Hormones are the chemical messengers that all humans produce in different endocrine glands.
These chemical messengers play a significant role in improving and regulating an individual’s bodily processes.
The human body’s endocrine glands produce different hormones to perform various tasks. But, some hormones, especially sex hormones, vary among males and females.
Hence, this article will discuss female sex hormones and their roles in the body.
What Are Female Sex Hormones?
Female sex hormones are chemicals that play a crucial role in controlling and regulating female reproductive health.
Generally, these hormones are secreted by different endocrine glands in the female body.
The female sex hormone levels fluctuate at different stages of life, like puberty, pregnancy, and menopause.
These fluctuations help develop secondary sexual characters, boost libido, facilitate pregnancy, etc.
Besides all these benefits, some female sex hormones help improve an individual’s bodily function and general health.
Types Of Female Sex Hormones
Primarily, a woman’s adrenal gland and ovaries produce different female sex hormones.
The three female sex hormones that play a significant role inside a woman’s body are briefly discussed below-
Estrogen in women is the primary and well-known sex hormone. Estrogen is significantly produced in the ovaries of the female reproductive organ.
But, the fat cells and adrenal gland also produce some proportion of the hormone. Additionally, a woman may produce estrogen in the placenta during pregnancy.
Estrogen has been subdivided into four types based on its functions or roles in the female body.
Estradiol: Estradiol is the crucial type that is mainly prepared during a female’s reproductive years. Thus, it plays a significant role in several changes in female characteristics.
Estrone: Estrone is the precursor of estrogen, which is mainly prepared after entering menopause.
Estriol: Estriol is temporarily produced by a woman during pregnancy.
Estetrol: Estetrol is another weak estrogen produced by the fetal liver during pregnancy.
Generally, estrogen is highly responsible for a woman’s sexual and reproductive development after puberty.
Moreover, estrogen has higher importance during important events in a woman’s reproductive health, including menstruation, menopause, and pregnancy.
Besides aiding reproductive and sexual health, the hormone would benefit the brain, cardiovascular system, urinary tract, skin, etc.
Estrogen could help keep the bone strong and dense by collaborating with crucial nutrients like Vitamin D, calcium, etc.
Progesterone is another female sex hormone that plays a significant role in the female body after ovulation.
The ovaries mainly produce progesterone after ovulation. But, some progesterone is also produced by the placenta during pregnancy.
Generally, progesterone levels in the female body are moderate at ovulation, but it gradually increases and reaches the peak level during pregnancy.
A woman requires optimum progesterone for healthy ovulation and pregnancy. The female sex hormone helps in keeping the menstrual cycle regular and stable.
Besides healthy menstruation, the hormone helps the body prepare for a healthy pregnancy.
Progesterone could be beneficial in preparing the uterus lining and suppressing estrogen production after ovulation.
But, maintaining a healthy progesterone level in the body would help avoid certain severe medical conditions.
Generally, women with low progesterone may experience irregular periods, fertility problems, etc.
Pregnant women with low progesterone may increase the chances of premature labor or miscarriage. On the other hand, excessively higher progesterone could lead to breast cancer.
Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone which is present in small amounts in females. The ovaries and adrenal glands produce such a small amount.
But, irrespective of the low concentration, the androgens in the female body could be beneficial in improving sexual desire, regulating the menstrual cycle, and keeping the bone and muscles strong.
Women with higher concentrations may experience specific changes in their characteristics, including hair thinning, body and facial hair growth, acne, smaller breast, etc.
Increased testosterone may sometimes lead to irregular periods and fertility problems.
Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG)
hCG isn’t a commonly discussed female sex hormone, but it offers some essential benefits to a woman during pregnancy.
hCG’s role is to maintain a healthy progesterone level in the body to keep the body warm and ideal for a smooth pregnancy.
Human chorionic gonadotropin is prepared by the cells that develop the placenta during pregnancy.
Generally, hCG production starts around pregnancy, increasing every third day.
But, the hormone concentration gradually drops after the woman enters the 12th week of pregnancy.
Roles Of Female Sex Hormones At Different Stages
Female sex hormones act differently at different stages in a woman’s life. Hence, the roles of these sex hormones at different stages are discussed below-
Role In Puberty
Female sex hormones, especially estrogen and progesterone, are crucial for developing secondary sexual characteristics at puberty.
