The Primary Roles Of Sex Hormones

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Your body is composed of a variety of different hormones, including growth and sex hormones, which carry messages between your organs and cells. Hormones are secreted by glands in the endocrine system to help the body stay balanced and function optimally. The main sex hormones include estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, pregnenolone, and DHEA.1Aging is associated with a loss of sex hormones in both men and women. Replacing those lost hormones can restore feelings of well-being, sex drive and sexual pleasure, energy levels, plus reverse muscle and bone loss along with other functions that are associated with aging. By doing this, we can age more slowly and have a better quality of life into old age.2-4


Estrogen is found in greater amounts among women. As a pro-growth hormone, its main function in the body is growth and development. This hormone stimulates fat cells to grow and is a key component in reproduction. There are three different forms of estrogen: estradiol, estrone, and estriol. Estradiol is considered the main player in physiological function. A deficiency can cause several health concerns, including decreased libido, fatigue, inflammation, hair loss, mood swings, wrinkles, brittle bones, and dry skin.5-10 Excessive amounts of estrogen can cause bloating, bleeding, breast tenderness and  mood swings.11


Progesterone is considered the counterpart to estrogen. It is the antagonizer to estrogen-driven growth in the lining of the uterus.12 Progesterone is essential to the premenstrual cycle. It rises during the second part of the cycle to reduce premenstrual syndrome and prepares the uterus for implantation of a fertilized egg. Additionally, progesterone is needed to support a healthy pregnancy, as low levels can result in a miscarriage.13,14 Progesterone is also neuroprotective.15 An imbalance in the ratio of estrogen to progesterone can lead to many problems with PMS symptoms like irritability, bloating, fluid retention, headaches, and fibroids.12,16,17 It works with estrogen to strengthen bones, sustain cholesterol levels, and support libido. Too much progesterone can cause fatigue, dizziness, and an increased appetite.


As the predominant hormone in men, testosterone helps to maintain healthy muscle mass, stamina, and strength. It also supports libido, energy, bone density, memory, and well-being.18,19 Testosterone is also necessary in proper balance for women. A deficiency of testosterone can also have negative effects on women, including low energy, decreased libido and well-being.20-22 A testosterone deficiency in men can cause fatigue, mood swings, low libido, and irritability.23-26 This hormone starts to decline in men around 35 years old, causing an imbalance between testosterone and estrogen. Too much testosterone can cause aggression, depression, impotence, and excessive libido.


Pregnenolone is produced from cholesterol and is a precursor to other steroid hormones, including progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, and DHEA. Pregnenolone levels decline with age, and a deficiency can lead to anxiety, mood imbalances, greater perceived stress, and poor cognitive function.27-30 Pregnenolone levels can be restored to benefit cognitive function, mood, memory, and cardiovascular health. By converting to DHEA, too much pregnenolone may cause acne.


As the most abundant steroid hormone in the body, DHEA is the precursor to testosterone and estrogen. It is released in the body by the adrenal glands. As we age, DHEA levels decline leading to fatigue, mood swings, and cognitive ailments. DHEA helps to stimulate protein synthesis, decrease visceral fat, support bone health, and maintain cardiovascular health.31,32DHEA levels that are too high can cause acne, increased facial hair, skin rashes, and liver dysfunction.


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  11. Bitzer J. Hormone withdrawal-associated symptoms: overlooked and under-explored.Gynecol Endocrinol. 2013 Jun;29(6):530-5.
  12. Kim JJ, et al. Progesterone action in endometrial cancer, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and breast cancer. Endocr Rev. 2013 Feb;34(1):130-62.
  13. Dodd JM, et al. The role of progesterone in prevention of preterm birth. Int J Womens Health. 2010 Aug 9;1:73-84.
  14. Spencer TE, et al. Biology of progesterone action during pregnancy recognition and maintenance of pregnancy. Front Biosci. 2002 Sep 1;7:d1879-98.
  15. Singh M, et al. Progesterone and neuroprotection. Horm Behav. 2013 Feb;63(2):284-90.
  16. Rosenfeld R, et al. Hormonal and volume dysregulation in women with premenstrual syndrome. Hypertension. 2008 Apr;51(4):1225-30.
  17. Silberstein SD. Sex hormones and headache. Rev Neurol (Paris). 2000;156 Suppl 4:4S30-41.
  18. Carruthers M. Time for international action on treating testosterone deficiency syndrome.Aging Male. 2009 Mar;12(1):21-8.
  19. Araujo AB, et al. Prevalence of symptomatic androgen deficiency in men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2007 Nov;92(11):4241-7.
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  22. Glaser R, et al. Beneficial effects of testosterone therapy in women measured by the validated Menopause Rating Scale (MRS). Maturitas. 2011 Apr;68(4):355-61.
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  24. Miner MM, et al. 12-Month observation of testosterone replacement effectiveness in a general population of men. Postgrad Med. 2013 Mar;125(2):8-18.
  25. Lejeune H, et al. [Hypoactive sexual desire and testosterone deficiency in men]. Prog Urol. 2013 Jul;23(9):621-8.
  26. Borst SE, et al. Testosterone replacement therapy for older men. Clin Interv Aging. 2007;2(4):561-6.
  27. Semeniuk T, et al. Neuroactive steroid levels in patients with generalized anxiety disorder.J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2001;13:396-398.
  28. Morgan CA 3rd, et al. Relationships among plasma dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate and cortisol levels, symptoms of dissociation, and objective performance in humans exposed to acute stress. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2004 Aug;61(8):819-25.
  29. Ritsner MS. Pregnenolone and dehydroepiandrosterone as an adjunctive treatment in schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder: an 8-week, double-blind, randomized, controlled, 2-center, parallel-group trial. J Clin Psychiatry. 2010 Oct;71(10):1351-62.
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