When most people read about women’s health and hormones, they assume it will be a piece about birth control pills or a study on menopausal hormone therapies. Many fail to realize that hormones have physiological effects far beyond the reproductive, with impacts on every major body system of females and males. A disruption or dysfunction in one hormone system can trickle down into other hormone systems and other body systems. Basic and clinical research are recognizing and factoring in these system-wide impacts in novel ways, including new research that has the potential to improve the health of our military service members and veterans.
Perhaps some of the most exciting research in this area is the effect progesterone, a sex hormone associated with females, elevated during pregnancy, but also present naturally in males, may have on protection of brain cells. Promising research shows that progesterone may have the potential to save brain tissue after an injury—potentially setting the stage for a first in class treatment to stop the loss of brain cells after a blast, altering the detrimental sequence of events that happen after a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Differences have been seen in outcomes even as a function of monthly fluctuations of progesterone noted during the menstrual cycle. Progesterone can dramatically reduce brain swelling in males and females, can act as an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant, and can stimulate expression of growth factors in response to injury.
TBI is not the only area where innovative hormone diagnostics and research may contribute to improved health outcomes. Links between hormonal networks and depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and complex wound healing, among others, recognize the importance of hormones, and the differences that will naturally present between men and women. Hormone levels can protect health or precipitate disease. Hormones matter.