Hormones play a huge role in women’s health. The connection between women’s reproductive hormones, menstrual cycle, and moods has been known in medicine for ages, but finding balance can be tricky when it comes to overall wellness. In this article, we’ll explore the two main female hormones (estrogen vs progesterone) and why it’s so important to get your hormones checked.
Hormones in Women: Estrogen vs Progesterone
Two of the most significant hormones in women’s bodies are estrogen and progesterone. These manage the menstrual cycle and play major roles during puberty, pregnancy, and beyond. When balanced, the body functions smoothly. Because these two hormones are closely linked, imbalances can have a domino effect on other aspects of female wellness.
Estrogen, the “female hormone”, is essential to sexual development and fertility. It stimulates egg growth, vaginal lubrication, and manages uterine fluids. It also affects the heart, brain, skin, bones, fat, and other functions throughout the body. Estrogen is produced by ovaries, fat cells, and adrenal glands.
Progesterone is related to conception and pregnancy. This hormone initiates a thickening of the endometrium (uterine lining) to prepare for a fertilized egg. If conception doesn’t occur, progesterone levels drop dramatically and this lining sheds from the body, resulting in a period. If a woman does conceive, progesterone levels keep building to grow the fetus.
Top Signs of Hormonal Imbalance in Women
There are common symptoms of hormone imbalance that affect women. Hormones can affect our physical, psychological, and emotional states. Dr. Shawn Tassone, a female hormone specialist, notes that many symptoms overlap with varying factors of hormone health.
To help women learn about their symptoms, Dr. Tassone came up with twelve different types of hormone “archetypes”. Many of these common narratives have to do with estrogen and progesterone, though other hormones play a role, like testosterone and cortisol. Below we’ll cover the most common symptoms.
Click here to listen to Dr. Tassone explain women’s hormone health in-depth on the Fempower Health podcast and here to listen to Dr. Jerilynn Prior, who has studied women's health for 40+ years speak about Estrogen vs Progesterone.
Excess estrogen in women can be linked to stress, medication, improper nutrition, or exposure to xenoestrogens (external chemicals that mimic estrogen in the body). Common signs of estrogen dominance include:
Swollen or tender breasts
Extreme mood swings during PMS
Weight gain in the waist and hips
Anxiety or depression
Fibroids in the uterus or breasts
Low estrogen can be caused by various health conditions, but it’s most commonly seen with aging. Many women experience uncomfortable effects of lowered estrogen during menopause. Symptoms of decreased estrogen include:
Frail, weakening bone density
Headaches, especially right before your period
Irregular or less frequent periods
Progesterone naturally rises before your period. But when there’s an excessive amount of progesterone in the body, PMS-like symptoms can be ongoing. These are:
Feeling tired or sluggish
Changes in sex drive
Sadness or weepiness
Increased irritability and agitation
Low progesterone levels can be caused by thyroid issues, PCOS, or menopause. However, other factors can contribute to symptoms. Signs of low progesterone are:
Irregular, short, or missed periods
Although testosterone is known as a “male” hormone, it also exists in lower amounts in women. Sometimes, typically due to underlying health conditions, women can experience higher testosterone levels that cause physiological changes. These include:
Excessive weight gain
Abnormal hair growth (lots of hair or thinning hair)
Loss of libido
Decrease in breast size
Testosterone promotes the motivation to “get up and get stuff done”. The biggest sign of low testosterone in women is feelings of fatigue or simply lacking the drive to go out and be active. Here are more signs:
Anxiety or depression
Getting your hormones tested can identify abnormal levels of estrogen so you can catch such risks early and take action to reach balance again.
Labs and Hormone Tests for Women
There are ways you can get your hormones checked to reveal where your hormone levels are. Before getting tested, note that you might have to get a few different panels done over time. This will help your healthcare provider(s) look at a wider range of results so they can determine what’s going on.
Blood Tests- These are often the most accurate tests for hormones. Results take 2-5 days and can determine important thyroid and vitamin levels in addition. The only limitation is that blood tests only give results for the moment the vile is taken. This is why it’s important to get multiple tests done over time.
Urine Tests - Urine checks can give results in 24-hours and reveal a lot about your hormones. The DUTCH (or “dried urine”) test gives in-depth results: it shows progesterone, testosterone, estrogen, cortisol, melatonin, various vitamins, and how you detox certain chemicals. The downside is these can be expensive and take 3 weeks.
Saliva Tests - Saliva swabs are not as reliable as blood or urine tests. People secrete hormones differently in their saliva, so it’s difficult to read these results accurately. Note: saliva tests are accurate for cortisol— but typically not for sex hormones.
There are several tests you can order from home. It’s recommended to review all lab results with your doctor. If cost is an issue, contact your insurance provider because many times you can get them to cover lab charges.
Because female sex hormones (mainly, estrogen and progesterone) aren’t vital to survival, they tend to fluctuate drastically from woman to woman. The goal of figuring out your hormone levels is to get you back on track to living a balanced lifestyle that lets you make empowered decisions about your health and fertility.
When to Get Your Hormones Checked
You might relate to various signs and symptoms in this article. If you notice any ongoing negative changes to your menstrual cycle, mood, or energy levels, it might be a good idea to get your hormones checked.
With so many stressors in the modern world, many women are living with imbalanced hormones. But these imbalances shouldn’t affect your quality of life. The first step is to learn about your hormones and start getting your hormones checked before symptoms get worse.
Want to learn more about hormones? Check out this Fempower Health Spotify Podcast Playlist on all episode topics covering hormones.