WebMD defines a hormone as: A chemical substance, formed in one organ or part of the body and carried in the blood to another organ or part where they exert functional effects; depending on the specificity of their effects, hormones can alter the functional activity, and sometimes the structure, of just one organ or tissue or various numbers of them. Various hormones are formed by ductless glands, but molecules such as secretin, cholecystokinin/somatostatin, formed in the gastrointestinal tract, by definition are also hormones. The definition of hormone has been recently extended to chemical substances formed by cells and acting on neighboring cells (i.e., paracrine function) or the same cells that produce them (i.e., autocrine function).
Female sex hormones
The most important hormones made by the ovaries are known as female sex hormones (sex steroids) – and the two main ones are estrogen and progesterone. The ovaries also produce some of the male hormone, testosterone.
During puberty, estrogen stimulates breast development and causes the vagina, uterus (womb) and Fallopian tubes (that carry eggs to the womb) to mature.
It also plays a role in the growth spurt and alters the distribution of fat on a girl’s body, typically resulting in more being deposited around the hips, buttocks and thighs. Testosterone helps to promote muscle and bone growth.
From puberty onwards, LH (luteinizing hormone), FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), estrogen and progesterone all play a vital part in regulating a woman’s menstrual cycle, which results in her periods.
Each individual hormone follows its own pattern, rising and falling at different points in the cycle, but together they produce a predictable chain of events.
A woman is said to have reached menopause when she has not had a period for twelve consecutive months. The average age for this occurrence is 51.
Over five to ten years leading up to a woman’s last period, the normal functioning of her ovaries begins to deteriorate. This can cause her menstrual cycle to become shorter or longer, and sometimes it becomes quite erratic. Periods may become heavier or lighter.
Eventually, the ovaries produce so little estrogen that the lining of the womb fails to thicken up and so periods stop altogether.
The marked loss of estrogen in a woman’s body that occurs around, and after, menopause can, cause uncomfortable symptoms, such as hot flushes, vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, and night sweats. Hormonal decreases also can lead to irritability, poor concentration and for some women depression.
Hormonal replacement therapy in a pharmaceutical preparation, bioidentical, or herbal supplement can help alleviate symptoms during this transitional period. Before starting on any regime, speak with your practitioner and discuss the right plan for you and your lifestyle.
Are any of you taking anything for your menopausal symptoms? What works for you and what doesn’t? We want to know.