Estrogen and progesterone are hormones that are responsible for making a woman who she is. Discover interesting and important details about these two important female hormones.
Gender specific hormones are responsible for the way a man or a woman looks. In women, these gender specific hormones are known as estrogen and progesterone. These are the hormones that cause physical changes when a girl hits puberty and later on in life when she becomes pregnant and experiences menopause.
Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Tropicana Medical Centre, Dr. Nurhazinat Yunus goes reveals the functions, roles and effects of estrogen and progesterone in a woman’s body.
Urban Health: What are the roles of estrogen and progesterone?
Dr. Nurhazinat Yunus: These hormones are produced mainly by the ovaries. Besides the ovaries, the adrenal gland produces small amounts of them too.
Estrogen is responsible for stimulating the lining of the womb and preparing it for pregnancy. Besides that, it is also responsible for growth and for beauty. This hormone helps to maintain skin elasticity, develop the breast as well as a woman’s curves.
As for progesterone, this hormone is important especially during pregnancy as it helps to maintain a healthy pregnancy. It will ensure that the foetus is attached to the womb. The presence of high levels of progesterone can also lead to other effects in the woman’s body such as a feeling of bloatedness, breast tenderness, discomfort and cramps.
There are other hormones in a woman’s body, including testosterone (male hormones) which plays a role in a woman’s sexual drive. Besides that, there’s also another hormone produced by the brain which is known as the follicle stimulating hormone. This hormone sends messages to the ovary when it needs to prepare for hormone production and to release estrogen or progestorone when the time is right.
UH: What are the physical changes a woman experiences during important stages of her life? Let’s start with puberty…
DNY: The ovaries are not mature in a young girl. When a girl reaches puberty her body starts to change.
When a girl’s ovaries begin to develop, it will start to produce estrogen and progesterone. This is when she will develop breasts and a curvy body. Besides that, she’ll also grow taller. On average, this process begins around the age of 10. This why at this age, girls are usually taller than their male classmates at school. However, this does not mean that ovulation will occur at the same time. Generally, a girl will start to ovulate about two years after she hits puberty and this is when she will start begin having her monthly menses.
UH: How about during pregnancy?
DNY: During pregnancy, the hormone levels will adjust as the body adapts to pregnancy. A woman’s estrogen level will increase tremendously and because of this she could start experiencing symptoms of pregnancy, such as morning sickness.
However, did you know that experiencing these symptoms is a sign that your pregnancy is progressing well? These symptoms will usually last about 12 to 14 weeks. After this period, more progesterone is produced. The role of progesterone is to help a pregnant woman’s muscles relax as the womb needs to expand.
At a later stage, estrogen will also start to prepare a woman for breast feeding when the baby is born as well as fat storage for breast feeding.
Towards the end of the pregnancy, another hormone called oxytocin comes into play. This hormone promotes the growth of the breast and milk production. It is also responsible for stimulating the body and creates contractions which helps to induce labour.
You should also take note that after giving birth, a hormone known as prolactin helps to produce milk and works as a natural contraceptive for the body for women who are exclusively breast feeding for the first six months.
UH: So, what happens during menopause then?
DNY: Menopause actually means the cessation of the menses within a period of six months. However, you can start experiencing symptoms (such as insomnia and irritability) even 5 years before you hit menopause. This is known as perimenopause. This happens because hormone levels are already fluctuating tremendously, as your body prepares for menopause.
After your body experiences menopause, your estrogen and progesterone levels will start to drop. This will then put you at risk of health conditions such as osteoporosis, cardiac issues, vaginal dryness and insomnia. Although you may not experience the typical symptoms associated with menopause, this does not mean that you are not at risk of these medical conditions. Every woman is at risk, which is why it is important take good care of your health. Ensure that you have sufficient calcium intake and look after your diet and exercise.
UH: Do hormone levels only change during these stages?
DNY: Althought puberty, pregnancy and menopause are major stages in a woman’s life and affect a woman’s hormone levels, hormonal changes do not only happen during these times. A woman’s hormone levels changes daily and especially monthly as she goes through menstrual cycles.
UH: What do you want women to know about the hormones in their body?
DNY: In my opinion, women need to understand their body. They need to be aware of the hormone changes that you may experience and its effects. Once a woman is aware, she will know how to handle these effects better. For example, a woman may not be happy when she finds out that the backache she’s experiencing during your pregnancy is caused by her hormones and that there might not be any medication to help with that. However, if she understands the cause, she will learn to acknowledge it and make helpful choices such as not wearing stilettos. So, it is importan tto understand the body, and what it does and learn to embrace the changes. However, it is important to keep in mind that if if there are major symptoms, it is best for a woman to consult her doctor for help and advice.
Food is the priority
Dr. Nurhazinat believes women should place a lot of focus on making healthy food choices because this will influence their health. “I once came across a quote that said, ‘Treat your food as medicine or else you’ll need to treat your medicine as food’,” she shares.