The present discussion reviews current knowledge regarding influences of the primary reproductive hormones on mechanisms of thermoregulatory control in women. The human body is remarkably capable of maintaining body temperature within a few tenths of a degree of normal (37°C) over a wide range of activity and environmental exposures; this regulation is accomplished via integration of central and peripheral thermal information at the preoptic area of the anterior hypothalamus (PO/AH). We describe both central and peripheral mechanisms involved in controlling thermoregulation in humans, and how these mechanisms are affected by sex and hormone exposure. Estrogens generally promote vasodilation, heat dissipation, and lower body temperature and progesterone or progestins generally have the opposite effect. Estrogens and progesterone/progestins can also interact with androgens; this is an important point because androgens in the body can increase in both older and younger women. The study of reproductive hormone (estrogens, progesterone, luteinizing, and follicle stimulating hormones) effects on body systems is challenging because of the complex and multifaceted influences of these hormones, both individually and in combination. Thus, a number of methods to alter hormone exposure are explained in this article. We conclude that men and women do not exhibit major quantitative differences in physiological thermoregulatory responses to exercise and/or body heating when factors such as fitness and body size are taken into account. However, female and male reproductive hormones have important influences that can significantly alter individual thermoregulatory responses at various points throughout the lifespan.
© 2014 American Physiological Society.