What are female hormones and male hormones? Technically, these two categories don’t exist. The sex hormones estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone are found in everyone but in different proportions and with unique functions. It is the balance of all three hormones in the body that promotes health and vitality. Let’s talk about the work that each hormone does for female and male physiology.
Estrogen is usually thought of as a “female” hormone. In women, it is made in the ovaries, adrenal glands, and fat cells and its levels are higher in those of reproductive age. In healthy amounts, it promotes growth of the uterine lining during the first half of the menstrual cycle, contributes to sexuality in many ways, helps prevent bone loss, and works toward maintaining good cholesterol levels.
In men, small amounts of estrogen are made as a by-product of testosterone conversion. It’s important that these levels remain low. As men age and are more prone to weight gain, the conversion of testosterone into estrogen increases in fat cells. Testosterone also starts to decline naturally with age and this, combined with higher than needed estrogen levels, creates an imbalance. Potential unwanted effects include:
- Loss of muscle tone
- Even more weight gain
- Decreased libido
- Problems with the prostate
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Increased fat in the breast area
What about the “male” hormone testosterone? In males, testosterone is produced in the testicles and to a lesser degree in the adrenal glands. It helps build muscle tone, increases energy, contributes to a healthy libido, and aids in sperm production. Levels decline with age and with high stress in the body.
Healthy levels are also important in women. Testosterone is produced in the female ovaries and a small amount is made in the adrenal glands. The functions of testosterone in the female body are related to those in men. It helps increase libido, promote musculoskeletal tone and strength, and raise energy levels.
As women age and their estrogen levels decline, testosterone can be even more important for a healthy libido and for energy. When testosterone is too high, however, it can lead to acne, unwanted hair on the face and body, polycystic ovaries with resulting interference of ovulation, and aggression among other concerns.
Progesterone is the third sex steroid frequently mentioned for sexual health. In women, it is produced in the ovaries and through ovulation. It performs the following:
- Balances the unwanted effects of estrogen
- Helps the body use fat for energy, maintaining healthy weight
- Prevents bloating
- Calms the body and mind
- Promotes restful sleep
- Protects against breast and uterine cancer
Progesterone is a softening and nurturing hormone in the body. In women, a balance between estrogen and progesterone is particularly important to prevent PMS, mood swings, weight gain, irregular cycles, hot flashes, and a host of other women’s health complaints.
In men, progesterone can help balance the effects of estrogen just like in women. It is made in the adrenal glands and testicles. Its calming effects help lift the mood and encourage restful sleep. Progesterone tells the body to use fat for energy, promoting healthy weight distribution. It prevents fat storage in the breast area and may protect against prostate enlargement in men. Overall, energy and strength is improved in men who have adequate progesterone levels.
Getting all three sex hormones tested can be helpful for both men and women, and the results often offer clues on how to bring more balance to the body’s physiology and prevent unwanted symptoms in the future.