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Female sex hormones play a vital role in regulating many functions of the body. As well as helping to regulate the reproductive system and sexual development, female sex hormones also manage appetite, sleep, bone and muscle growth, and women’s health in general.
Primarily produced in the endocrine glands and ovaries, they are released into the bloodstream and behave like chemical couriers carrying messages to every cell and organ.
Female sex hormones naturally change over time. Specifically, during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. As well as after giving birth and during breastfeeding.
Read on, to learn more about the female sex hormones, their fluctuations, and how to help hormonal imbalances.
The two main female hormones are estrogen and progesterone. Women also produce a small amount of testosterone.
Estrogen is probably the best-known female hormone. It plays a vital role in sexual development during puberty, as well as the reproductive system during child-bearing age, and menopause.
Mainly produced in the ovaries, smaller amounts are produced in the adrenal glands and fat cells. Estrogen is also produced by the placenta during pregnancy.
Estrogen levels vary throughout the menstrual cycle and they also fluctuate during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause.
Progesterone aids in stabilizing the menstrual cycle, preparing the uterus for fertilized eggs, and decreasing the production of estrogen after ovulation.
It is produced in the ovaries, adrenal glands, and placenta during pregnancy.
Progesterone levels naturally increase during ovulation and are at their highest during pregnancy. On the other hand, low levels of progesterone can result in irregular periods, difficulties conceiving (in women with PCOS for example), and complications during pregnancy.
Testosterone also helps to regulate the menstrual cycle, as well as women’s libido and it contributes to bone and muscle strength.
It is produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands, but in much smaller amounts than estrogen and progesterone.
During puberty, which usually begins between the age of eight and thirteen, the female sex hormones, estrogen, and progesterone are stimulated.
This happens as the pituitary gland beings to produce more of the luteinizing hormone (LH) and the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
The stimulation of female sex hormones in puberty signals an overall growth spurt, breast development, pubic and armpit hair growth. As well as a broadening of the hips and pelvis, a maturing of the ovaries, uterus & vagina, and the start of the menstrual cycle.
The first menstrual period (referred to as menarche) generally happens within two to three years of the breasts developing. This timeframe can vary from person to person but most women experience their first period between the age of ten and fifteen.
After menarche, women usually have regular menstrual cycles until reaching menopause.
The menstrual cycle happens in three stages, which are largely led by changes in the production of female sex hormones. These stages are the follicular phase, ovulatory phase, and luteal phase.
The first, and longest, stage of the menstrual cycle is the follicular phase. It begins on the day a woman begins to bleed and lasts until ovulation, which can be anywhere from ten to twenty days.
Each month, the uterus naturally thickens to prepare for a fertilized egg. When there is no fertilized egg, the ovaries and adrenal glands do not produce extra estrogen and progesterone in preparation for pregnancy.
These low hormone levels signal the uterus to release its lining, resulting in menstruation.
The pituitary gland then starts to increase its production of FSH, which in turn signals the ovaries to begin growing follicles for more eggs. Hence it is called the follicular phase.
About halfway through the follicular phase, the most mature follicle starts producing estrogen in preparation for releasing an egg. This increase in estrogen also signals the production of LH. As well as a release of endorphins, which results in an improved mood and energy levels.
Estrogen and LH levels peak during the ovulatory phase, causing the follicle to burst and the egg to be released from the ovary.
An egg survives for approximately twelve to twenty-four hours, during which time it can be fertilized.
During the third and final phase of the menstrual cycle, the egg makes it’s along the fallopian tube to the uterus. The ruptured follicle closes and the production of progesterone increases to prepare the uterus for a fertilized egg.
When a fertilized egg does not connect with the uterus wall, estrogen and progesterone levels decrease again and the menstrual cycle begins again.
When an egg is not fertilized, the decrease in estrogen and progesterone levels are thought to contribute to both emotional and physical symptoms like mood swings, a heightened sense of stress or anxiety, and pelvic pain.
These symptoms signify a condition more commonly known as PMS or premenstrual syndrome.
Chasteberry, also known as Vitex, is an herbal berry native to the Mediterranean and Central Asia. These medicinal berries grow on the chaste tree and have been used for their powerful healing abilities since ancient times.
Well known to treat a myriad of conditions associated with the female reproductive system, chasteberry is particularly effective in easing symptoms associated with hormonal fluctuations like premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menopause.
Pelvic discomfort, irritability, premenstrual acne, and food cravings all improved notably.
When the uterus receives a fertilized egg, estrogen helps to thicken the uterine walls to sustain and develop the embryo.
Progesterone increases to strengthen the cervix, thereby protecting the uterus from bacteria. And both estrogen and progesterone work together to prepare milk ducts in the breasts for breastfeeding.
Once pregnant, the female body also begins to produce human chorionic gonadotropin hormone (hCG). This also increases the production of estrogen and progesterone to sustain the embryo.
Additionally, another hormone called relaxin increases during pregnancy. As well as helping the placenta to grow, relaxin prevents contractions from happening too soon.
