Estrogens (estradiol, estrone, estriol) are predominately female hormones, and in adults, they are important for maintaining the health of the reproductive tissues, breasts, skin and brain. Excessive estrogens can cause fluid retention, weight gain, migraines and overstimulation of the breasts, ovaries and uterus, leading to cancer. Insufficient estrogen levels can lead to hot flushes, vaginal dryness, rapid skin aging, urinary problems, excessive bone loss and possible acceleration of dementia. An excess of estrogen, relative to testosterone, is thought to play a role in the development of prostate problems in men. Most scientists now agree that by-products of estrogen metabolism are the cause of both breast and prostate cancers.
Progesterones can be thought of as a hormonal balancer, particularly of estrogens. It enhances the beneficial effect of estrogens while preventing the problems associated with estrogen excess. Progesterone also helps create a balance of all other steroids. It also has intrinsic calming and diuretic properties. It is important in women, but it’s importance in men for the maintenance of prostate health is only now being appreciated.
Androgens (testosterone, DHEA, androstenedione) play an important role in tissue regeneration, especially the skin, bones, and muscles. The principal androgen in both men and women is DHEA. DHEA levels decline with age, and in some cases, supplementation with DHEA can restore energy, improve immune function, lift depression and improve mental function. Testosterone is involved in maintenance of lean body mass, bone density, skin elasticity, sex drive and cardiovascular health in both sexes. Men make more of this hormone, accounting for their greater bone and muscle mass. Androstenedione is a precursor for both estrogens and testosterone, especially in females. It can be produced in excess by the ovaries, especially during early menopause, and can cause some of the “androgenic” symptoms such as scalp hair loss and facial hair growth.
Glucocorticoids primarily cortisol, are produced by the adrenal glands in response to stressors such as emotional upheaval, exercise, surgery, illness or starvation. Cortisol plays an essential role in immune function, mobilizing the body’s defenses against viral or bacterial infection, and fighting inflammation; however, chronic elevated cortisol levels suppress the action of the immune system and predispose to frequent infections. Cortisol levels are highest first thing in the morning, to combat the stress of overnight fasting and to animate the body for the day’s activities.
The brain derives most of it’s energy from glucose, so maintenance of adequate blood levels is a top priority. After a period of fasting, cortisol output increases, and this initiates catabolism, or the breakdown of protein into simple amino acids and their conversion into glucose to feed the brain.
Chronic, excessive stress (emotional or physical), protein deficiency, and lack of nutrients including Vitamins A,C and Pantothenic acid (B5) can cause the adrenal glands to become exhausted, so that they can no longer produce adequate cortisol. This leads to low blood glucose (hypoglycemia), excessive fatigue, and increased susceptibility to infection.