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Media Coverage

Understanding Hormones

Column by Linda Long, M.D., - Tidewater Women, December 2008

Understanding your body's hormones can make a world of difference in your health. While there are conflicting reports and studies on restoring hormones to normal levels, I can tell you from patient experience and from nearly two decades as a doctor that hormone therapy can mean the difference between misery and enjoyment in your mid to later years.

Each of our body’s hormones exists in a delicate balance with each other, creating a chemical environment that allows our bodies to function normally. When that balance is thrown off because of menopause, women can experience hot flashes, mood changes, sleep disturbances, painful sex, weight gain, and loss of energy.

Our middle-aged and golden years should be golden in more than name. By blending modern medicine with complementary and alternative medicine, they can be. Following is information on the functions and benefits of your most important hormones, as well as the symptoms a depletion of them may cause.

Estrogen is one of the most important hormones and has far-reaching effects in most women. When it drops abruptly at the time of menopause, its effects can be life altering. Being aware of this and replenishing estrogen prevents tooth loss, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, sleep problems, and colon cancer. Overwhelmingly, in quality of life studies, women say they feel much better when they are on estrogen than without it.

Estrogen is also one of the most powerful weapons modern medicine has against cardiovascular disease. An estimated 70 percent of women in the U.S. will die from either cardiovascular disease or stroke, yet estrogen remains underutilized for its preventive benefits. Estrogen raises good cholesterol-HDL and lowers bad cholesterol-LDL, and is one of the most effective preventions of bone loss or osteoporosis.

Progesterone, produced by the ovary, is estrogen’s important partner in women’s hormonal health. Progesterone protects the uterus and the breast from the stimulant effects of estrogen. It is our calming "feel good" hormone. Decreases in the level of progesterone can lead to irregular menstrual cycles, symptoms of PMS, water retention, and bloating. This hormone also acts with estrogen to protect against osteoporosis and heart disease. It is a powerful sleep aid as well.

The thyroid hormone is the "all controlling" hormone for many women. Without it, we have no energy and our mood is poor; skin and hair become thin and brittle; it becomes difficult to lose weight even when eating right and exercising; exhaustion and joint pain are the norm; our hands and feet stay cold even when everyone else is hot; and the ability to focus and learn new things is diminished.

Patients with a decreased level of thyroid hormone have elevated cholesterol which increases the already high risk of heart disease. Laboratory testing does not always detect patients with inadequate levels of thyroid hormone. This deficiency is best detected by a combination of laboratory testing and patient history. Listening to patient symptoms and believing the patient when she tells you how she feels is very important.

Testosterone is frequently thought of as a male hormone, but it plays a vital role in women’s health. Testosterone is responsible for our sex drive, which explains the tremendous drop in desire many women experience as a result of menopause. It also helps maintain muscle tone, which in turn helps us burn more calories even at rest and results in greater weight loss while dieting.

Testosterone is an important factor for mood and helps keep depression and lethargy at bay. Many marriages have been saved during menopause by replenishing testosterone through hormonal therapy.

DHEA is an important adrenal hormone that also drops as we age. DHEA is an important factor in mood, memory, and our immune function. It helps prevent the "pooch" of abdominal fat from the belly button to the top of the legs that many women find difficult to prevent after menopause. It also plays a role in healthy female desire.

Hormone therapy has its critics, but it also has a large base of supportive doctors and patients who've used it to prevent poor quality of life, loss of energy, bone fractures, tooth loss, high cholesterol, loss of independence, depression, and thin hair and skin.

Pay attention to your body and its hormones, and live life to the fullest.

Dr. Linda Long, M.D., is the co-founder of Synergy in Chesapeake, an integrative medicine center for women. She is a board certified gynecologist and an expert in bioidentical hormone replacement and anti-aging medicine. She can be reached at (757) 410-5462 or visit

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