When it comes to dealing with your reproductive health, fertility, and menopause, in particular, the subject of hormones will come up a lot. Most people have a basic idea of what hormones are but may not have a full understanding of their function and how important they are.
What are Hormones?
Hormones are chemicals in the body, often referred to as “messengers” because they are made in one organ and then travel through the body via blood and other bodily fluid to other organs and tissues to modify and control bodily functions.
There are four types of hormones in the human body:
- Amino acid derived hormones: Many of these hormones are neurotransmitters that one nerve cell sends to another nerve cell.
- Eicosanoids are also known as lipid hormones because they are made from lipids, which are kinds of fats. These are mostly hormones that send messages near a cell that makes the hormones.
- Peptides, polypeptides, and proteins: These hormones can come in multiple forms of differing complexities. Some examples of these types of hormones include TRH, vasopressin, insulin, growth hormone, and follicle-stimulating hormone.
- Steroid hormones: These hormones are made of cholesterol. Examples include sex hormones like testosterone, estradiol as well as cortisol, the stress hormone.
What Do Hormones Do?
Hormones are integral in so many of your body systems and they regulate a lot of what your body does. Hormones regulate growth, sex drive, sexual development, reproduction, sexual function, metabolism, and thirst among other things. Simply, they let the body know what to do so it will run smoothly. They are integral to our digestive, immune, urinary, reproductive, nervous, cardiovascular, respiratory and skeletal systems.
Where Do Hormones Come From?
Hormones are produced by organs in the endocrine system. These organs are called glands. Hormone-producing glands are located throughout the body. These are the main hormone-producing glands in the body:
- Pituitary: Controls the other glands and makes the hormones that trigger growth. Some refer to the pituitary gland as the “master control gland.”
- Pancreas: Produces insulin that helps control blood sugar
- Thyroid: Produces hormones that help with calorie burning and heart rate
- Parathyroid: Controls the amount of calcium in the body
- Adrenal: Produce hormones that control stress hormone (cortisol) and sex drive
- Hypothalamus: Responsible for controlling body temperature, hunger, and moods. It also controls the release of hormones from other glands and controls sleep, thirst, and sex drive.
- Pineal: Also known as the thalamus, the pineal produces serotonin derivatives of melatonin, which affects sleep
- Testes: In males, produce the male sex hormone, testosterone and produce sperm
- Ovaries: In females, secrete estrogen, testosterone and progesterone
Endocrine Disorders and Hormone-Related Conditions
As with any body system, things can go wrong with your hormones. Endocrine disorders include:
- Cushing disease
- Addison disease
- Disorders of puberty and reproductive function
- Age and reproductive related conditions, like menopause, discussed below
As women age, they will encounter reproductive hormone related issues. This is especially true as they approach menopause or even perimenopause. Usually between 45 – 55 women’s ovaries will stop producing estrogen, which in turn halts menstruation. This is menopause. Before menstruation stops though, your periods may become irregular and your flow will change in heaviness or duration.
Along with this, women will experience other side effects like hot flashes, night sweats, poor sleep and resulting fatigue, memory issues, vaginal dryness, and irritability. But not every woman will experience every symptom and the intensity of the symptoms they do have will vary.
Luckily many hormonal conditions can be treated with hormone therapy. When it comes to hormone therapy to treat menopause symptoms, there are a number of options to consider. You can talk to your doctor about what is right for you as far as types, combinations and dosages, but there are generally four types to you can discuss:
- Bioidentical hormones are identical to the hormones produced in the human body. These hormones include estrogens (estrone, estriol, estradiol), testosterone, and progesterone.
- Hormones from other species are technically “natural” because they are not synthetically created but they are not “native” to human women. The most common example of this is Premarin, a complex mixture of about five estrogens from female horses.
- Synthetic hormones are hormones that mimic the actions of hormones created by the human female body. Many synthetic estrogens are used in birth control pills and are usually well tolerated by most women. The original reason for the development of synthetic hormones was the create a variety of estrogen and progestin that would not be destroyed by stomach acid and stay in the bloodstream long enough to be effective.
- Combination hormonal products combine both bioidentical hormones and synthetic hormones
Dr. Karen Clark is Board-Certified Obstetrician Gynecologist as well as a Certified Menopause Practitioner of the North American Menopause Society. She is an expert at managing hormonal issues for women. If you have concerns about hormonal issues and want to explore testing and treatment options, call (919) 960-2720 to schedule an appointment.