Hormone question.

Can somebody tell me succinctly what estrogen, testosterone & androgen do for our bodies, and what the differences between them are? Both men & women have all three to some degree, am I correct in this? Are there other sex hormones that I’m unaware of? And how can plant hormones (phytoestrogen eg) synthesise in our bodies; or is this a myth raised by folks who sell supplements?

Basically, I just need a quick hormone 101 lesson, please. Stuff I am finding on the internet is confusing me.

[sub]Mods, I realise this is more than one question, but I hope it’s OK since it’s the same subject.[/sub]

I’m gonna punt this one to KarlGauss, he’s the endocrinologist with the talent for making the complex comprehensible. Or any other similar doper with the knowledge and the talent.

Having said that, I’ll just add that there are two basic classes of sex hormones, androgens (ie testosterone) and estrogens (ie estrogen, progesterone). The so-called phyto-estrogens are molecules produced by plants that just have some estrogenic properties, but also have some anti-estrogenic properties. Phytoestrogens are not produced by the human body.

Oh KarlGauss are you here yet?

Thats why we have dictionaries, e.g. Websters:

Main Entry:estrogen
Etymology:New Latin estrus + International Scientific Vocabulary -o- + -gen

: any of various natural steroids (as estradiol) that are formed from androgen precursors, that are secreted chiefly by the ovaries, placenta, adipose tissue, and testes, and that stimulate the development of female secondary sex characteristics and promote the growth and maintenance of the female reproductive system; also : any of various synthetic or semisynthetic steroids (as ethinyl estradiol) that mimic the physiological effect of natural estrogens
Main Entry:androgen Pronunciation:an-dr-j*n
Etymology:International Scientific Vocabulary

: a male sex hormone (as testosterone)
–an£dro£gen£ic *an-dr*-*je-nik\ adjective

Main Entry:testosterone
Etymology:testis + -o- + -sterone

1 : a hormone that is a hydroxy steroid ketone C19H28O2 produced especially by the testes or made synthetically and that is responsible for inducing and maintaining male secondary sex characters
2 : qualities (as brawn and aggressiveness) usually associated with males : MANLINESS

You can also try webmd.com

Phytoestrogens are “estrogen-like” compounds produced by some plants as a part of their growth cycle. They have approximately the same relationship to human estrogen as chlorphyll does to hemoglobin - similar, but not enough to do the same job. In any case, all compounds in oral “dietary supplements” must pass through the liver, which is especially vigilant at breaking down excess sex hormones. Prescription hormone supplements contain enough hormone to overload the liver’s ability to convert all of it at once. Dietary supplements do not, and will not have any appreciable effect.

If women take testosterone, it boosts their libidos, but too much will lower the voice and make em grow hair on their faces. Men can also get female secondary characteristics if they take estrogen supplements. Do males normally produce any estrogen? I don’t know that.

Trace amounts, IIRC.

(Is being of little help worse than being of no help?)

Men do produce estrogen, not as much as women do but more than a “trace amount”. They need it for such things as healthy bones and cardiovascular system, and abnormally low levels of estrogen in men can lead to frail bones and so forth.

Women naturally produce some testosterone as well. Normally, not nearly as much as men. Lack of testosterone in women can lead to lowered libido, but seems (as far as I can tell) to be less of a threat to long life than lack of estrogen.

From Human Physiology, Vander, Sherman, and Luciano…

“…testosterone belongs to a group of steroid hormones that have similar masculinizing actions and are collectively called androgens. Only the testes secrete significant amounts of testosterone. Other circulating androgens are produced by the adrenal cortex, but they are much less potent than testosterone and are unable to maintain male reproductive function should testosterone secretion be inadequate. (snip) Estradiol-secreted in large amounts only by the ovaries-is also one of several steroid hormones, in this case hormones that have similar actions on the female reproductive tract and are collectively termed estrogens, or more commonly, simply estrogen”

As for phytoestrogens…
No studies have proven phytoestogen to be effective against symptoms of menopause, or as a treatment for cancer, heart dieseas, osteoporosis, etc.

Hope that helps.

If you need some really, really basic info on hormones and the endocrine glands, try this…

Just as Qadgop said, there are two classes of sex hormones - androgens and estrogens. Simply put, androgens are what make men look like men and women look like women. So, for example, if a female fetus is exposed to androgens inside the womb, it will develop male characteristics. Likewise, even a grown man if given estrogens, will develop breasts.

The main androgen for men is testosterone which is made in the testicles. Women also make androgens, both in their ovaries and adrenal glands but, generally, the quantity and potency of these androgens is rather low. The estrogen produced in their ovaries predominates in terms of sex characteristics. (Men also make these types of androgens in their adrenal glands, but their effect is dwarfed by the testosterone coming from the testicles.)

Androgens and estrogens are not produced by either sex in appreciable quantity until puberty (by definition!). Interestingly, in normal puberty, adrenal androgens are among the first of these hormones to rise, i.e. male hormones in both sexes. That’s why the growth of pubic and arm-pit hair are early markers of puberty in both sexes. Note also that it is the sustained production of these “adrenal androgens” throughout life that keeps women’s pubic and axillary hair growing. (Medical students are taught that a sign of adrenal disease in women is lack of such hair).

Besides being responsible for sexual characteristics and reproduction, sex hormones are major players in growth, bone maintenance (throughout life), mood, and muscle strength.

Some Guy: Some supplements contain lots of estrogens. This article showed how one herbal preparation was very potent in its estrogen effect.

As you mentioned, plants can produce so-called phytoestrogens. As the above study illustrates, these can have quite significant effects on humans. Also, IIRC, female rats whose ovaries have been removed can, nevertheless, still “be in heat” (i.e. undergo estrus) so long as they were given sufficient quantities of certain grain alcohols (these contain sufficient quantity of phytoestrogens to do the job).

Broomstick: I agree. Those very rare men who are resistant to estrogen have disordered skeletal mineralization and development (despite having normal androgen status).

shell: I just saw your post with the preview. Check out the linked abstract.

[[Lack of testosterone in women can lead to lowered libido, but seems (as far as I can tell) to be less of a threat to long life than lack of estrogen.]]

Hah. I’m glad I have just the right amount of testosterone.

Thanks for the link. I tend to be overly leery of homeopathic remedies (and phytoestrogen popped a lot in those when I did a search).

I don’t think it’s possible to be overly leery of homeopathic remedies.

There is a lady member here who refers to her looks as ‘androgenic’.

Say, KarlGauss, that does seem to imply that at least one herbal formulation will work. Who’da thunk it?

I trust you aren’t disputing my point re: absorption of sex hormones by the liver, but only pointing out that some supplements may have high enough concentrations to overcome that, just as synthesized prescription hormones do. Correct?