Women’s Health Glossary

There are many factors that affect your health. Our Women’s Health Glossary helps you understand the many factors that influence your personal hormone balance.

adrenal glands: produce several hormones including cortisol and DHEA. These glands take over at menopause to become the main source of all hormone production in the body.

adrenal imbalance: also known as low adrenal reserve or adrenal insufficiency, leading to adrenal fatigue. This condition occurs when the adrenals no longer produce enough hormone to meet bodily demand and is a result of prolonged stress (emotional, viral, physical). Adrenal support includes adequate rest, exercise, nutrition, and supplementation with physician guidance.

androgens: testosterone and DHEA (anabolic hormones) that build and maintain skin, bone, and muscle. DHEA, the principal androgen in both men and women, is linked to energy, immune function, mood, and mental function. Testosterone is necessary to maintain muscle mass, bone density, skin elasticity, sex drive, and cardiovascular health in both sexes.

bioavailable: the unbound (free) fraction of a hormone that has left the bloodstream to enter target tissues in the body. This unbound fraction is present and measurable in saliva.

bioidentical: hormones derived from natural plant compounds (e.g., soy) and synthesized to duplicate the exact structure and function of hormones produced naturally in the body.

compounding pharmacist: a pharmacist skilled in formulating natural, bioidentical hormone supplements based on tested hormone levels and tailored to individual patient needs.

corpus luteum: formed from the ruptured ovarian follicle that released the egg; it produces progesterone.

cortisol: produced by the adrenal glands, this hormone regulates the stress response, glucose metabolism, and immune function. Cortisol has a catabolic (breaking down) action on tissue when levels are too high or out of balance, leading to low immunities, allergies, and stress-related illness.

DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone): hormone produced primarily by the adrenal glands that converts to androgens and estrogens. Its actions influence energy, stamina, mental outlook, and immune function.

endocrine system: the group of glands that produce the majority of the body’s hormones.

endogenous: naturally occurring or originating within the body.

endometriosis: the abnormal growth of uterine tissue (endometrium) in places outside the uterus such as on the ovaries and other
pelvic structures; associated with estrogen dominance.

estradiol: the primary and most-potent form of estrogen produced by the body during reproductive years.

estriol: the weakest, most benign of the three types of estrogen produced by the body; thought to be protective.

estrogens: a family of hormones (estradiol, estrone, estriol) that is necessary for cellular growth, differentiation of secondary sexual characteristics, and maintaining the health of the reproductive tissues, breasts, bones, skin, and the brain.

estrogen dominance: an excess of estrogen in the absence of adequate levels of progesterone in women (or testosterone in men). It can result from estrogen replacement therapy, menopause, hysterectomy, birth control pills, and/or a decline in ovarian progesterone production. In men, it can result from reduced testosterone production by the testes. In either gender, it can result from exposure to pollutants and toxins (xenoestrogens). The constellation of symptoms ranges from breast tenderness and bloating, to mood swings and depression. Excess estrogens are a risk factor for the development of breast and prostate cancers.

estrone: one of the three types of estrogen produced by the body.

fibrocystic breasts: tender, painful, swollen breasts; a sign of estrogen dominance.

follicular phase: the first half of the menstrual cycle when estrogens build up to trigger ovulation.

follicle stimulating hormone (FSH): pituitary hormone involved in triggering ovulation; elevated levels may mark the onset of menopause or andropause.

hormone: A chemical messenger that travels through the bloodstream to regulate various body functions. Produced in glands and organs of the body and activated in cell receptor sites.

hormone imbalance: a problem stemming from the deficiency or overproduction of one or more hormones, particularly in relationship to the other hormones with which they interact.

hypoadrenia: low adrenal function.

hypothyroidism: low thyroid function, often associated with hormonal imbalance (particularly estrogen dominance) and linked with cold body temperature (feeling cold all the time), weight gain, inability to lose weight, thinning hair, low libido, and depression. Women are at greatest risk, developing thyroid problems seven times more often than men, particularly during years prior to menopause.

hysterectomy: surgical removal of the uterus, which often includes the ovaries (oophorectomy). The resulting total depletion of reproductive hormones causes women to go into “surgical menopause” overnight.

