Hormone Systems 101: The Basics

The Hormone Connection

One key to fully understanding menopause and how it affects your health is to understand the connections between the different hormone systems – how one hormone system imbalance creates imbalances in all of your other hormone systems. Once you grasp this concept, you will understand why you cannot just tough out the symptoms of menopause, and why, instead, you have to restore estradiol and progesterone with Hormone Balancing Therapy (HBTx). Here it is in a nutshell:

  • In order to keep your brain and body functioning optimally and prevent the degenerative diseases of aging, all the various hormone systems of your body need to be intact, communicating, and properly responding to each other.
  • When any single hormone system is not intact, not producing its specific hormone(s) correctly, it creates a total hormone system imbalance. All of the other hormone systems of your body can no longer communicate properly with each other.
  • To restore the necessary balance of hormone systems, you need to correctly restore the missing hormone(s).


Hormone System Hierarchy

The body has many different hormone systems that communicate with one another to keep you happy, healthy, and alive. These hormone systems have a pecking order; some are more important than others. The major hormone systems literally keep you alive on a day-to-day basis. Examples of these major hormone systems are the insulin system and the adrenal gland system. You will not survive very long without insulin or the adrenal gland hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. Your body depends on them for vital functions such as keeping your blood sugar levels within a tight normal range, keeping the pH of your body in balance, keeping your heart beating, and maintaining blood pressure to ensure adequate blood flow to your brain, your heart, and all of the other organs and cells of your body.

Minor hormone systems do not play as vital a role in your immediate survival.  You can survive for many years without minor hormones, but, over time, the loss will undermine your health.

Your thyroid system is an example of a minor hormone system. Another example is your sex hormone system. Although you can survive for quite some time without your sex hormones, you will not feel as good or be as healthy as you would with them. Since the loss of your sex hormone system is gradual and does not immediately make you acutely ill, and the symptoms, if they do arise, are more or less expected, too often this loss, when it first occurs, does not receive the attention it deserves.


Sometimes You Should Sweat the Small Stuff

The absence of obvious, life-threatening symptoms makes it easy to ignore the loss of a minor hormone system like your sex hormone system. Herein lies the problem. When you do, you are unknowingly accelerating your aging process and increasing your risk for developing a degenerative disease of aging. Once past the “classic” symptoms of menopause – hot flashes, night sweats, waking up at night, etc., most women come to experience problems like chronic sleep disruption, fatigue, midsection fat weight gain, and elevated cholesterol levels. These problems are typically chalked up to the inevitabilities of aging or to other issues like stress or genetics. But, in fact, they are due to hormone imbalance, which causes metabolic imbalance, and, ultimately, a damaged metabolism. Unless you recognize what these various symptoms and medical conditions are telling you, you won’t realize that you have a damaged metabolism until, one day, you suddenly become ill, seek medical help, and learn that you have heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s dementia, type 2 diabetes, or some other degenerative disease. See: “Blame It On Menopause“.

That the loss of the sex hormone system contributed to these diseases is not usually appreciated – even by doctors. And, unfortunately, once these degenerative diseases occur, restoring sex hormone balance is not going to quickly undo the fact that you now have a degenerative disease – even if it was primarily caused by the loss of your sex hormone system.

Adding insult to injury, once you damage your metabolism, it takes years to heal. This is one of the main reasons it is so important to use HBTx as preventative therapy. It is so much easier to prevent a degenerative disease than to treat one once it occurs.


Hormones — One For All and All For One

As I have explained in other articles, each individual hormone system communicates with all the other hormone systems – they are all interrelated and interdependent. Therefore, each hormone system, in differing degrees, plays a role in every physiological function. To illustrate this concept, I will use the example of blood sugar regulation within the body.

One of the most critical functions of your body is to make sure that your blood sugar levels are maintained in a normal range—not too low and not too high. If your blood sugar levels become and stay too low, you will not survive. If they become and stay too high, you have diabetes, which can be medically managed. Though you do not die immediately when your blood sugar level is too high, if left untreated, high blood sugar levels are still a problem because they will shorten your lifespan. While neither of these scenarios is desirable, you can appreciate that it is much worse when blood sugar levels get too low than when they get too high. In other words, immediate death is worse than chronic diabetes!

