Understand your hormones so you can understand your cycle - A Hormone Glossary

By Dr Rocio Salas-Whalen, endocrinologist and the Hormona team.

 

Hey Nona ladies, today we’re talking hormones and how they impact not only your cycle but literally everything in your body, Hormones play a huge part in regulating and coordinating complex body functions such as regulating our body temperature and how we absorb nutrients and most importantly, they regulate our cycle.

Our sex hormones

The four most important hormones for our cycle are Follicular Stimulating Hormone (FSH), Luteinizing Hormone (LH), Estrogen and Progesterone and before we go ahead and give you a full run down of what the different hormones in our body do I wanted to spend a little time explaining how those four hormones in particular work in harmony to create what is know as our menstrual cycle.

FSH and LH are sometimes referred to as control hormones and are both produced in the pituitary gland in the brain. They control the development and release of the follicle. Estrogen and Progesterone on the other hand are produced in the ovaries as a result of the changes to FSH and LH and are therefore called ovarian response hormones.

Our sex hormones and our cycle

When these four hormones are all working together in perfect balance the LH and FSH stimulates the growth of ovarian follicles (these are what we sometimes wrongly refer to as “eggs”, especially when we talk about how many eggs we have left. The follicle contains a maturing egg but only become and egg when it is released from the follicle).They also stimulate the production of estrogen in the ovaries.

These two hormones, LH and FSH, are the most active at the start of your cycle, pre ovulation, and reach their highest levels on the day of ovulation. FSH actually reaches its peak only hours before ovulation. Due to the steady increase of FSH and LH during the follicular phase of your cycle and their relationship with estrogen, remember these two hormones stimulates the production of estrogen, your estrogen levels are also hitting their peak levels just before ovulation.

During this entire time your progesterone has remained low as it is mainly produced by the corpus luteum, the temporary gland that is generated once the follicle has released the egg. This means that immediately after ovulation your progesterone starts to increase and now becomes the dominant hormone. Progesterone is important for pregnancy as it prepares the uterine lining for a potential implementation of a fertilized egg. If the egg isn’t fertilized then the corpus luteum breaks down, your progesterone levels drops and triggers menstruation which essentially is the build-up of the uterine lining in preparation of a pregnancy being expelled.

Hormone fluctuations during the menstrual cycle

How our hormones impact our life

It is these changes in dominant ovarian hormones that characterises how we feel during the different phases. During our follicular phase when estrogen is dominant and high we usually feel pretty good and estrogen is sometimes referred to as our happy hormone. As the estrogen increases so does our mood, our energy levels and productivity. And on the other hand when progesterone becomes the dominant hormone that’s when we start to experience pre menstrual symptoms such as mood swings, fatigue, sleeping difficulties and all around feel a little rough and sensitive.

As you can see in the illustration above there are natural fluctuations to our hormones throughout our cycle and those are absolutely normal, however, sometimes your hormones can become imbalanced. It is actually very common, over 80% of women suffer from hormone imbalance today and most of that is down to our lifestyle and diet. When your hormones are imbalanced you can suffer from a whole host of symptoms ranging from physical symptoms such as hair loss, unexplained weight gain, acne and loss of libido to psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, irritability or brain fog. This is what we at Hormona are here to help with. Our aim is to educate women about their hormones, their impact on our everyday life, to help you optimise your life around your hormones and understand when their fluctuations and changes are healthy but also when they are not. We help women take control of their hormones by balancing them naturally to improve overall quality of life!

Now, enough about us and the sex hormones because there are about 50 different hormones in our bodies all with different functions which is why we wanted to give you a short introduction to the most common ones. So let’s dive into the hormone glossary and keep in mind this is designed as a quick dictionary of some of the most important hormones for women, please note that there are other hormones that are not mentioned in this list.

HORMONE GLOSSARY:

Estradiol: Is one of the three types of estrogen and the most active type of estrogen in women of reproductive age. During the menstrual cycle, increased estradiol levels cause the maturation and release of the egg, as well as the thickening of the uterus lining to allow a fertilized egg to implant.

Estrone: Is the second type of estrogen and it is one of the major hormones found in the bodies of postmenopausal women. Estrone comes from the ovaries, as well as the adipose tissue and adrenal glands. It is less powerful than the other estrogens, and can sometimes serve as a repository for estrogens, and the body can convert it to estrogen when needed.

Estriol: This is the third type of estrogen and the main estrogen made in pregnancy. Estriol promotes the uterus’ growth and gradually prepares a woman’s body for giving birth. It also prepares the mother for labour and breastfeeding.

Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH): FSH is made by your pituitary gland, a small gland located underneath the brain. It helps control the menstrual cycle and stimulates the growth of eggs in the ovaries. FSH helps the egg to mature and to be released, while also stimulating the production of estrogen from the follicles.

