Female Hormones 101

Published on June 28, 2024

By Kristen Boye BS, Natural Health

Kristen Boye

Kristen Boye is a natural health expert, writer, copywriter, and editor. Kristen was raised on an organic farm in British Columbia which inspired her life’s work. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Health, is a Certified Natural Foods Chef, co-owner of a medicinal herb farm, and is a natural foods and children’s health advocate. Kristen lives with her husband and two children on their medicinal herb farm in Western North Carolina.

Hormones are one of the body's great mysteries. 

We know they're important and matter, but we are often unsure what they do or how they impact health and wellness. 

Here, we take an in-depth look at female hormones and how they impact menstruation. 

Disclaimer: For this article, the term "women" refers to individuals assigned as biologically female at birth. We recognize that gender identity is a personal and complex matter and do not intend to exclude or invalidate the experiences of individuals who identify differently. We acknowledge and support the diversity of gender identities and expressions.

What Are Hormones?

Hormones are integral to women's health (and men’s) during all life stages. 

However, their mention is usually limited to the sex hormones during puberty, menstruation, and menopause, often only in reference to emotional health. 

These undervalued offspring of the body's glands perform diverse functions, supporting everything from hunger to sleep-wake cycles.

Hormones promote crucial aspects of health, such as the body's fight-or-flight impulse and programmed cellular death (apoptosis).

Simply put, hormones are the body's messengers. Secreted into the blood, they carry vital information to organs and tissues. 

When the hormones function normally, the body's systems also function normally. 

Compare the body's complex system of hormones to your mobile phone network. 

For your device to function normally, you need to be within your network's range or have a Wi-Fi connection. However, sometimes calls are dropped, you run out of data for the month, or your battery dies.

The hormones with which most people are familiar are the sex hormones, particularly estrogen and progesterone in women. 

While those hormones tend to get the most attention during puberty, a woman's body works to keep the hormones in normal balance at every point from menarche through menopause.

How Do Hormones Affect Menstrual Health?

To understand hormones' role in the body, we’ll first examine the menstrual cycle and the normal ebbs and flows of hormones accompanying it. 

Menstruation is one of the processes in a woman's body that is heavily regulated by female sex hormones. 

There are several hormones at play. 

In addition to estrogen and progesterone, two other hormones are related to a woman's cycle: 

  • Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), 
  • And luteinizing hormone (LH).

These are brain hormones that help regulate ovarian activity. These all play a role in menstrual flow.

Hormonal imbalances can lead to numerous health issues.

These may include:

In most cases, these problems can be addressed with a hormone-balancing regimen or medication (such as birth control).

Cyclic Issues Caused by Hormone Activity

Progesterone levels tend to drop at different points during a woman's cycle. This can cause menstrual irregularities such as hot flashes and PMS symptoms. 

Irregular periods, menopausal symptoms, menstrual cramps, and certain health conditions can also be attributed to imbalanced hormone levels in the body.

For instance, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is caused by an imbalance of progesterone and estrogen. Besides period pain, it can also cause emotional symptoms (such as irritability or mood swings). 

This is why a woman's health should be closely monitored to ensure her hormone levels are in check. 

Women should consult their healthcare provider if they experience any menstrual problems or other issues related to their hormones.

How Do Hormones Affect the Menstrual Cycle?

The menstrual cycle is divided into the follicular phase (days 1-14) and the luteal phase (days 15-28).REF#4131

The luteal phase coincides with the natural increase of progesterone and several normal physical and emotional events that are absent during the follicular phase as the body prepares to shed the uterus lining. 

Supporting a healthy response to stress and the body's natural increased demand for progesterone helps support the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. 

When bleeding begins on Day 1, hormone levels are relatively low, but estrogen levels start to increase as it tapers off by days 4 to 6.

About halfway through the cycle (Day 14 in a 28-day cycle), estrogen reaches peak levels, and the reproductive system receives hormonal signals from FSH (follicle-stimulating hormones) and LH (luteinizing hormone) via the brain. 

FSH tells the ovaries to ovulate, while LH signals for progesterone to be made. 

At that point, as estrogen decreases, progesterone increases until it peaks during the third week. (Progesterone production is dependent on ovulation. It is secreted by the corpus luteum, the area within the ovary where ovulation has occurred.)

The Role of Women’s Hormones: Estrogen and Progesterone

Estrogen and progesterone work in concert and "talk" to each other from one cycle to the next. 

  • Estrogen works to lay down the cells in the uterine lining, called the endometrium
  • Progesterone engorges the tissue to get it plump and ready for an egg to be implanted 

If pregnancy does not occur by the end of the cycle, progesterone and estrogen levels drop, signaling the blood vessels to pull away from the endometrium, causing it to die and slough off. 

This triggers the body to start bleeding. The cycle then restarts to create healthy tissue for the following month. 