Your body is genetically programmed for immediate survival and, therefore, is designed with multiple back-up systems to prevent low blood sugar levels, thus preventing instantaneous death. This is why, although there is only one primary hormone, insulin, that keeps your blood sugar levels from getting too high, there are four primary hormones, cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenaline and glucagon that prevent your blood sugar levels from getting too low.

Additionally, in order to keep your blood sugar levels within the normal range, your body is “hard wired” to react quickly to any extreme fluctuations in these levels. This is also accomplished by the complex interactions between all of the different hormone systems, with the pancreas, adrenal gland, and sympathetic nervous systems having greater effects than some other hormone systems such as the sex hormone and thyroid hormone systems.


Estradiol Helps Prevent Blood Sugar Highs

Insulin is the primary hormone that keeps your blood sugar levels from getting too high by signaling your cells to take up excess sugar. Your thyroid and estradiol hormones play a secondary role. (Did you catch that? I did say estradiol!) They do so indirectly by making the body more responsive to the action of insulin. When insulin is not present as occurs in type 1 diabetes, these two secondary hormones cannot keep blood sugar levels from going too high. In this case, the effect is immediate and obvious – marked by elevated blood sugar levels, rapid weight loss, excessive urination, and increased hunger and thirst.

In contrast, in the presence of insulin, the lack of either estradiol and/or thyroid makes it harder for insulin to keep blood sugar levels from rising. The body becomes more resistant to the effects of insulin.

So, in order to keep blood sugar levels in check, the body will have to produce and secrete more insulin than it used to. This condition is known as early insulin resistance. Over time, as insulin resistance increases, the body decompensates, that is, it can no longer keep up with the demand for production of extra insulin. When this occurs, blood sugar levels start to rise leading to type 2 diabetes.

All women in menopause who are not on appropriate hormone therapy have some degree of insulin resistance. In fact, at the onset of menopause, many women are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The loss of the sex hormone system doesn’t cause the diabetes per se, but it can be the last straw for an already struggling insulin system. Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer, heart attacks, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s dementia, and strokes.


And the Beat Goes On…

What I have just described – insulin resistance – is an example of a hormone system imbalance, in this case the insulin system. You will recall I have told you that an imbalance in one hormone system will cause imbalances in other hormone systems (note my use of the plural). In the example I just gave, you saw that when the sex hormone, estradiol, is missing (an imbalance in the sex hormone system), it can ultimately cause an imbalance in the insulin hormone system. A compromised insulin system tends to cause an adrenaline hormone system imbalance, which causes a thyroid system imbalance and so on. All it takes is for one hormone system to be “off” and the whole body is adversely affected – just like dominoes. This is the fundamental reason why it is so important to rebalance your sex hormone system in menopause.


Take Home Points

  • All hormone systems are interdependent and interrelated and play a role in every physiological bodily function.
  • Menopause is the permanent loss of your sex hormone system – the loss of your body’s ability to produce the hormones estradiol and progesterone at levels sufficient to keep your other hormone systems in balance and to maintain metabolic balance.
  • The lack of sufficient estradiol and progesterone in your body causes various hormone system imbalances, such as your insulin system. Over time, hormone system imbalances cause metabolic imbalance.
  • Progressively, metabolic imbalance leads to a damaged metabolism and the degenerative diseases of aging.
  • Progressively, metabolic imbalance leads to a damaged metabolism and the degenerative diseases of aging.
  • The only way correct the hormone system imbalance that leads to metabolic imbalance, is to correctly restore the missing sex hormones estradiol and progesterone and rebalance all of the hormone systems of the body.
  • The only safe and effective way to do this hormone restoration and rebalancing is through a protocol called Hormone Balancing Therapy or HBTx.

I hope you found this article helpful. There are a number of other articles you should read to give you additional context for this one. If you haven’t already, be sure to read “Aging and Metabolism – Keeping Your Balance.”


To your health and happiness,

Diana Schwarzbein, MD