What does the estrogen hormone do?
Estrogen is a primary reproductive hormone commonly associated with females, however, it is found in small quantities in the male body as well.
The hormone is responsible for:
- Sexual development of female bodies once puberty hits.
- The growth of the uterine lining throughout the menstrual cycle and at the beginning of pregnancy.
- The breast changes in teenage girls and pregnant women.
- Maintaining bone health and cholesterol level.
- Regulating how much you eat, your body weight, glucose metabolism and the level of your insulin sensitivity.
What happens when you are low on estrogen?
Your body can show quite a number of symptoms when the estrogen levels start taking a hit. These may include:
- Pain during sex - Vaginal lubrication is controlled by the hormone. So, when the levels of estrogen are low, your vagina becomes dry, leading to painful sex.
- Irregular periods - The menstrual cycle is governed by two main hormones: estrogen and progesterone, and a lowered level of estrogen can cause missed or irregular periods.
- Hot flashes - One of the most common symptoms of menopause, lowered estrogen levels are responsible for causing hot flashes.
- Infertility - Estrogen deficiency interferes with ovulation, leading to infertility or difficulty getting pregnant.
- Weak bones - Bone health is linked to estrogen, so when estrogen levels lower, bones start deteriorating, leaving you at a higher risk of osteoporosis or fractures.
- Mood changes - Estrogen is responsible for increasing serotonin levels, which are linked to boosting your mood. A deficiency in estrogen causes serotonin levels to drop, which can lead to a feeling of depression and sadness.
- More UTIs - When estrogen levels fall, the tissues in the urethra start to thin, increasing the possibility of contracting urinary tract infections more often.
- Tender breasts - Women experience swollen, lumpy or tender breasts as estrogen levels fall.
- Weight changes - Estrogen levels determine how much fat your body stores and the overall glucose and lipid metabolism in the body. Thus, a drop in the levels of this hormone can contribute to weight gain.
Other symptoms - Other symptoms of lowered levels of estrogen can include headaches, fatigue and trouble concentrating on things.
What causes low estrogen levels?
Primarily, estrogen is produced by the ovaries and so, anything that affects the ovaries can affect the level of estrogen.
In young women, the primary reasons for low estrogen levels are:
- Eating disorders like bulimia or anorexia
- Thyroid disorders
- Family history of hormonal issues like cysts in the ovaries
- Excessive use of substances
- Lowered functioning of the pituitary gland
- Premature ovarian failure arising from genetic disorders, toxin levels in the body or an autoimmune disorder
- Chemotherapy for cancer treatment
- Chronic diseases related to the kidneys
For older women above 40, perimenopause or menopause can cause the ovaries to produce less estrogen.
What are your treatment options?
Estrogen levels can be managed either medically or naturally, depending on your severity and the treatment plan provided by your doctor.
- Estrogen therapy - Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor may prescribe the administration of the estrogen hormone orally, topically, vaginally or through an injection until your levels return to normal. But, usually, the therapy is not recommended to be prolonged for more than 1 to 2 years as it can increase the risk of cancer.
Hormone replacement therapy - For low levels of estrogen, your doctor may recommend HRT which combines a therapy administering progesterone and estrogen or just estrogen, depending on your condition and severity. It can be similarly taken either orally, topically, vaginally or through an injection and is usually used on menopausal women.
- Maintaining your weight - Extremely low body weight can contribute to lowered estrogen levels, which is why it is essential to maintain a healthy weight to have normal levels of estrogen.
- Moderating exercise levels - Excessive exercising can lead to lower estrogen levels, which is commonly seen in athletes. Moderating your exercise routine can help with estrogen deficiency.
- Including soy in your diet - There is some conflicting research on using soy for treating estrogen deficiency, but some research suggests that the component called isoflavones found in soy helps reduce menopause symptoms caused by lowered levels of the hormone. Consult a doctor before incorporating soy in your diet as a method of treating estrogen deficiency.