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How many times have you or one of your friends uttered the phrase, “Don’t mind me — I’m so hormonal right now”? Most of us have been trained since puberty to “blame” our hormones for everything from food cravings to crying spells. For many, hormones became adversaries — but is that really fair?

Hormones are one of the major messenger systems of the body. They are produced in a specialized tissue then travel through the bloodstream to exert characteristic effects on distant cells. Without hormones, our bodies could not function. While they do cause some unwanted “side effects,” they are huge players in keeping your body healthy.

Genetic males and females are often perceived as having different messengers that exert opposite effects; however, there is more overlap than you think. For instance, did you know that in both males and females, testosterone is converted to estrogen in the fat cells?

Main Hormonal Messengers

While there are many hormones working in our bodies at any given time, only a handful are household names. For genetic females, these can be defined by 4 main groups:

  • Estrogens

These hormones are produced primarily in the ovary. Estrogens are active in many tissues throughout the body, such as the brain, breasts, bones, heart, uterus and vagina.

  • Progesterones

Progesterone is secreted from the adrenal glands and the ovaries. During the menstrual cycle, progesterone is produced by a cyst called the Corpus Luteum after ovulation. Like estrogen, progesterone is also active in the breast and uterus and plays a major role in maintaining early pregnancy.

  • Androgens

Androgens are precursors to estrogens. While testosterone is the most famous androgen, there are several other androgens that are active throughout the body.

  • Thyroid Hormones

Thyroid hormones are produced in the thyroid gland located in your neck. Thyroid hormone plays a role in cognitive development, growth, the menstrual cycle and many other processes in both males and females.

When Should Your Hormone Levels Be Checked?

Checking some hormones, such as Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), is a part of routine well care. Whereas checking other hormones, such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone is only indicated in very specific circumstances. It’s important for you to know that hormone levels fluctuate throughout our lives and what’s normal in one instance may not be normal in another.

What are Symptoms of Abnormal Hormone Levels?

Symptoms vary based on the condition. If you are having rapid changes in weight, excessive fatigue, abnormal hair growth, heart racing, menstrual irregularities, heat or cold intolerance or difficulty becoming pregnant, you may need to have your hormone levels checked. Make an appointment with your WakeMed Primary Care or OB-GYN provider and keep a log of your symptoms so that they can best decide which tests to order.

Is Taking Hormones Safe?

Because of the effects of estrogen and progesterone on cardiovascular and bone health, it was thought for many years that routine hormone supplementation after menopause would increase women’s overall health and well-being. After years of research, we now know that supplementation with estrogen and progesterone is associated with an increased risk of some cancers, blood clots and stroke. For this reason, routine supplementation is not advised; however, in the right patient, a short course of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which would include estrogen, progesterone, or both, is safe and does increase quality of life in the first few years after menopause.

If your thyroid function is abnormal, taking medications (including thyroid hormone, in some cases) is safe and will improve overall health. These medications will need to be adjusted periodically, and your provider will check your thyroid function at regular intervals to ensure you are on the correct dose.


I think the biggest message I want to impart is this: hormones act in an incredibly sophisticated way to maintain your overall health. While not all of their effects are desirous, you should never feel ashamed or embarrassed of your hormones.

About Kathleen Foster, MD, FACOG

Learn more about Dr. Foster’s office locations and her academic credentials.

Thirsting for more knowledge? Check out her sources:

  1. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 141: management of menopausal symptoms. Obstet Gynecol 2014; 123:202. Reaffirmed 2018.
  2. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 532: Compounded Bioidentical Menopausal Hormone Therapy. 2012. Reaffirmed 2020.
  3. Speroff’s Clinical Gynecologic Endocrinology and Infertility 9th

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Kathleen Foster, MD, FACOG