Men & women have hormones.
A good daily natural supply of hormones by our own glands gives us a glow to our skin and to our eyes, a healthy libido, a good and stable appetite, very good overall physical health, very good physical strength, sound and restorative sleep, good concentration levels and memory, and a healthy and balanced mood throughout the ups and downs of life. But a deficient hormone production due to stress or the natural aging process will leave us unprotected and losing youth at an accelerated pace.
Whether you are in your teens or in your sixties, the quality and the amount of hormones that your glands produce daily will determine how healthy and vital you feel and look on a daily basis.
Hormones are molecules that carry messages from more than a dozen endocrine glands and tissues to cells all over the body. Human hormones control multiple health processes including glucose metabolism, body temperature, muscle growth, menstrual cycles, libido, sleep, appetite and hunger, just to name a few.
So what are the hormones of youth, vitality & optimum health?
The answer is: all of them, of course! Hormones are like the many different instruments of an orchestra, and to produce a beautiful symphony of optimal health & wellness, they must play in perfect unison.
Here are the main hormones that should interest us the most for now:
First, we have the so called SEX HORMONES which are pregnenolone, progesterone, DHEA, estrogen, and testosterone.
We also have the so-called STRESS HORMONES, like cortisol.
We then have the THYROID HORMONES, mainly T4 and T3; the PANCREATIC HORMONES with mainly insulin; and the BRAIN HORMONES from the PITUITARY GLAND, like TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) or Corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) that acts on the adrenals and initiates a cascade of events that culminate in the release of the hormones that help us deal with all the various stressors of life (stressors as in “information inputs”).
Cortisol is part of the family of glucocorticoids which are essential hormonal regulators of body functions in internal balance and adaptation to environmental changes and the ups and downs of daily life. It is important to note here that GCs (glucocorticoids) secretion is controlled by the HPA axis, composed by the Hypothalamus – Pituitary – Adrenals Glands working together as a team. Both the pituitary and the hypothalamus are located in the brain, and the two adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys, located around the mid-back.
One super important feature of the rhythmically released GCs is that they have an impact on immunity regulation (1).
Proper production and activity of the body’s own GCs is critical for the management and control of inflammatory events during tissue repair and the elimination of disease-causing microorganisms like viruses and bacteria. Cortisol allows us to jump into action providing us with the energy needed for combating physical or emotional stress, like illness, injury, dangers, confrontation, heated arguments, attending to our children’s needs, or reacting to safety threats. Cortisol signals to liver, fat, and muscle speed up the chemical breakdown of stored sugar, fat, and protein so that we can deal with the various demands of life with sufficient energy.
Illness or health issues are closely linked to cortisol imbalances. “Stress is a killer”, as they say! For instance, too much cortisol leads to the development of Cushing’s syndrome and insufficient cortisol causes Addison’s disease. High levels of cortisol are linked to diabetes, obesity, insomnia, infertility, auto-immune disorders, cardiovascular disease and cancers, to name a few.
In functional medicine we test for cortisol activity in saliva (unlike conventional doctors who test it in blood) to understand how much of this hormone they’re producing and how the abnormal levels are affecting their health.
In humans, testosterone is made primarily in the male testes, female ovaries, and adrenal glands.
Some women have higher levels of testosterone than normal for a woman. This is of course not ideal, which is one of the reasons why it is important to measure testosterone when health issues arise. Testosterone is an “androgen” and will give mainly male characteristics to men and women. This is why women produce small amounts of testosterone, and men produce tons more!
If a woman develops hirsutism (body hair), for example, or increased body weight, or infertility, this may be an indication that her levels of testosterone may be out of range. Many teenage and adult women experience many problems due to either low or excessive testosterone production, and feel lost and worried as not many health providers decide to check their hormones to understand where the problem may be coming from, or if they do, they don’t check them with the right test. In women, low levels of testosterone can decrease sexual drive and stamina and may increase the risk of heart disease and breast cancer. Low testosterone is also implicated in breast cancer. Studies have shown that breast cells exposed to estrogen showed cancer-like rapid growth, but show significantly less growth when also exposed to testosterone. A more recent study published in 2003 also showed that testosterone significantly inhibits breast cell growth, leading the authors to conclude that “…androgens [testosterone] may protect against breast cancer, by analogy with P4 [progesterone] effects upon the uterus.” (2)
Men can also produce less testosterone than they should, and this can happen at any age. When normal levels of testosterone drop in a men, they experience loss of physical strength, reduced libido, poor muscle volume, hair loss, reduced penile erectibility, or their spontaneous erections.
Needless to say that a functional lab test to check levels of sex hormones is the perfect start to identifying the root-causes of many health problems both in men and women.
In humans, estrogens are made primarily in the female ovaries and in small amounts in the male testes and the adrenal glands, brain, and fat tissue of both sexes. The more fat you have, the more estrogen you will produce, and this, whether you are a man or a woman.
Estrogen has over 400 crucial functions in your body, like body temperature regulation, prevention of the development of dementias with age, protection and maintenance of the muscle tissue, regulation of blood pressure, energy and vitality, mood, and sexual interest.
Men need small amounts of estrogen, while women need more.
