Hormones like estrogen and progesterone regulate the menstrual cycle and are integral to a women’s reproductive system. In estrogen’s case, this hormone can even affect a myriad of other aspects of the body. Understanding these hormones and how they affect the body is essential for understanding reproductive health. Many women also take synthetic hormones, but these can cause unpleasant side effects that women should know about before taking.
Overview of Estrogen
Once a girl or young women reach puberty, her body will start releasing estrogen. This hormone rises suddenly each month during the menstrual cycle to trigger ovulation. Once ovulation is achieved, the level of estrogen decreases. Estrogen is emitted into the bloodstream where it then interacts with bodily tissues to regulate the ovulation and menstruation process. Although it is essential to the reproductive process, it affects many other aspects of the body too, including the brain, liver, heart, skin, and bones. Essential to vaginal growth and lubrication, estrogen also appears to reduce bacterial infections in women.
Once a woman begins menopause, her production of estrogen decreases. This decrease can lead to hot flashes, vaginal itching, irritability, and even memory problems. For this reason, many women prefer to take synthetic estrogen; they may add it to their hormonal birth control. While synthetic estrogen may help manage those hot flashes, it can cause some unwanted side effects. When undergoing estrogen replacement therapy, some women experience leg cramps, nausea, vaginal bleeding, breast pain, and frequent yeast infections. Some studies report that estrogen replacement therapy can increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer. If women do experience these side effects, they should let their healthcare provider know. Often, unpleasant side effects like nausea are only temporary, but if these side effects do not disappear in a few weeks, it is essential to talk to your doctor.
As a woman’s body releases an egg from her ovary during ovulation, the ovarian follicle that enclosed the developing egg cell form a new structure which releases the hormone progesterone. This hormone helps to prepare the women’s body for pregnancy should it occur. If the egg is not fertilized, the ovarian follicle’s new structure breaks down and progesterone production decreases until the next menstrual cycle. Progesterone is essential for conception, pregnancy, and for helping to regulate a female’s menstrual cycle. If a woman does become pregnant, this hormone will suppress any further ovulation and promote the growth of milk glands. During the pregnancy, levels of this hormone will remain high.
Some women take progesterone to guard against endometrial growth. Studies reflect that synthetic progesterone does not effectively balance the effects of estrogen dominance in the body, so it is important for a woman to consult her doctor closely before embarking on a course of progesterone treatment. Taking synthetic progesterone can lead to unwelcome side effects like the increased risk for the development of osteoporosis, severe migraines, increased risk of blood clots, reduced libido, and weight gain. In short, synthetic progesterone is not the same as natural progesterone produced in the body. Hormone therapy that includes progesterone increases the risk for breast cancer, so women must consider carefully before proceeding with hormone replacement.
Progesterone and estrogen are integral hormones in a woman’s body, but as they decrease in production owing to age, they can cause unpleasant effects. However, women must decide whether the side effects of synthetic hormones are something they are willing to contend with should they opt for hormone replacement therapy.