cycle, and contributes to metabolic processes, influencing cholesterol levels.

Along with vitamin D and calcium, estrogen helps in maintaining strong bones, so it comes as no surprise that the decline of estrogen levels is linked with brittle bones and an increased risk for osteoporosis. In most women the levels of this hormone start to decline around the age of 30, and after menopause, the production gets even lower. This is one of the reasons bones become thinner and break down easier in older women.

The transition to menopause is marked by fluctuating levels of estrogen, which trigger symptoms like hot flashes, increased pulse rate, irregular menstrual cycles, mood swings, breast tenderness and frequent migraines.

As a side note, the chemical is also present in men, but in low amounts.

2. Progesterone

Progesterone is known mainly for its role in pregnancy; this substance is produced in the ovaries, placenta and adrenals, and prepares the body for conception, regulating the menstrual cycle.

Progesterone causes the uterine lining to secrete proteins that are needed for nourishing the fertilized egg, in case of pregnancy. Also, this hormone stimulates the development of the glands that produce milk, in pregnant women. When the levels of this hormone are higher, symptoms like breast tenderness, bloating and moodiness may occur.

3. Insulin

Produced by the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas, insulin is a hormone that controls the metabolism and utilization of energy inside the body, and plays a crucial role in maintaining normal blood glucose levels. Insulin causes the cells in muscles, fat tissue and liver to take up glucose from the bloodstream and convert it to glycogen, which is then stored for later energy needs.

Also, insulin controls the uptake of amino acids by body cells, and prevents the utilization of fat cells for energy production. If insulin production is low or in people who don’t produce insulin at all, glucose is not taken up by cells, so the body uses fat as fuel. This is considered by some a positive aspect, as it helps with weight loss, but can also become a serious health issue.

By keeping glucose levels under control, insulin prevents diabetes and its complications, among which the damage of the blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys.

4. Cortisol

Cortisol is produced from cholesterol, in the adrenal glands located on top of the kidneys. It’s normally produced in stress conditions, but also in the morning and during exercise. Cortisol controls a series of processes and plays a role in nutrition, regulating the energy utilization inside the organism.

This hormone tells the body what type and amount of substrate to use for energy production – protein, fat or carbs – based on circumstances, and can be beneficial in small amounts. However, excess production of cortisol can have serious effects on one’s health, and can lead to excess weight gain, immunity problems and an increased risk for chronic disease.

Elevated cortisol levels over the long time lead to an increased production of glucose, and cause blood sugar levels to increase as well. The compound favors the storage of visceral fat when in excess amounts, and controls appetite and cravings for high-calorie foods. It makes one more prone to cold and flu, to food allergies and gastrointestinal issues, and increases the risk of certain cancers.

5. Oxytocin

Finally, oxytocin is a “good” hormone, which is produces in the brain. Also referred to as the bonding or love hormone, oxytocin is released during childbirth, lactation and sex, and influences behavior and emotion. It has anti-anxiety effects, increases empathy and romantic attachment, and may have beneficial effects in autistic spectrum disorder patients.

Also, this substance seems to protect the intestine from damage, reducing the risk and helping in the treatment of irritable bowel disease. Oxytocin contributes to relaxation and psychological stability.

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