Hormones are substances that are produced by the body’s glands. Throughout the body, hormones perform a number of different functions, and they can control what happens in different bodily cells and organs. They travel throughout the body in the bloodstream.
Men and women share many of the same hormones that perform similar functions in both men and women. But there are also a number of distinctive hormones that are found only in women, or at least in much higher levels in women.
The primary hormones that are more important to women than men are the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are produced mainly by the ovaries, and they rise and fall at different points in the menstrual cycle, as well as when a women experiences menopause. Estrogen actually refers to three different hormones rather than just one. For example, estrone, or E1, rises in a woman after menopause. E2 is estradiol, and it is the main form of estrogen present throughout a woman’s reproductive years. And levels of estriol, or E3, increase throughout a woman’s pregnancy.
Other Female Hormones
There are other female hormones that play an important role in bodily functions unique to women, as well. Follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone, for example, are both produced by the pituitary gland, and they play key roles in the menstrual cycle. For example, levels of follicle stimulating hormone rise at the time of a woman’s menstrual period. And luteinizing hormone levels increase as an egg is about to be released, or ovulation. Finally, when an egg is fertilized, a hormone known as human chorionic gonadotropin is released as a signal of the fertilization and oncoming pregnancy.
Drops in female hormone levels are responsible for many of the bodily changes that occur after menopause. For this reason, some women consider hormone therapy to treat the symptoms of menopause.
SOURCES: National Cancer Institute; Women’s Health Foundation; U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
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