Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • August 2017
Written by 

How sex hormones support your bones, heart and brain

Many of the articles available on hormones and hormone replacement therapy focus on the obvious and uncomfortable symptoms of imbalanced hormones: hot flashes, night sweats, foggy brain, erection dysfunction and moodiness. These symptoms are really “in our faces” and they demand attention because of their uncomfortableness. However, there are foundational systems and processes in our body that can be silent until big damage is done. The reality is that every cell in our body requires hormones. They are the chemical instructions our body creates to tell individual cells and groups of cells what they are supposed to be doing. Here are three major systems in the body and how our sex hormones — estrogen, progesterone and testosterone — affect these systems.

Hormones and bones

Sex hormones are very important in regulating the growth of our skeletal system and maintaining mass and strength of our bones. Estrogen stimulates bone formation and plays a crucial role in closing the growth plates. (Growth plates are areas of growing tissue near the ends of long bones in children and adolescents. When they stop growing, the growth plates are “closed” and replaced by solid bone.) Testosterone stimulates muscle growth, which puts greater stress on our bones and also increases bone formation. Testosterone is also converted into estrogen in our fat cells, creating a secondary source of estrogen in our bodies to help strengthen the bones.

Hormone imbalance effect on bones

Osteoporosis, probably the most recognizable of the bone diseases, is more common in post-menopausal women because of their lower estrogen levels. Lower testosterone levels are also connected to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is characterized by a weakening in bone strength that leads to a higher risk of bone fractures. Osteoporosis also causes loss of height, loss of mobility and can be painful.

Hormones and your heart

When it comes to our heart and cardiovascular system, balance of sex hormones is key. Each of these hormones provides benefits at the appropriate level, but higher or lower than the physiologic dose can lead to big trouble. Estrogen has been known to increase HDL (the good cholesterol), lower LDL (the bad cholesterol) and relaxes and dilates blood vessels, increasing blood flow and reducing the risk of a heart attack. Progesterone reduces the risks of blood clots and heart attacks by normalizing blood clotting and constriction of the blood vessels. Testosterone helps to widen blood vessels and improve vascular reactivity and blood flow. It is important to note that testosterone has had some controversial research results when levels of testosterone get too high. This is when balance is crucial. Too much testosterone can lead to metabolites that are dangerous and can actually increase the risk of heart disease. According to The North American Menopause Society, age and time since menopause are critical considerations of the effect of hormone therapy, with more favorable effects noted for women between age 50-59 and within 10 years of time of menopause when starting hormone therapy.

Hormone imbalance effect on your heart

According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of both men and women worldwide. It is related to the process of atherosclerosis in which plaque builds up in the arteries, the artery walls become thicker and blood flow is reduced. There are many lifestyle and nutritional factors involved in heart disease, and balance hormones definitely play a role, as well.

Hormones and your brain

Estrogen in women is known to work on the hypothalamus in the brain, affecting ovulation and reproductive behavior. Estrogens maintain the function of key neural structures and the production of serotonin and dopamine. It affects mood, memory, emotions and motor skills. According to Advances in Pharmacology, estrogen therapy provided at the right time (before the onset of Alzheimer’s) also has been shown to reduce the occurrence of Alzheimer’s. Progesterone plays an important role in protecting and repairing the brain. In fact, progesterone is classified as a “neurosteroid” because of its critical functions in the nervous system. Progesterone actually promotes the growth of the insulating layer called the myelin sheath that protects the nerve fibers and are essential to a properly functioning nervous system. It is a standard treatment in traumatic brain injuries. Progesterone also eases anxiety and facilitates memory and improved cognitive function. Properly balanced testosterone in males has been associated with improved cognitive performance and verbal and visual memory. It has also been shown to increase brain tissue preservation and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Hormone imbalance effect on your brain

Low estrogen leads to a decline in cognitive function, declarative memory and motor coordination, and there is an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Low progesterone levels in pregnant women can lead to developmental problems for the child. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, low levels of testosterone can lead to cognitive decline and increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

As you can see, the natural decline of our sex hormones as we age has a greater effect on our bodies than most people realize. The obvious symptoms of hot flashes, moodiness and erectile dysfunction are just the tip of the iceberg. Even if you don’t have the obvious symptoms of imbalanced hormones, damage can be occurring to essential body functions without your knowledge. This is one of the reasons hormone testing is recommended as part of an accurate diagnosis. It helps to develop a clearer picture of what is happening inside your body. Visit a provider who can help you decide what is the best treatment for your hormonal health! 


References: “Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs).” World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs317/en/.

“Estrogen regulation of mitochondrial bioenergetics: Implications for prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.” Advances in Pharmacology. Yao J Brinton RD.

“Increased Risk of Dementia in Patients with Erectile Dysfunction.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. Chun-Ming Yang, MD. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4616558/.

To find out more, please visit us on the web at www.WiseWomanWellness.com.

Randi Mann, NP

Randi Mann, WHNP-BC, NCMP, is a board certified Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, NAMS Certified Menopause Practitioner and is the owner of Wise Woman Wellness, LLC, an innovative, wellness and hormone center in De Pere. She is an integrative, functional medicine provider offering natural treatments and prescription medications for thyroid and hormonal imbalances including customized dosed, bioidentical hormones.

She combines the best of conventional, functional and integrative medicine to help women. Attend the introductory “End Hormone Havoc — Stay Sane, Slim and Sexy” seminar — offered monthly. Call 920-339-5252 to register. Visit www.wisewomanwellness.com for details.

Website: www.wisewomanwellness.com
Subscribe Today
Community Partners Directory
Find a Newsstand
Community Calendar