insulin resistance: a term used to describe the failure of the tissues to respond (resistance) to insulin and absorb glucose for energy production; associated with hormonal imbalance (particularly high triglycerides, polycystic ovaries, and excess androgens). Insulin resistance leads to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

luteinizing hormone (LH): pituitary hormone that signals the ovaries to release an egg and to make progesterone. In men, it signals the testes to produce testosterone.

luteal phase: the latter half of the menstrual cycle when progesterone production is at its peak.

luteal insufficiency: failure of the corpus luteum to produce adequate amounts of progesterone upon ovulation; often caused by anovulation.

menstruation: monthly shedding and discharge of the uterine lining and blood from the uterus as part of the reproductive cycle.

menopause/postmenopause: the end of menstrual cycles; cessation of menses for 12 consecutive months, marked by physiological decline of reproductive hormones.

osteoporosis: bone loss influenced by low estrogen, progesterone, androgens, and/or high cortisol.

ovaries: egg-producing female reproductive organs that are primary sources of the female reproductive hormones, estrogen and progesterone.

parabens: Parabens are chemicals with estrogen-like properties, and estrogen is one of the hormones involved in the development of breast cancer. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has linked methyl parabens in particular to metabolic, developmental, hormonal, and neurological disorders, as well as various cancers.

perimenopause: the 5 to 10 years approaching menopause when reproductive hormones fluctuate as ovarian functions decline.

phytoestrogens: plant compounds (e.g. soy, black cohosh) with mild estrogen-like activity; are used as natural alternatives to relieve menopausal symptoms.

pituitary gland: pea-sized gland in the brain that produces several types of hormones that trigger and regulate the steroid hormones. (See follicle stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormones)

polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS): a condition whereby undeveloped follicles (cysts) form within the ovaries. It is seen in women with high estrogen and low progesterone levels, and/or high androgen (testosterone) and insulin levels.

premenstrual syndrome (PMS): a set of physical and emotional symptoms that stem from hormonal imbalances and fluctuations during a woman’s menstrual cycle.

progesterone/estradiol (Pg/E2) ratio: fundamental balance or imbalance between these two hormones; a low ratio indicates estrogen dominance

progestins: synthetic hormones structurally similar to progesterone (e.g. Provera) but not naturally occurring in the body; they suppress normal ovarian production of progesterone and have been shown in studies to have negative side effects.

progesterone: a hormone produced by the ovaries after ovulation and in lesser amounts by the adrenal glands. A precursor to most of the steroid hormones, it has many vital functions, from maintaining pregnancy to regulating menstrual cycles. It has calming and diuretic properties, and enhances the beneficial effects of estrogens while balancing estrogen and preventing problems linked to estrogen excess. Progesterone also facilitates balance of other steroid hormones.

receptor sites: molecules on the surface of the body’s cells that allow specific hormones to pass into the cell (via a lock-and-key effect) to perform their regulatory function.

sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG): a protein that binds to specific hormones in the bloodstream (e.g., testosterone and estrogen), limiting their availability to bodily tissues. It increases with age and excess estrogens.

testosterone: an anabolic hormone that builds and maintains bone and muscle mass, skin elasticity, sex drive, and cardiovascular health in both sexes; the dominant male hormone.

thyroid: gland that produces hormones that regulate metabolism. Imbalances lead to weight gain, cold body temperature, depression, hair loss, etc.

uterine fibroid: benign tumor of the uterus often associated with hormonal imbalance.

vasomotor symptoms: hot flashes/night sweats commonly begin in perimenopause; these stem from hormone fluctuations which impact centers in the brain that regulate capillary dilation and perspiration.

vitamin D: a group of fat-soluble prohormones (hormone precursors), the two major forms of which include vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Vitamin D2 is not found in animals, but is manufactured commercially and is the predominant form for prescription use in the US. Vitamin D3 is the natural-occurring form of vitamin D produced from the reaction of ultraviolet light on the skin. It has been found to be important in protecting the body from a wide range of diseases including breast cancers, cardiovascular disease, stroke, osteoporosis, osteomalacia, autoimmune diseases (such as multiple sclerosis), rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and schizophrenia.