We often associate estrogen and progesterone as female hormones and testosterone as the male hormone. Yet all three of these hormones play a vital role in both sexes.
These “male” and “female” hormones are the chemical messengers that are essential for many critical bodily functions from your metabolism, to your mood, to your sleep cycle. Hormones affect your body temperature and heart rate, your appetite, your sex drive, growth and development, and much more.
There are nearly 50 of these chemical messengers produced by your endocrine glands and for optimal health, they should work together in a complex, harmonic, balanced routine. However, that balance is very delicate and can go haywire very quickly. When your hormones get out of balance by over- or under-communicating, it confuses your body.
This imbalance can happen for several reasons, which I will explain later in this article. While all of your hormones are important, there are five key hormones in both men and women that serve critical functions on their own and also influence other systems.
Let’s discuss the sex hormones found in both men and women, what happens when they get out of balance, and what natural steps you can take to bring harmony back to that balance.
Male and Female Hormones
As I mentioned earlier, men do produce estrogen and progesterone, which are commonly known as female hormones. And women produce testosterone, often seen as the male hormone. This may be shocking to some of you yet it’s true! Men and women share these three sex hormones, along with insulin and cortisol.
Too little or too much of these male or female hormones can have a cascading effect on the others. Male and female hormones are generally created by the endocrine system which includes the pineal gland, pituitary gland, pancreas, ovaries, testes, thyroid gland, parathyroid gland, hypothalamus, and adrenal glands.
When these organs function optimally, they produce just the right amount of the male and female hormones needed to carry out various processes throughout your body. However, it only takes a slight change in the level of hormones to cause an issue,1 so it is best to spot the signs and symptoms of imbalances early so you can take preventative measures quickly to get these back in check. I’ll discuss the signs of a hormonal imbalance later. First, let’s look closer at these five hormones and explore what they do.
Estrogen is best known as the female sex hormone. It is created in the ovaries, although your adrenal glands and fat cells make estrogen as well. In females, estrogen is responsible for reproduction, menstruation and menopause.
Estrogen is made from DHEA, which also produces progesterone, another female hormone essential in menstruation and pregnancy. Estrogen is vital for your bone and blood health as well as your sex drive.
In women, estrogen levels will naturally rise and fall during your lifetime, depending on the stage in life, and will change through puberty, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause.
Men also produce estrogen in their testicles, although a particular form of estrogen known as estradiol is significant for male sexuality.2 Estradiol is essential for men to modulate libido, have healthy erectile function and develop sperm. For women, estradiol is used to reduce symptoms of menopause that occur in the vagina such as dryness, burning, and itching.
For menstruating women, normal estradiol levels range from 15 to 350 pg/mL. For postmenopausal women, normal levels should be lower than 10 pg/mL.3 Optimal levels of estradiol in an adult male should be 10-40 pg/ml and 10-60 pg/ml for estrogen.
Progesterone is a female hormone secreted by the ovaries in women during the second half of the menstrual cycle. It plays an essential role in the menstrual cycle and is especially important in maintaining the early stages of pregnancy.
In women, this female hormone is produced primarily in the ovaries and the adrenal glands. It helps prepare your body for conception and pregnancy, and is also crucial for a healthy sex drive in women.
While progesterone is commonly known as a female hormone, men need optimal levels of this hormone to produce testosterone. Progesterone is produced in men by their adrenal glands and testicles.
Optoimal levels of progesterone should fall below 0.2 ng/mL for men and 5-20 mg/ml for postmenopausal women and women at the beginning of their menstrual cycle The optimal range for pregnant women in their first trimester should be anything from 11.2 to 90 ng/mL.3
Testosterone is a steroid hormone that is secreted continuously by your testicles if you’re a man and in smaller quantities by your ovaries if you’re a woman.4 Most of us know it as the male hormone associated with muscle and bone mass, body hair growth and sex drive. In women, testosterone plays a role in the development of reproductive tissue and bone mass.
Optimal levels of testosterone in women is 15-70 ng/dL, while anything less than 300 ng/DL in men is considered low.5 Psychological and physical stressors such as surgery have been shown to lower blood testosterone levels, which can cause many symptoms including fatigue, hair loss, and loss of muscle mass.6
The main function of this stress hormone produced by the adrenal gland is just that: To respond to stress. However, cortisol also plays a role in controlling inflammation and regulating blood flow. In danger mode, the adrenal gland boosts production which increases heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and overall inflammation.
Cortisol levels vary throughout the day. Your functional medicine doctor will typically want to test your cortisol levels in the morning since that’s when they are at their lowest. Optimal cortisol levels during 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. should be between 10-20 mcg/dL.