Generally, females enter puberty at the age of 8-13 years which involves various hormonal and physical changes.
During these years, the body starts maturing and undergoes several visible changes called secondary sexual characteristics.
When a female enters puberty, the pituitary gland produces luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
The commonly observed changes in females during puberty include breast development, height increase, hair growth in the pubic and underarm region, increased sebum production, etc.
Role In Menstruation
Most females enter the menstruation cycle within puberty, i.e., between 12-14 years.
During the cycle, different female sex hormones help in the smooth regulation of the cycle. Generally, the cycle occurs in three phases: the follicular, ovulatory, and luteal phases.
Follicular Phase: Every month, the uterine walls thicken to safely implant a fertilized egg.
But, in case of no fertilization, estrogen and progesterone levels drop, resulting in the shredding of the thick lining that causes bleeding.
Thus, the bleeding marks the initiation or first day of the menstrual cycle.
Further, the pituitary gland produces additional FSH and LH, resulting in new follicular growth.
One dominant follicle will continue to grow due to low hormone levels.
But, the development of the dominant follicle would increase estrogen production resulting in the breakdown of other non-dominant follicles.
Ovulatory Phase: In the ovulatory phase, the LH and estrogen levels increase to the highest levels, and the ovary releases the ready-to-fertilize egg for fertilization.
After release, the egg survives for 24 hours, during which it is ready to get fertilized.
Luteal Phase: The rupture of the follicle causes the release of an egg that travels to the uterus using the fallopian tube.
Moreover, rupturing the follicle releases progesterone that helps create thick uterine linings to receive the egg.
When the egg reaches the uterus, it attaches to the wall. In the case of an unfertilized egg, estrogen and progesterone levels drop from where the premenstrual week starts.
Further, the egg and the uterine linings rupture and leave the body, which ends the ongoing menstrual cycle and begins a fresh cycle.
Role In Pregnancy
Different female sex hormones that help a woman have a healthy and successful pregnancy include estetrol, estriol, and progesterone.
Generally, after egg implantation in the uterus, the placenta starts to grow to provide essential nutrients.
At the same time, progesterone levels increase in the first week, resulting in the cervix’s thickening and mucus plug formation.
The mucus plug is essential for preventing the fetus from harmful microbes and infections.
Besides progesterone, estrogen levels also increase, resulting in several symptoms, including nausea, frequent urination, etc.
But, during breastfeeding, the estrogen level drops to prevent ovulation.
After pregnancy, a woman’s sex hormone levels return to normal levels, which may cause postpartum depression in some women.
Role In Perimenopause And Menopause
Perimenopause is the period before menopause that lasts between 2-8 years in women.
During perimenopause, a woman’s estrogen and progesterone levels start fluctuating and declining steadily.
When a woman gets no periods for around 12 months, the condition is termed menopause. Generally, such a condition arises when a woman crosses 50.
After menopause, the ovaries produce a low but constant amount of estrogen and progesterone.
Decreased estrogen levels after menopause may lead to low libido, osteoporosis, increased risk of heart disease, etc.
Role In Libido
Almost all female sex hormones, including testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone, considerably impact a woman’s sexual desire or libido.
Generally, increased estrogen production helps lubricate the vagina and increases sexual desire. On the other hand, higher progesterone levels may cause a reduction in sexual desires.
What Is Hormonal Balance?
In the human body, hormones do not maintain a specific level throughout life. The levels of hormones, especially sex hormones, fluctuate in different events.
But, long-term fluctuations, i.e., long-term increase or decrease, may cause several severe health conditions and symptoms.
Sometimes, women suffer from issues like hormonal imbalances due to underlying medical conditions or under or oversecretion of different hormones.
Moreover, a few medications may cause side effects like hormonal imbalance.
The common medical conditions that may cause severe fluctuations in female sex hormone levels include–
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
- Hormonal Birth Control
- Being Overweight
- Ovarian Cancer
Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels are the essential female sex hormones that help a woman lead healthy reproductive life.
These hormones play dedicated roles in different stages of the reproductive cycle. But, sometimes, the hormone levels fluctuate considerably, which may cause several medical conditions.
Thus, hormones play a pivotal role as healthy hormone levels are an indicator of good health.