Hormones are all over the place. That’s something women know only too well, as there are numerous hormones which affect a woman’s body over the course of her monthly cycle. The female hormone oestrogen has a particularly big influence, however. In this article, find out what this hormone does and which other hormones also play a role in a woman’s body.
Oestrogen – the ‘female’ hormone
Just as with testosterone in men, it’s actually wrong to describe oestrogen here as the ‘female’ hormone. As mentioned previously in our article ‘The male hormones – testosterone and the like’, oestrogen is also found in men’s bodies. Even so, we will continue to talk of oestrogen as the female hormone here, as it has such a significant effect on women’s bodies and is present in much higher concentrations. Likewise, just as testosterone is what makes men men, oestrogen is responsible for making a woman a woman.
Oestrogen is one of the sex hormones. Among other things, it ensures women develop breasts and grow pubic hair during puberty. Oestrogen also plays a crucial role in fertility. Not only is the female hormone responsible for the production of eggs which can then in turn be fertilised, but it also helps eggs travel down the fallopian tubes. Yet the female hormone oestrogen is involved in much more than just that:
- Controls the menstrual cycle
- Builds up the endometrium
- The muscles in the uterus grow in response to oestrogen
- Prepares for implantation and therefore for a potential pregnancy
- Gives women a ‘female’ voice
- Affects bone formation and metabolism
- Increases the amount of blood in a woman’s body during pregnancy
- Opens the cervix before ovulation
- Controls sexual desire
In women, oestrogen is formed primarily in the ovaries. But the placenta and the adrenal cortex are also involved in providing sufficient levels of oestrogen for a woman’s body. That’s not always successful, which is why women can also suffer from oestrogen deficiency.
Symptoms of an oestrogen deficiency
Oestrogen deficiency usually occurs during the menopause, as the ovaries slowly change the way they function during this stage. As a result, there is a gradual decrease in the amount of the female hormone that is produced. Yet women can also suffer from low oestrogen levels at a much younger age, whether as a result of a disturbance in ovarian function or even as a result of taking hormonal contraception such as birth-control pills.
Oestrogen deficiency can be accompanied by many different symptoms. Not all women will necessarily experience all of these symptoms, and symptoms are also present in different degrees from one woman to the next. During the menopause, a lack of oestrogen can manifest itself in the form of hot flushes, insomnia, outbreaks of sweating and also low mood. Generally speaking, too little oestrogen can also result in a decrease in sexual desire (libido) and drying of the mucous membranes. Consequently, many women suffer from vaginal dryness as a result. In addition, a long-term oestrogen deficiency can also lead to osteoporosis. And low oestrogen levels can also result in cardiac arrhythmia and elevated blood lipids.
Other hormones in the female body
The sex hormones oestradiol, oestron and oestriol
Oestrogen is actually the umbrella term for 30 different sex hormones. The three most important hormones that are defined as oestrogens are oestradiol, oestron and oestriol. These hormones are produced primarily in the follicles in the ovary. We have already mentioned the wide range of processes these hormones are involved in above.
Like oestrogen, progesterone also has a crucial influence on the female cycle. This hormone is also responsible for preparing the endometrium for implantation of the fertilised egg. During pregnancy, progesterone is not only tasked with maintaining pregnancy. It is also responsible for increasing blood flow, thickening the endometrium, avoiding premature contractions, preparing for lactation and improving blood flow to the pelvis.
Testosterone is commonly referred to as the male hormone and the counterpart to the female hormone oestrogen. Yet testosterone is also found in women’s bodies; though at just a tenth of the levels found in men. It is produced in the ovaries, the adrenal cortex and also in fat and muscle tissue. In women’s bodies, it is involved in the following processes:
- Growth of underarm and armpit hair during puberty
- Stimulates sexual desire
- Strengthens muscles and bones
- Helps to lower cholesterol
- Gives women drive and energy
HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), also known as the pregnancy hormone, is only present in a woman’s body during pregnancy. The many different pregnancy tests also work by detecting whether or not this hormone is present in a woman’s body. HCG also ensures a pregnant woman stays pregnant. And it is responsible not just for telling the ovaries not to release any eggs over the next few months but also for ensuring that oestrogen and progesterone still continue to be produced despite the fact ovulation has stopped. High levels of HCG, particularly in the early stages of pregnancy, are also thought to be to blame for the morning sickness that many women suffer from.
The female cycle, pregnancy and many other processes in a woman’s body are influenced by hormones. In this article, we have given you just a brief insight into which female hormones are at play in a woman’s body and how they interact.