Insulin is released by your pancreas, which is located behind your stomach. This critical hormone enables your body to use glucose or sugar from carbohydrates in the food you eat for energy. It helps regulate blood sugar levels from getting too high or too low. If you have more sugar in your body than you need, insulin helps your body store it in your liver and release it when you need it for energy.
If your pancreas does not produce insulin naturally, as in the case of those with type 1 diabetes, you must take insulin regularly to regulate glucose levels in your blood. If your body does produce insulin, yet not enough to balance the sugar in your blood, you may develop hyperglycemia or high blood sugar. This can cause long-term complications including type 2 diabetes.
A blood sugar level less than 140 mg/dL is considered normal. A reading of more than 200 mg/dL after two hours of eating indicates diabetes.7 A blood sugar level below 70 mg/dL is considered low (or hypoglycemia) and can harm you. If it drops below 54 mg/dL it is a cause for immediate action such as drinking orange juice or eating a piece of candy.8
Now that you understand these five hormones and their optimal levels, how do you know if they are in balance or out of balance? Let’s talk about that!
It may seem obvious that women should produce more estrogen than men, and men should produce more testosterone than women. However, virtually everyone experiences imbalanced hormone levels at some point in their lives — particularly us women!
When your hormones are balanced, you will feel less stressed and anxious, have higher energy levels, a healthy sex drive, better brain function, a happier mood and enjoy deep restorative sleep every night. Hormonal balancing helps you feel better so you can live the life you want.
To find out whether your hormones are balanced, ask your functional medicine doctor to check your hormone levels. This can be done through a simple blood or urine test. If you want to test your hormone levels at home, I recommend using the female hormone test from Lets Get Checked. It tests for follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), prolactin, and estradiol through a simple finger prick blood test. You can do the test in the privacy of your own home and then take your results to your functional medicine doctor.
Remember, it is the individual level of each hormone that determines if your hormones are in balance. Conventional medicine tests for isolated hormones on their own, which will not pick up on whether your hormones are out of balance. Let’s talk about how to tell if your hormones are out of balance and what it does to your body.
Imbalances are often a result of natural changes in your body that occur with age, such as puberty and menopause. When you were growing up, hormones triggered bone and muscle growth. They also set in motion the reproductive changes that led to menstruation and fertility in young women, and sexual maturity in young men. This surge of hormones is the cause of acne, mood swings, and other teen issues that affect most adolescents as they mature.
On the other end of the spectrum, hormone production slows as you leave your reproductive years behind. A decline in hormone production is what leads to perimenopause and menopause symptoms in women, and low libido and erectile dysfunction in men entering middle age.
Even small changes in the ratio of hormone levels can cause an imbalance in your hormones. A healthy balance of estrogen and testosterone is essential for sexual development and function, however estrogen levels may increase and cause estrogen dominance in men and testosterone dominance in women. Let’s look at the symptoms of hormone imbalances in both sexes.
Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance
As I mentioned, it is normal to experience a hormone imbalance at some point in your life. It is possible that testosterone levels could be higher than estrogen levels in women and vice versa for men. So how do you tell if your sex hormones are out of balance?
The signs of testosterone dominance in women are:9
- Increased acne
- Deep voice
- Excess hair on the face and body
- Increased muscle mass
- Irregular periods or no periods at all
- An enlarged clitoris
- Low sex drive
- Mood changes
- Reduction in breast size
- Thinning hair.
The signs of estrogen dominance in men are:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Stunted growth during puberty
- The development of male breasts
- Persistent fatigue
- Night sweats or excessive sweating during the day
- Water retention
- Low sex drive
- Low bone density (osteoporosis)
- Mood swings, anxiety, or depression
- Body hair loss
Hormonal imbalances can have other underlying causes beyond the natural aging processes, including:
- Chronic stress
- Elevated blood sugar
- Lack of Sleep
- Thyroid dysfunction (hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism)
- Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) or birth control pills
- Type 1 or type 2 diabetes
- Being overweight
- Endocrine disruptors such as pesticides, herbicides, and plastics
- Steroids and other medications
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in women
Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to optimize your hormone health and find relief from your symptoms, no matter your age.
How to Balance Your Hormones Naturally
Eat a whole-food diet
One of the easiest ways to restore proper hormone balance is to fill your plate with nutrient-dense foods. Omega-3 fatty acids, healthy protein, and micronutrients found in dark leafy greens and purple colored fruits provide a plethora of nutrients for healthy hormone production and regulation. There are a few foods, in particular, I recommend for their superstar ability to regulate these hormones including wild-caught salmon, leafy greens, grass-fed beef, cherries and maca root.
