By Kathy Hubbard
Last week we took a look at puberty and how hormones control the developmental change from childhood to adulthood. This week we’re going to talk about how the endocrine system and the hormones those glands excrete affect men and women. Let’s start with the guys.
We already know that there are a lot of hormones, both men and women’s bodies produce. The three that can affect a man’s health the most are testosterone, growth hormone, and cortisol. Testosterone, made in the testes, provides a man with confidence, drive, and a desire to have sex. It’s natural for a man’s testosterone level to decrease with age.
Growth hormones, the pituitary glands work, determine how tall you are, and as you might suspect, will also decrease as you finish going through puberty. The level of growth hormone is inversely related to the level of cortisol – you know, flight or fight – that’s controlled by the adrenal glands.
The higher your cortisol is the lower your growth hormone levels, which leads to gaining weight in all the wrong places, such as your belly. Belly fat is among the unhealthiest kinds of fat in the body because it is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.
“In addition to other lifestyle habits, how much sleep you get can affect your cortisol and growth hormone levels as well as testosterone levels,” an article in Everyday Health said. “Men need to be aggressive about getting enough sleep to keep hormones in balance and get quality REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep during which your body secretes more growth hormone.”
There is a lot of information on the web about testosterone levels. We know that it helps maintain men’s bone density, fat distribution, muscle strength and mass, facial and body hair, red blood cell production, sex drive, and sperm production. And, we know that after age thirty or forty, the decline of testosterone levels is around one percent per year.
Mayo Clinic says that it’s essential to determine if a low testosterone level is due to normal aging or if it is due to a disease (hypogonadism). If you experience the development of or tenderness of the breast, erectile dysfunction, loss of muscle mass, decrease in beard and body hair growth, osteoporosis, difficulty concentrating, or hot flashes, it’s time to discuss with your primary care provider.
Hormone replacement, whether it’s for men or women, can be controversial subjects, so that I won’t get into the fray. However, you should know that therapies are available, and only you and your medico can determine if they’re appropriate and worth the risks.
Women experience hormonal imbalances during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause.
Symptoms of hormonal imbalance specific to women include heavy, irregular, missed, stopped, or frequent periods; hirsutism (excessive hair on the face, chin or parts beyond); acne on the face, chest or upper back; thinning hair or hair loss; weight gain or trouble losing weight; indigestion, constipation and diarrhea, hot flashes, night sweats, and pain during sex.
“Ovulation disorders, meaning you ovulate infrequently or not at all, account for infertility in about one in four infertile couples. Problems with the regulation of reproductive hormones by the hypothalamus or the pituitary gland, or problems in the ovary can cause ovulation disorders,” Mayo says.
Mayo says that your body will decrease its production of estrogen and progesterone around your late 30s. That’s when your fertility begins to decline. “In your 40s, your menstrual periods may become longer or shorter, heavier or lighter, and more or less frequent, until, eventually – on average, by age 51 – your ovaries stop producing eggs, and you have no more periods.”
Menopause is defined as not having a period for twelve consecutive months. Healthline says that some women experience menopause symptoms for up to ten or twelve years before menopause, and some women continue to have symptoms afterward.
“Once you are postmenopausal, your hormone levels will remain at a constant low level,” Healthline says. At this point, you may be at increased risk for osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, depression, and other mental health conditions and suffer from changes in vaginal health, i.e., dryness.
Women with questions about their health can call Sandpoint Women’s Health at 208-263-2173.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at email@example.com.