Understanding Hormones, Part 1

Understanding Hormones, Part 1

By now, I am sure that most of us have heard about hormones – but do we truly understand them? Do we know how powerful and impactful they are to our health and quality of life? Hormones are your body’s chemical messengers, traveling in your bloodstream to different tissues and organs relaying important information. I like to call them my favorite ‘gossip girls'. Depending on what information they communicate, where they relay it, and how much they discuss (information relayed) – they can positively or negatively impact our health. Hormones affect your growth and development, sexual function, reproductive health, cognitive (brain) health, metabolism, and mood! My name is Dr. Tabitha A. Lowry, ND and I am a naturopathic doctor and hormone expert that helps humans with vaginas balance their hormones so that they achieve optimal health! So what hormones are specific to us? 

Let’s start with estrogen! Estrogen is the primary class of hormones in humans with vaginas for sexual and reproductive development. However, research has shown that it has over 400 other functions in the body! These functions include; increasing our sex drive, maintaining bone density, regulating body temperatures, improving insulin sensitivity (blood sugar), improving sleep, maintaining collagen in skin, and helping maintain memory. Our ovaries produce egg cells (ova), which are the main source of estrogen for the body. Fat tissues (adipose tissues) and the adrenal glands (which sit at the top of each kidney) also make small amounts of estrogen. Did you know that there are three primary types of estrogen; estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), and estriol (E3)? Let’s discuss all three. 

  • Estrone (E1) is responsible for sexual development, sexual function, and is the main estrogen made during the postmenopausal phase of life. It is produced and stored in ovaries and fat tissues. Humans with vaginas who are obese (having an excessive amount of fat tissue) will produce more estrone. Research has shown that having high levels of estrone can increase one’s risk of breast and endometrial cancer growth. So let’s call this one the potentially “problematic” one. 
  • Estradiol (E2) is the most important hormone during reproductive years (roughly between ages 15-49). It is the main hormone responsible for the growth and maintenance of the reproductive system (vagina, fallopian tubes, endometrium, cervical glands, and breast). During the menstrual cycle, it is responsible for the maturation and release of the egg cell (ova). During conception, it thickens the uterus lining to allow the fertilized egg cell to implant. It is primarily produced in the ovaries, so as we age, the ovaries produce less estradiol and the menstrual cycle stops (perimenopause and menopause phase). It is often used in various forms of birth control and supplemented during menopause.
  • Estriol (E3) is the main type of estrogen in a pregnant person’s bloodstream. It increases throughout pregnancy to help the uterus grow as the fetus (baby) gets bigger. It positively impacts other pregnancy hormones by increasing the body’s sensitivity to them. Its levels peak towards the end of pregnancy to prepare the body for labor, delivery, and breastfeeding. Other functions of estriol include: improving brain function, relieving hormonal headaches, smoothing wrinkles, and it has been used in the treatment of postpartum depression and multiple sclerosis.
Four other important hormones in reproductive health include; progesterone, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), and anti-mullerian hormone (AMH). 
  • Progesterone is produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands. It supports menstruation by preparing the lining of your uterus (endometrium) for a fertilized egg to implant and grow (conception and pregnancy) similar to estradiol. If conception does not occur, the endometrium sheds causing a “period”. If conception occurs (pregnancy), progesterone increases – helping to maintain the early stages of a pregnancy by minimizing uterine contractions. Progesterone also gets breasts ready for milk production (lactation), regulates mood (can reduce anxiety and depression), increases metabolism, and improves libido (sex drive). 
  • Follicle - stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) are produced by the pituitary gland in the brain and work together to regulate ovulation. Ovulation is the release of an egg (ova) from an ovary during the menstrual cycle and usually occurs on day 14 of a 28-day menstrual cycle. FSH stimulates follicles on the ovary to grow and promotes estrogen secretion. A surge (large increase) of LH causes the ovary to release that mature egg around the second week of each menstrual cycle. 
  • Anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) is a hormone produced by cells inside the follicles of the ovaries. AMH gives an estimate of the remaining egg supply, or ovarian reserve. However, it does not predict your fertility. It only indicates the number of eggs remaining, not the quality of the eggs! 

Now that we know the roles of these hormones, how do we know when they are imbalanced or when to seek professional help? 

Signs and symptoms of hormone imbalances include: 

  • Some effects of Estrogen imbalances:
  • Irregular periods: frequent, spread out, extended, and/or sporadic
  • Heavy periods with or without clots
  • Vaginal dryness 
  • Painful sex
  • Breast tenderness
  • Cysts on breast and/or ovaries 
  • Mood changes with weepiness and irritability 
  • Headaches or migraines 
  • Fibroids 
  • Hot flashes 

Some effects of Progesterone imbalances:

  • Pregnancy loss (miscarriage and early labor) 
  • Excessive menstruation (periods) 
  • Insomnia (difficulties falling asleep) 
  • Weight gain 
  • Headaches or migraines 
  • Decreased libido (sex drive) 
  • Pain/inflammation throughout the body 

Some effects of FSH and LH imbalances:

  • Delayed puberty
  • Menstrual irregularities 
  • Infertility
Some effects of Anti-mullerian hormone imbalances:
  • Infertility 
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) 

One should seek professional help when they experience any symptom of hormone imbalances to get a clearer understanding of what you and your body may need. Hormones regulate and influence many activities of our daily lives (sleep, energy, appetite, etc.) and imbalances canmay seriously affect our quality of life. For some, iImbalances can cause various growths in the body (fibroids, cysts, endometriosis, or cancers), or compromise your fertility. If you have any symptoms of hormonal imbalance, you should consult a medical provider as soon as possible. The sooner you learn more and can support correcting your hormone imbalances, the better! 

Keep reading Understanding Hormones, Part 2 to learn more about the hormonal changes during different phases of life and the opportunities to support balancing hormones! 


For more information about hormones or to find a culturally competent healthcare provider, visit our partner Health in Her HUE®. Health in Her HUE ® is a digital network of culturally sensitive healthcare providers, evidence-based health content, and community support.   


Endocrine Society. (2022, January 24). Reproductive hormones. Endocrine Society. Retrieved May 6, 2023, from https://www.endocrine.org/patient-engagement/endocrine-library/hormones-and-endocrine -function/reproductive-hormones 

Hormones: What they are, Function & Types. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved May 6, 2023, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22464-hormones