Estrogen: Role of the Hormone in Women’s Health
Posted by Naturelova on 25th May 2023
Estrogen: Role of the Hormone in Women’s Health
Women are no strangers to hormonal fluctuations. From mood swings to lack of energy to physical discomfort - the changing levels of hormones in a woman’s body can cause a slew of problems. If we had to pinpoint one main culprit behind this, we would blame estrogen.
Indeed, estrogen is a vital hormone. However, the dramatic ups and downs in estrogen levels experienced by the female body throughout the menstrual cycle can be disturbing.
So, what is estrogen, and how can a hormonal imbalance affect your health? Let’s find out. Keep reading to learn about some common causes of estrogen imbalance and symptoms that could hint towards a change in estrogen levels in your body.
What is Estrogen?
Estrogen is a sex hormone present in both males and females. Adrenal glands, fat tissues, and the ovaries can all produce estrogen. The hormone plays a role in sexual function for men, but it is primarily known as the female reproductive hormone. Even though both genders have estrogen, female bodies make more of it.
Estrogen regulates the development, growth, and physiology of the reproductive system. In addition, it is responsible for the development of secondary sexual characteristics such as breasts and hips. It also makes possible the different stages of a woman’s reproductive journey (menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause) possible.
Did you know estrogen does more than just serve as a sex hormone? This is a hormone that’s responsible for the functioning of the body. It contributes to bone health, heart health, cognitive health, and so many other critical bodily processes. It can even affect your weight and how your body makes use of blood sugar.
To understand the role of estrogen better, you need to know that there are three different forms of this hormone. They are estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), and estriol (E3).
Estrone is the type of estrogen that females produce after menopause. Estradiol is the most potent form of the hormone, supporting various bodily functions during the reproductive years. Estriol is the pregnancy estrogen that helps fetal development and the placenta.
How Does Estrogen Affect Your Health?
Now that you know what estrogen is and have familiarised yourself with the different forms of this hormone, let’s explore how estrogen can affect your health. This primary sex hormone can impact various areas of your health.
First of all, estrogen is responsible for initiating menstruation in young females, and it also helps regulate the menstrual cycle every month. It builds up the uterus lining every month in preparation for pregnancy. It also sheds the lining and enables you to menstruate when fertilisation does not happen. However, its reach goes far beyond fertility.
The hormone can affect not only the reproductive tract but also the blood vessels, mucous membranes, bones, skin, and hair. What’s more, estrogen can affect the urinary tract, the heart, and even the brain.
So, estrogen is why you develop pubic hair, breasts, and hips. It also helps determine how strong your bones are, how healthy your heart is, and your mood for the day. Basically, the levels of estrogen in your body can have an impact on your overall health.
What Causes the Estrogen Levels to Change in Women?
Estrogen levels can vary from one woman to another. There will even be fluctuations in a woman’s estrogen levels throughout her menstrual cycle. As a matter of fact, all hormone levels will also change over a female’s lifetime. However, the most common cause of low estrogen is ageing.
As your body approaches menopause, ovaries will slow down their estrogen production. The decline is often gradual, but it still causes symptoms such as mood swings and hot flashes.
Apart from this natural cause of declining estrogen levels, the hormone level can drop because of other lifestyle choices and diseases. For example, if you have an eating disorder or undergo extreme dieting, you could experience a hormonal imbalance. Excessive exercise, too, will lower your estrogen level. As if that was not enough, your underlying health conditions could affect your body's estrogen levels. Autoimmune diseases, an under-active pituitary gland, kidney disease, and toxins that may lead to ovarian failure are some health concerns that could affect the amount of estrogen in your body.
Because changes in estrogen levels could be linked to so many different conditions, it is recommended to consult a doctor and take the required blood tests. Test results can reveal whether you have low or high estrogen and also explore what may be the underlying cause.
Top Symptoms of Estrogen Imbalance
Skin Problems - Dry Skin, Chronic Acne & Skin Ageing
If you have an estrogen imbalance, you might notice some changes in your skin. Severe skin conditions like dry skin, flaking, peeling, and itching are all symptoms of low estrogen. Estrogen can change how much elastin, collagen, and hyaluronic acid you have in your body.
