September 17, 2011 | Bernard Cantor MD, FACOG
As I described in my last post, hormones are substances secreted by various glands or organs throughout the body that have an effect on other organs or organ systems either in a positive or negative way. Men and women have pretty much the same hormones but the production of the sex steroids estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone and how they interact with various organ systems is what makes the genders so different.
Men make predominantly testosterone from the testes in a relatively constant amount, with small amounts of estrogen and progesterone either manufactured by the testes and adrenal glands or converted in the fat or liver from other precursor hormones.
Women produce mainly estrogens and progesterone from the ovaries in a cyclic pattern with a small amount of testosterone from the ovaries and adrenal glands.
Major increase in production of these hormones is the hallmark of puberty with its growth spurt and all the secondary sexual characteristic changes that occur in both sexes at that time. Testosterone dominance in the male produces pubic and facial hair growth, bone and muscle mass growth. Estrogen dominance along with progesterone and a small testosterone contribution in the female produces not only the growth spurt in women but also breast development and the characteristic female pattern of fat deposition. Internal changes include the growth and development of the uterus and its ability to respond to estrogen and progesterone hormone changes (menstruation). A woman’s physiology and psyche are intimately connected to her monthly production of hormones, which stimulate, regulate, and control many vital bodily functions. Unlike in the male, female sex steroid levels fluctuate in a specific pattern controlled by the interaction of the pituitary gland in the brain and the ovary. It is these fluctuations that make women so different from men in so many different areas of physical and mental well being.
Because of the normal patterns of fluctuation during the menstrual cycle, women often experience physical symptoms which occur much less frequently in men. For example, migraine headaches occur almost 3 times more frequently in women and most often just prior to menses when the normal estrogen levels have dropped dramatically. Mood swings and ‘PMS’ seem to be caused by the same drop in estrogen levels. Weight gain, high blood pressure, depression, mental fog, strokes, autoimmune disease, endometriosis, breast cancer, and infertility are some of the problems either caused or worsened by hormonal fluctuations.
More on these issues in later posts!