Luteinizing Hormone (LH): LH is produced and released in the anterior pituitary gland and is important in your menstrual cycle as its production stimulates the release of an egg from the follicles. If fertilization occurs, LH will continue to stimulate the corpus luteum, which in turn will continue to produce progesterone to sustain the pregnancy.

Progesterone: Progesterone is a crucial hormone of the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. It is produced by the corpus luteum, a temporary gland that forms at the place of ruptured follicle. It prepares the endometrium for the potential of pregnancy after ovulation by triggering the lining to thicken to accept a fertilized egg. It also prohibits the muscle contractions in the uterus that would cause the body to reject an egg.

Testosterone: Yep, women have testosterone but in much smaller amounts compared to men. It is mostly produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands and impacts our sexual drive, energy, mood, bone and muscle health. Too much testosterone can lead to balding, increased muscle mass, facial hair and a deeper voice. It is also common in PCOS and can lead to infertility.

Prolactin: Prolactin is created in the pituitary gland in your brain and this hormone's main function is breast milk production. However, it has also been found to affect the menstrual cycle and fertility, to regulate metabolism and the immune system.

Relaxin: Relaxin is a hormone secreted in the ovary by the corpus luteum and in a pregnant woman the placenta will also release the hormone, as will the uterine lining. Relaxin is important in preparation for childbirth as it relaxes the wall of the uterus and the ligaments in the pelvis while it also softens and widens the cervix. It continues to rise if pregnancy occurs to prevent uterine contractions.

Anti-mullerian Hormone (AMH): This hormone is secreted in the follicles and promotes the development of eggs. The more ovarian follicles a woman has, the more anti-Müllerian hormone her ovaries can produce, and so AMH can be measured in the bloodstream to assess how many follicles a woman has left in her ovaries.

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG): This hormone starts to rise rapidly if the implantation of a fertilized egg happens. It is produced by the cells surrounding the embryo and forms the future placenta. hCG ensures that the corpus luteum continues to produce progesterone during the first trimester to help maintain the pregnancy.

Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH): Is a hormone that is produced in the pituitary gland and its main function is to control the hormone production in the thyroid gland.

Thyroid Hormones- Triiodothyronine (T3) and Thyroxine (T4):  These hormones control your metabolism, weight, sleep, internal temperature, hair/nail growth, energy levels, they help maintain muscle control, brain function and development, heart and digestive functions and are produced in the thyroid gland.

Oxytocin: Oxytocin is a hormone produced by the hypothalamus and secreted by the pituitary gland. This hormone plays a crucial role in childbirth as after a baby is born it promotes lactation. It also plays a huge role in social behaviours, bonding, recognition, sexual arousal, trust, and anxiety which is why it is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone”. 

Vitamin D: Yep, Vitamin D is actually a hormone and about 10% of the vitamin D the body needs comes from our food but the rest the body makes for itself in the kidneys. This hormone controls blood calcium concentration to promote bone and muscle growth and impacts the immune system. The body makes vitamin D in a chemical reaction that occurs when sunlight hits the skin. This reaction produces cholecalciferol, which the liver converts to calcidiol, the kidneys then convert the substance to calcitriol, which is the active form of the hormone in the body.

Serotonin: Is a hormone that enables brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with each other. Serotonin also helps with sleeping, eating, and digestion.

Insulin: Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas and it allows the cells in the muscles, fat and liver to absorb glucose that is in the blood. The glucose serves as energy to these cells, or can be converted into fat when needed. Insulin also affects other metabolic processes, such as the breakdown of fat or protein.

Leptin: Is a hormone made in the adipose tissue and it is crucial for appetite and weight control. It helps inhibit hunger and regulate energy balance, so the body does not trigger hunger responses when it does not need energy.

Cortisol: Is often called the “stress hormone” and is produced in adrenal glands. Cortisol helps control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, help reduce inflammation, has a controlling effect on salt and water balance and helps control blood pressure.

Melatonin: Is created by the pineal gland in the brain and is essential to signalling the relaxation and lower body temperature that help with restful sleep. Melatonin is released in a rhythmic cycle, with more melatonin produced at night when the light entering the eyes starts to diminish. 

Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulphate: It’s a weak androgen made in the adrenal glands which aids in the production of testosterone and estrogens. 

Kisspeptin: Is made in the hypothalamus and affects the production of testosterone and estradiol.

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In collaboration with hormona.io

Hormona is female founded startup based in London bringing better hormonal health to all women. Their goal is to help women combat their hormonal imbalances and live healthier and happier lives with their hormones in check. To learn more about your hormones follow them on @hormona.io or come visit us their website.

 

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