We don’t often think about the millions of microelements that make up our bodies. Even the simplest of actions can take a group effort involving one or more of the many bodily systems that keep us humming along. One of the oft-involved systems is the endocrine system which uses glands to produce hormones to send messages to organs and tissues.
What are Hormones?
Hormones are vital chemical molecules produced by glands that act as messengers. Hormones travel through the bloodstream, connecting with receptors that affect certain cells. Hormones help to regulate:
- Growth and development
- Sexual function
On the other hand, when hormones are out of balance, it can cause conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, or Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). (1)
What is Estrogen?
Estrogen, often thought of as a hormone found in women’s bodies, is actually present in males and females. However, this hormone is crucial for women as it is one of the two main sex hormones in the female body. Estrogen is responsible for sexual development in women. It regulates the menstrual cycle and has a central role in the female reproductive system from puberty to menopause.
Why is Estrogen Important?
Estrogen assists the transition through puberty into womanhood, regulates the menstrual cycle, and helps in the birthing process. But also has a significant influence on:
- The reproductive system
- The cardiovascular system
- The urinary tract
- The musculoskeletal system
- Breasts, skin, and hair
- Pelvic muscles
- Cognitive health (2)
How Does Estrogen Work?
The majority of estrogen is produced in the ovaries, and some small amounts come from the adrenal glands and fat cells. After, estrogen is sent through the bloodstream to every part of the body.
Types of Estrogen
Your body makes three main types of estrogen:
- Estradiol. Produced in both females and males. It is the most common type of sex hormone in women of childbearing age.
- Estrone. Present throughout the body after menopause. It’s a weak type of estrogen, which can be converted to a different kind of estrogen if necessary.
- Estriol. It is made from the placenta. It is present during pregnancy. It helps the uterus grow and prepares the body for delivering a child.
Why Do Your Estrogen Levels Matter?
While it is natural that estrogen levels fluctuate before, after, and during the menstrual cycle in a woman’s lifetime, it is critical to pay attention to specific changes that can indicate an estrogen imbalance. Also, keep in mind that estrogen levels are different for everyone. Therefore, it is a serious matter to pay close attention to sudden changes. Physicians may recommend you get your blood and urine tested to evaluate your estrogen levels.
Low and High Estrogen
It is usual for girls before puberty and women close to menopause to exhibit low levels of estrogen. Additionally, high estrogen levels in girls going through puberty and healthy pregnant women are also considered normal. However, when estrogen is present in high or low levels outside this phase, it can create a hormonal imbalance which can develop in medical conditions.
Low Estrogen Symptoms
Low levels of estrogen show in women bodies in a variety of signs like:
- Irregular or absent menstrual periods.
- Dryness of the vagina, which can cause pain during intercourse.
- Mood swings and trouble sleeping.
- Thinning of the urethra that can cause frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs).
- Night sweats and hot flashes.
- Exacerbation of headaches and/or migraines.
- Dry skin, breast tenderness.
- Difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and depression.
Furthermore, some studies have revealed that estrogen deficiency could lower bone density, as estrogen works together with vitamin D, calcium, and other vitamins to keep bones strong. (3)
What Causes Low Estrogen?
As estrogen is mainly produced in the ovaries, anything that affects them can influence estrogen levels. Some of the most common causes for estrogen levels to fall are:
- Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa
- Extreme exercise and training
- Hypopituitarism (low function of the pituitary gland)
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Chronic kidney disease
- Perimenopause and Menopause
Besides these possible causes, some risk factors increase the chance of reducing estrogen levels, such as:
- Age, the older women get, the less estrogen their ovaries produce
- Family history of hormonal problems
- Pituitary gland problems
- Extreme dieting and exercise regimes
Diagnosis and Treatment
If women are experiencing one or more symptoms, it is advisable that they consult their doctor for further analysis. In most cases, the physician will conduct a series of exams, like blood work, to test your estrone and estradiol levels. They will also evaluate your family medical history and symptoms to help arrive at a diagnosis.
Keep in mind that not all women that have low levels of estrogen need to undergo treatment. However, if the symptoms provoke discomfort, treatment based on the individual’s specific causes may be recommended. The most used approaches to treat this condition are Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) or Estrogen Therapy.
High Estrogen Symptoms
Excess levels of estrogen can affect females, which may show one or more of the following symptoms:
- Irregular menstrual periods, light spotting, or heavy bleeding
- Weight gain and/or bloating
- Mood changes, anxiety, and panic attacks
- Swollen and tenderness of the breast
- Increase the severity of PMS (premenstrual syndrome) symptoms
- Fibrocystic lumps in breasts and uterine fibroids
- Memory and sleeping problems
- Low sex drive
- Cold hands and feet
What Causes High Estrogen Levels?
Estrogen levels can arise naturally. Additionally, the body may produce less of other hormones like testosterone or progesterone, resulting in a hormonal imbalance. If the estrogen levels are significantly higher than the progesterone levels is known as estrogen predominance.
Furthermore, some drugs like steroid medications, certain antibiotics, phenothiazines used to treat mental illness diseases, and estrogen-containing medicines to treat menopause may cause higher estrogen levels. (4)
Treatment for High Estrogen Levels
Keep in mind that it is vital to seek popper treatment earlier to avoid the development of severe health conditions. High levels of estrogen may be associated with thyroid dysfunction. Also, a study showed that estrogen dominance is associated with a higher risk of blood clots and stroke. (5)
Your doctor may give you different options to manage the rising levels of estrogen or estrogen dominance. They may prescribe medications, surgery, or recommend adjustments to your existing diet.