Every Body Needs Hormones
Your body’s endocrine system features a network of glands that secrete hormones, necessary for a variety of functions throughout the body. These include hormones that regulate growth and cell production, sleep and appetite, digestion, respiration, tissue function, reproduction and mood. These chemical messengers that travel through the bloodstream are produced in various small organs throughout the body, called glands. As they move through the body, these hormones help the various organs and structures to communicate with each other.
Sexual Health, Wellness, and Reproduction
Both men and women produce hormones throughout life that are critical to healthy sexual development, desire, and reproduction. Men also produce hormones for the purpose of strengthening their muscles throughout puberty and young adulthood. As we age however, these hormones related to sexual health in both men and women naturally decrease within the body. This can be a cause for concern in some individuals if health concerns arise or quality of life is affected.
Estrogen: Thickens the uterine lining, preparing it for pregnancy. A drop in estrogen each month triggers menstruation.
Progesterone: Throughout the childbearing years progesterone rises during the second half of the menstrual cycle, (once the ovum has been released from the ovary). If the woman conceives, progesterone levels continue to rise to support the thickening of the uterine lining for the growth of the baby. If she does not, progesterone levels will fall, signaling for menstruation.
Testosterone: Low levels of testosterone, (about one-tenth as much as males) is produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands. This is needed to maintain sex drive and healthy bones, as well as to help preserve cognitive health.
Testosterone: The primary male sex hormone needed for normal sperm development, libido and physical characteristics such as, deepening voice, Adam’s apple, lean muscle and facial hair.
“The Change”—It’s Not Just For Women
Men and “Andropause”
We speak a lot about menopause for women or “male menopause”, but the more correct term is actually, “andropause” which incorporates the word, “androgens” referring to male hormones.
Men historically were biologically “designed” to be providers and protectors. They were the hunters and gatherers and needed great physical strength and muscle mass to carry out these roles. The hormone testosterone is necessary for the health and well being of all men throughout the ages however. It’s considered a “total body hormone” that affects every cell in the body. It helps create muscle mass and strength, boosts energy and libido, and elevates mood, promoting a positive outlook on life as well.
When testosterone levels drop, many men experience a number of physical and emotional changes that can be just as debilitating and challenging as menopause is for women. Lower hormone levels may also put men at higher risk for certain diseases and conditions including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis and hypertension.
Men experience hormonal changes in midlife as well. As men age, testosterone levels naturally drop. This may lead to:
- Loss in sex drive
- Reduction in the production of sperm
- Erectile Dysfunction (ED)
- Weight Gain (around the abdomen)
- Depressed mood
- Loss of lean muscle mass
- Loss of energy
Possible links to:
- Heart disease
- Prostate cancer
Women and Menopause
As women age their bodies naturally begin to slow the production of reproductive hormones. Generally somewhere in the mid 40’s, (though this may begin as early as the 30’s) the onset of perimenopause begins. This is the period before actual menopause where many of the uncomfortable effects of a hormone imbalance are felt.
Common concerns for women generally involve a reduction in estrogen levels and may include:
- Hot flashes—warmth in the face, neck or chest
- Night sweats—profuse sweating at night that can cause sleep disruption, fatigue and tension
- Vaginal changes—thin, dry skin may become irritated during intercourse
- Thinning of bones
- Loss of Libido
- Mood Swings
- Loss of Hair
- Problems concentrating
- Lapses in memory
- Weight gain
Restoring Balance—Traditional or Natural Hormone Replacement Therapy?
A reduction in important hormones that regulate mood, libido, vitality, and energy can be problematic for both men and women in middle age. Functions that once kept both sexes feeling vital, energetic and healthy begin to fail causing loss of self-esteem, and physical and mental limitations.
Traditionally, individuals with hormone deficiencies were limited to synthetic therapies for treatment. Fortunately, natural hormone replacement therapy provides an important option for men and women looking to regain hormonal equilibrium in their lives once again.
While both, synthetic hormones (synthesized in a laboratory) and natural hormone therapies, also known as, “bioidenticals” are chemically similar to the body’s own hormones, each are created differently.
Synthetic estrogens, marketed since the 1940’s are primarily derived from animal sources, specifically a pregnant mare’s urine. Horse urine contains estriol, estrone and estradiol found in the human estrogen molecule. However, it also contains equilin, an additional estrogen molecule specific only to the horse. These hormones are further processed to create pharmaceuticals for human application.
Only bioidenticals are created from plants and herbs found in nature. Bioidentical estrogen hormones contain estrone, estradiol, and progesterone and are made from yams and soybeans by many manufacturers. Bioidentical progesterone is micronized, meaning it is finely ground in the laboratory to be better absorbed in the body. Plant-based hormone material is extracted from the source and may be either formulated into hormones for commercial use, or furnished to compound pharmacies that mix the components into formulas created specifically for individual users.
In a technical sense, the body cannot tell the difference between bioidentical hormones and the hormones produced by the female ovaries. For example, a blood test reflects both the estradiol provided by bioidenticals combined with the estradiol naturally produced in the ovaries.
Premarin, on the other hand, a synthesized hormone is metabolized by the body into forms of estrogen that can’t be measured by standard laboratory tests.
Estrogen levels can be monitored with more precision therefore treatment can be individualized.
An array of FDA, bioidentical estrogens and micronized progesterone are made into a range of hormone products, many of these are available with a prescription at the local pharmacy.
The Risks, and Oversight
Biodentical Hormones—may be delivered to the body in the form of pills, capsules, creams, gels, injections, skin patches and pellets.
Synthetic Hormones—are usually administered in the form of creams, gels, skin patches, vaginal rings, pills, suppositories or sprays.
Effects of Hormone Replacement Therapy
Regardless of delivery methods, both synthetic and natural hormone replacement therapy treatments may carry some health risk. It is important to consult your doctor to discuss the possible benefits of HRT along with the chances of certain side effects or health consequences.
While the federal government oversees pharmaceutical manufacturing processes through the Food and Drug Administration, there is no regulation of compounding pharmacies in the U.S. at present.