The cycle is continuous- not an arc- with each one influencing the next; maintaining good communication between estrogen and progesterone ensures the cycle continues normally. 

This continuum means that sometimes balance happens throughout multiple cycles (think of the "carry-over" minutes on your cell phone plan).

"The health and wellness of a woman's endocrine system is very much dependent on balanced hormonal function as one part of the network of efficient communication leading toward a more radiant, healthy, functioning body," said Dr. Mary Bove, ND, a member of the Scientific Advisory Board at Gaia Herbs.

Many lifestyle factors support a healthy menstrual cycle, including:REF#4132 REF#4133

  • Maintaining a balanced diet that provides an adequate amount of dietary fat
  • Getting regular exercise at moderate levels to support a healthy fat-to-muscle ratio
  • Maintaining a normal body weight
  • Getting adequate sleep in a quiet, dark environment supports healthy levels of melatonin, a hormone that supports the circadian rhythm
  • Normal cortisol levels, a hormone produced by the adrenals that help maintain a healthy stress response and blood sugar within normal ranges

This is why lifestyle is paramount to supporting healthy hormonal function and happier periods.

Hormones and the Endocrine System

In addition to the normal pathway of making cortisol (your body’s master stress hormone) from scratch, the adrenal glands can shunt progesterone away to produce this stress hormone.REF#4134

This happens because, in the endocrine system's totem pole, the ovaries (and the testes in men) are on the bottom. Reproduction is unnecessary for survival, but the adrenal and thyroid glands are.

The adrenals form the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis in conjunction with the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, the area of the brain responsible for producing many hormones and linking the nervous and endocrine systems. 

The endocrine system has an axis for each gland in the body to maintain proper communication. 

The primary function of the HPA axis is to support the body's response to normal stress. When the axis includes the ovaries, it is called the HPO axis.REF#4135

When the HPO axis functions normally, meaning that the brain, ovaries, and adrenal glands communicate as usual, it supports healthy menstruation. 

The normal function of the body's stress hormones, including cortisol, is to rise and fall quickly. 

They increase long enough to help get the body out of danger, then return to a low level. Though the levels fluctuate, this is considered normal functioning of those hormones. 

Supporting a healthy stress response ensures the body is ready for those peaks and valleys. It also allows the adrenals to take the time needed to create cortisol rather than taking it from the ovaries (in the form of progesterone) without notifying them. 

This also supports a healthy estrogen-to-progesterone ratio.

8 Herbs to Support Healthy Menstruation

Several herbs have traditionally been used in herbalism to support a healthy menstrual cycle, including:

1: Chase Tree Berry

Also known as Vitex agnus-castus and Chasteberry, this popular female-centric herb supports the connection between the brain and the ovaries to facilitate the normal production of progesterone and prolactin.

2: Red Clover

    This common flowering herb has been shown to possess estrogenic effects, which may provide support during the luteal phase. 

    Research also suggests Red Clover may support normal body temperature regulation and appropriate perspiration levels by promoting the normal production of estrogen.

    3, 4: Wild Oats and Schisandra 

    These herbs may help maintain blood glucose within normal ranges.

    5, 6, 7: Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, and Holy Basil 

    Adaptogenic herbs such as these promote a healthy stress response.

    This supports the adrenal glands' normal function and their cortisol production, which may positively impact progesterone.

    6: Dandelion 

    This common weed helps promote healthy fluid elimination and supports the liver, the organ responsible for breaking down hormones.

    By supporting liver function, the body can maintain normal hormonal function, which in turn supports appropriate fluid levels.

    Dandelion may also support normal ovarian function through its effects on hormone receptors.REF#4136

    More research is needed to fully understand how Dandelion may influence hormonal function.

    Want To Learn More About Herbs for Women’s Health and Wellness?

    Herbs can be incredible allies for women seeking more autonomy over their health and hormonal happiness.

    For more information on herbs and natural wellness practices for women’s health, check out the following articles:


    • 1. , "Menstrual Cycle.", Merck Manual. By Jessica E. McLaughlin, MD, Medical University of South Carolina.
    • 2. , "Influence of lifestyle factors with the outcome of menstrual disorders among adolescents and young women in West Bengal, India.", Scientific Reports.
    • 3. , "The relationship between the menstrual cycle and cortisol secretion: Daily and stress-invoked cortisol patterns.", International Journal of Psychophysiology.
    • 4. , "Stress-induced increases in progesterone and cortisol in naturally cycling women.", Neurobiology of Stress.
    • 5. , "The Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Ovary Axis.", In: Petraglia, F., Fauser, B. (eds) Female Reproductive Dysfunction . Endocrinology. Springer, Cham.
    • 6. , "Effect of Dandelion Extracts on the Proliferation of Ovarian Granulosa Cells and Expression of Hormone Receptors.", Chinese Medical Journal.