All three of these play an essential role in maintaining skin health. Elastin improves skin elasticity, collagen strengthens the skin, and hyaluronic acid offers hydration. They also form a foundation layer of skin called the dermis. So, low estrogen levels can cause dry skin and chronic acne. It can also trigger wrinkles and other signs of skin ageing.
Irregular Menstrual Cycle
One of the most common signs of estrogen imbalance in women is the disruption to their menstrual cycle. If you have missed periods or are having irregular periods, you might have an estrogen deficiency. Besides follicle-stimulating hormone and progesterone, estrogen is a key hormone in menstrual cycle regulation. When estrogen production is reduced, your body experiences a hormonal imbalance. This can lead to fewer and more irregular periods. In more severe cases, an estrogen deficiency can end periods altogether.
Hair is another unwelcome symptom of low estrogen levels. It is common knowledge that hormones play an important role in the hair growth cycle of your body. It is even responsible for sex-specific hair growth in various body parts.
When there is an imbalance of estrogen, you might notice excess hair in unwanted places. Ironically, the imbalance might lead to hair loss on your head. Declining estrogens lead to excess androgen production, a male hormone that can shrink hair follicles and cause female pattern hair loss.
Extreme lethargy is also a common sign of low estrogen levels. Not having a sufficient amount of the estrogen hormone can unpleasantly impact your sleep. Not only does it affect sleep quality, but it can also lead to insomnia. So, yes, decreased estrogen levels can make it difficult to fall asleep.
As a result, you will feel drained the next day. Hormonal imbalance is one of the common reasons for fatigue for prolonged periods. This relationship between estrogen and fatigue is linked to serotonin in your body. The happy hormone serotonin is responsible for making the sleep hormone melatonin. Low estrogen reduces serotonin and therefore affects the melatonin levels in your body. An estrogen imbalance also triggers sleep discomfort in the form of night sweats and hot flashes.
There is a strong connection between headaches and low estrogen levels. When estrogen level plummets during the menstrual cycle right before periods, women often suffer from migraines.
This may be because estrogen can change those chemicals in our brains that impact how we feel pain. This is also why migraines improve or stop during pregnancy. During the first trimester, estrogen levels increase quickly and then stay high throughout the pregnancy.
Changes in estrogen levels throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle lead to mood swings. This is why women are troubled by unexplained anger, frustration, anxiety, sadness, and mood disturbances the week before menstruation.
Serotonin and endorphin are hormones that can help us feel good. Because estrogen controls the levels of both of these in the brain, low estrogen results in a plunge in these feel-good hormones and affects mental health.
The impact of declining estrogen can be as severe as depression. Moreover, the dropping estrogen levels after giving birth is what leads to postpartum depression.
Hormonal imbalances have a strong connection with digestive problems. Low estrogen, in particular, can trigger weight gain. Estrogen is one of the hormones responsible for storing body fat, controlling how lipids and glucose are digested.
If you are facing gut problems, you can take natural probiotics and digestive enzymes but do get a check done for the underlying conditions that might be causing it.
While a healthy estrogen level can aid the proper digestion of food, low hormone levels can lead to more fat retention. This, in turn, can lead to weight gain.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
Finally, estrogen plays a critical role in urinary tract health. When there is a decrease in estrogen in the body, the urinary tract becomes more prone to infections. As a result, it becomes vulnerable to UTI and other bladder-related inconveniences and issues.
Now, you know what estrogen is and how significant it is for optimum body functionality. As low or high estrogen levels could hint towards a serious health concern, it is essential to identify the hormonal imbalance promptly.
Symptoms of estrogen imbalance include headaches, mood swings and digestive problems. You can also notice thinning hair, skin issues, and fatigue. But, of course, irregular periods are one of the most common telltale signs of an estrogen imbalance.
Indeed, you can experience some of these symptoms during different stages of your menstrual cycle - and that is normal. However, if you notice these symptoms and cannot think of a good reason for having them, you should get your estrogen levels checked.
Natural remedies and simple lifestyle changes can easily fix hormonal imbalances. Remember to use natural products rather than synthetic ones to ensure you keep all health conditions at bay and lead a more wholesome life.