As soon as labor begins, relaxin helps to relax the ligaments in the pelvis in preparation for birth.
As soon as pregnancy ends, production of estrogen and progesterone begins to decrease and fall back to pre-pregnancy levels.
This sudden drop in hormone levels is believed to be linked to postpartum depression suffered by some women.
During breastfeeding, estrogen levels are lowered. This reduction in estrogen is thought to prevent ovulation, however, this is not the case for all women. So some form of birth control is advised during this time.
Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone all affect women’s sexual desire and overall vaginal health.
Higher levels of estrogen, for example, stimulate vaginal lubrication and increase feelings of arousal. An increase in the production of progesterone, however, can reduce these feelings. And women generally experience a heightened sexual desire (aka libido) just before the ovulatory stage.
Concerning testosterone, low levels are believed to lessen women’s sexual desire. However, more research is still needed to completely understand the influence testosterone can have on the female sex drive.
Undergoing surgery to remove the ovaries or adrenal glands can cause a drop in women’s libido, for instance, which is believed to be linked to the reduced production of testosterone.
Using hormonal birth control methods, which balance hormones, usually signifies fewer changes to women’s libido. And although it can fluctuate during menopause, it is usually regulated afterward.
A natural menopausal process happens in three stages – Perimenopause, Menopause, and Postmenopause.
Perimenopausetypically begins as women approach their late 40s, about 7-10 years before menopause is diagnosed. During this stage, the ovaries begin to produce less estrogen. And fluctuations in the female sex hormone can cause symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, interrupted sleep, and vaginal dryness for up to four years.
Menopause is diagnosed when the ovaries have ceased releasing eggs and the menstrual cycle has not occurred for twelve consecutive months.
In many women, symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, breast tenderness, weak bladder, heart racing, and changes in libido can continue for up to five years after their last period.
However, symptoms will generally decrease in intensity as time passes and the sex hormones regulate.
Post menopause is the term given to the time of life after menopause has been diagnosed. As stated above, menopause symptoms can continue during this phase but are typically less frequent and not as intense.
Due to the lower levels of estrogen in the body, however, postmenopausal women can be prone to conditions such as osteoporosis and heart disease.
That said, even though the symptoms of menopause can seem daunting, healthy lifestyle changes, a nutritious diet, exercise, and natural supplements can significantly help improve quality of life, as well as strengthen bones and lower cholesterol.
The pituitary gland is responsible for maintaining the cyclical release of estrogen and progesterone from the ovaries. And once again it is here that a chasteberry supplement can help.
By slowing down excessive hormone secretion, as well as boosting the production of insufficient hormones, chasteberry helps to maintain healthy hormone levels through all three stages of menopause.
Research on the hormone-balancing abilities of a chasteberry shows that it significantly reduces menopausal symptoms such as mood swings, breast tenderness, pelvic discomfort, and interrupted sleep.
Additionally, women’s health experts have reported that patients taking a regular chasteberry supplement likethe Chasteberry Supplementfrom Intimate Rose have felt a significant decrease in the frequency, as well as the intensity, of hot flashes.
Even though it is perfectly normal for female hormones to fluctuate during certain times of life, long-term or severe hormonal imbalances are not. Symptoms of long-term hormonal imbalances can include irregular periods, vaginal dryness, excess body or facial hair, insomnia, gastrointestinal conditions, and hot flashes.
Sometimes hormonal imbalances are a sign of an underlying condition or they can also be caused by certain medications.
Women should speak with their medical practitioner if they are experiencing any of the above symptoms.
The female sex hormones naturally fluctuate throughout a woman’s lifetime. Changes in hormone levels are usually due to puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding, or menopause.
Female hormonal changes will vary with each stage of life, as well as from woman to woman. But scheduling an annual check-up with your health practitioner will help to diagnose, as well as manage, any fluctuations in the female sex hormones.
Women experiencing acute symptoms of severe hormonal imbalances should schedule a check-up with their doctor.
Time and stages of puberty - https://www.girlshealth.gov/body/puberty/timing.html
What happens during the typical 28-day menstrual cycle? - https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/your-menstrual-cycle
Cappelletti, M., & Wallen, K. (2016) - Increasing women's sexual desire: The comparative effectiveness of estrogens and androgens - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4720522/
Mayo Clinic - Premenstrual syndrome (PMS): Definition
Use of Vitex agnus-castus in migrainous women with premenstrual syndrome: an open-label clinical observation - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22791378/
Menopause basics - https://www.womenshealth.gov/menopause/menopause-basics
Nancy E. Avis,Sybil L. Crawford, Gail Greendale, et al. - Duration of menopausal vasomotor symptoms over the menopause transition - jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2110996
R. Naseri, V. Farnia, K. Yazdchi, M. Alikhani, B. Basanj, S. Salemi - Comparison of Vitex agnus-castus Extracts with Placebo in Reducing Menopausal Symptoms: A Randomized Double-Blind Study - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6887765/