Ditch the Sugar
Sugar and refined carbohydrates can cause blood sugar spikes and mess with your insulin. Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that helps turn glucose into energy and keeps your blood sugar stable. Too much sugar causes your body to release more and more insulin to help control blood glucose levels. This can lead to insulin resistance and eventually to type 2 diabetes. Keep refined carbs to a minimum and save sweet treats for special occasions. Choose natural sweeteners that won’t send your blood sugar on a roller coaster.
Exercise can also increase the production of testosterone in men and estrogen in women. Declining levels of testosterone lead to loss of muscle mass and reduced libido, so finding an exercise routine can help men slow the natural effects of aging. Meanwhile, women experiencing low levels of estrogen can find relief by engaging in daily activity, particularly high-intensity exercises such as running, cycling, or even jumping rope.10 Don’t stress about doing the “right” exercise. Find an activity you enjoy doing and will keep doing. I enjoy moving my body by swimming or doing yoga on my Yogi Bare mat.
Ditch the plastic
Continuous, low-level exposure to these chemicals through the use of plastic water bottles, heating your food in plastic containers or drinking unfiltered water can lead to hormone imbalance.
Get the Sleep You Need
You can maximize quality sleep by eating foods rich in tryptophan, magnesium and melatonin; eliminating alcohol, caffeine, over-the-counter medicines, fatty foods and chocolate; and getting on a regular sleep schedule and creating a bedtime routine. Rest and Restore Max™ is my number one tool to support a healthy sleep pattern. This physician-formulated supplement combines essential amino acids and minerals designed to support falling asleep fast and promotes deep and restful sleep.
In conjunction with these lifestyle strategies, certain supplements can be particularly helpful. A few of my go-to supplements for hormone balance are:
- EstroProtect: supports optimal estrogen balance and mitigates estrogen dominance; helps alleviate the symptoms of PMS and menopause
- Adrenal Support: promotes a balanced stress response and supports adrenal health
- The Myers Way® Multivitamin: provides key nutrients for thyroid hormone production and general wellness
Hormone ups and downs are a fact of life. However, there is a lot you can do to mitigate the effects of this natural process. By incorporating these natural solutions into your everyday life, you CAN find relief from hormone imbalance and achieve optimal health.
What are the female hormones?
What are the female hormones?
Estrogen and progesterone are the dominant female hormones. However, women also produce testosterone, often viewed as the male hormone.
What are signs of low testosterone in men?
What are signs of low testosterone in men?
Some signs a man has low testosterone, the dominant male hormone, includes, erectile dysfunction, infertility, insomnia, low sex drive, night sweats, the development of male breasts, water retention, mood swings, anxiety, or depression, or body hair loss.
Do men have estrogen?
Do men have estrogen?
Men produce estrogen in their testicles, although a particular form of estrogen known as estradiol is significant for male sexuality. Estradiol is essential for men to modulate libido, have healthy erectile function and develop sperm.
- What to know about hormonal imbalances. Jennifer Huizen. Medical News Today. 2020.
- The role of estradiol in male reproductive function. Michael Schulster, Aaron M Bernie, and Ranjith Ramasamy. U.S. National Library of Medicine. 2016.
- Progesterone, Serum. Mayo Clinic Laboratories. 2020.
- Steroid Hormones and Their Action in Women's Brains: The Importance of Hormonal Balance. Juan Pablo Del Río,, María I. Alliende, Natalia Molina, Felipe G. Serrano, Santiago Molina, and Pilar Vigil. U.S. National Library of Medicine. 2018.
- Evaluation and Management of Testosterone Deficiency (2018). Mulhall JP, Trost LW, Brannigan RE et al. American Urological Association. 2018.
- Salivary Testosterone Levels Under Psychological Stress and Its Relationship with Rumination and Five Personality Traits in Medical Students. Reza Afrisham, Sahar Sadegh-Nejadi, Omid SoliemaniFar, Wesam Kooti, Damoon Ashtary-Larky, Fatima Alamiri, Mohammad Aberomand, Sedigheh Najjar-Asl, and Ali Khaneh-Keshi. U.S. National LIbrary of Medicine. 2016.
- Diabetes. Mayo Clinic. 2020.
- Low blood sugar - self-care. Brent Wisse, MD. Medline Plus. 2020.
- What causes high testosterone in women?. Jayne Leonard. Medical News Today. 2018.
- How Exercise Helps Balance Hormones. Piedmont Healthcare. 2020.
- Most Plastic Products Release Estrogenic Chemicals: A Potential Health Problem That Can Be Solved. Chun Z. Yang, Stuart I. Yaniger, V,. Craig Jordan, Daniel J. Klein, and George D. Bittner. U.S. National LIbrary of Medicine. 2011.