Men’s estrogen helps them with bone health & cardiovascular health. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) measured blood estradiol (a dominant estrogen) in 501 men with chronic heart failure. Compared to men in the balanced estrogen quintile, men in the lowest estradiol quintile were 317% more likely to die during a 3-year follow-up, while men in the highest estradiol quintile were 133% more likely to die. (3) The dramatic increase in mortality in men with unbalanced estrogen is nothing short of astounding. It demonstrates again that conventional mainstream practitioners (cardiologists, in this case) are not going for the right tests, and are not asking the right questions. And again, cardiovascular and bone health problems can be better understood and addressed by using the right approach: the functional approach. The test for estrogens must be in saliva, but mainstream practitioners test it in blood.
Women’s estrogen dwindles with perimenopause and menopause. This occurs between the ages of 31 and 55, more or less.
With the natural loss in estrogen, women experience a host of unpleasant symptoms like hot flashes, depression, vaginal dryness, anxiety, forgetfulness, insomnia, and weight-gain. Estrogen in women is essential for bone health, mental health, cardiovascular health, and general wellbeing.
The good news is that by going for a functional sex hormones test we get to see how much estrogen your body is producing and whether we need to create a strategy to promote more production of it, or less. This is true for all hormones, by the way.
In humans , progesterone is made primarily in the female ovaries and male testes.
In women, progesterone plays an important role in menstruation, formation of embryos, and pregnancy. In women, progesterone is made in the ovaries until menopause, and after that, the adrenal glands take over. Progesterone helps women with sleep, keeps their bladder healthy, balances estrogen, helps prevent breast and uterine cancer, helps build bone, and helps maintain a harmonious and positive mood throughout life. Since some progesterone metabolites have anti-anxiety effects, progesterone depletion contributes to the increased incidence of anxiety and mood disorders seen in early menopause (Toriizuka 2000).
In healthy reproductive-aged women, progesterone and estrogen are in a state of dynamic balance during the menstrual cycle. Any issues with the menstrual cycle will thus involve an abnormal ratio of these two hormones -estrogen and progesterone- and will need to be properly understood with the right lab test. Progesterone can be successfully measured in urine or blood.
In men, progesterone helps in body temperature regulation, as muscle relaxant, protecting bones from developing osteoporosis, supporting good quality sleep, maintaining a strong immune function, and in keeping the sperm healthy.
Other important roles of progesterone in both men and women are found in lowering cholesterol, down-regulating inflammation even in brain trauma and injuries (4), and lowering high blood pressure.
It is crucial to test your levels of progesterone in cardiovascular issues, anxiety and depression, weight-gain, infertility, osteoporosis, and inflammatory conditions of all types. The best test, will always be a functional test.
These hormones are called T4 and T3, T3 being the active form of thyroid hormone, and not T4.
People of any age can suffer from hypothyroidism (insufficient thyroid hormone production or conversion), but this is more common in adults, and among adults, more common in women who are 5- 8 times more inclined to have an underactive thyroid than a man.
Hypothyroidism destroys the normal equilibrium of the chemical reactions in the body. The entire body’s metabolism is slowed down, and this comes with very unpleasant symptoms like a cold body, hair loss, sleepiness, weight-gain that won’t shift, lethargy, lack of energy, constipation, fluid retention, headaches and migraines, anxiety, depression, muscle and joint pain, reduced heart rate, puffy face, swollen legs, feet, hands and abdomen; agitation and irritability, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel disorder , chronic fatigue syndrome, arterial stiffness, myocardial infarctions, and more.
If the thyroid gland cannot produce enough T4 or cannot convert its T4 into its active form T3, the person will start experiencing a myriad of symptoms and a decline in wellness and vitality. Testing for thyroid health with a functional test that includes RT3 (reverse T3 hormone or a failure to convert T4 into T3), Free T3, Free T4, TPO (thyroid antibodies), reserves of Iodine, Selenium and Zinc, is essential to understand the causative factors in the diseases mentioned above.
THE PANCREATIC HORMONE INSULIN
This hormone helps you regulate your blood sugar. It also helps your body to repair and rejuvenate. Insulin also plays a role in the production of your “happy” brain chemical serotonin to help you stay calm and content throughout the ups and downs of life. Insulin will also stimulate the development of muscle tissue, but if its levels rise high, you’ll promote fat production instead.
When we don’t have enough insulin, our bone suffers, we feel depressed & fatigued, and we can’t sleep.
On the contrary, when levels rise, we develop acne, asthma, depression and mood swings, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and even IBS.
If insulin levels go out of kilter, all the other hormones will be pushed out of their healthy balance too. This means that your entire body will start suffering and that you will feel it and see it in different ways as your body will change in various ways.
One of the diseases caused by excess insulin is diabetes. Another one, is PCOS. So men and women will be badly affected by abnormal levels of insulin.
Measuring fasting insulin in blood is an important step towards understanding the root causes of many health problems.
The best test for this will be a functional test that includes also information on lipids, inflammatory markers, and other metabolic markers like homocysteine and hg-A1C.
1. Dumbell R, Matveeva O, Oster H. Circadian clocks, stress, and immunity. Front Endocrinol (2016) 7:37.10.3389/fendo.2016.00037
2. Dimitrakakis C, Zhou J, Wang J, et al. A physiologic role for testosterone in limiting estrogenic stimulation of the breast. Menopause. 2003 Jul-Aug;10(4):292-8.
3. Jankowska EA, Rozentryt P, Ponikowska B. Circulating estradiol and mortality in men with systolic chronic heart failure. JAMA. 2009 May 13;301(18):1892-901.
4. Sayeed I, Stein DG.Progesterone as a neuroprotective factor in traumatic and ischemic brain injury. Prog Brain Res. 2009;175:219-37.