Estrogen – What Should You Know About It?
Females have two main sex hormones; estrogen and progesterone. Men have estrogen too, but the serum levels are generally very low. This hormone is responsible for the female sexual traits such as, feminine appearance, sexual development and reproductive activities.
Why This Hormone Is Important For Your Body?
It helps a girl transition into a woman at the time of puberty. Normal serum levels of this hormone are needed to facilitate the physical changes, such as:
- Breast development
- Menstrual cycle/periods
- Hair growth on pubis and arm pits
The monthly ovarian (or menstrual) cycle is also controlled by this hormone, that plays a vital role in the conception or reproduction. Besides reproductive functions, estrogen also helps in:
- Protection of bone health (in both women and men)
- Cholesterol regulation
- It also affects mood and has impact on heart, skin and other tissues as well
How Does it Work In The Regulation Of Biological Activities?
Ovaries are the main source of this hormone production. Besides ovaries, fat tissues and adrenal glands also secrete estrogen, but in very little amount. The secreted estrogen enters into the blood stream from where it acts on different areas of your body.
Types Of Estrogen
There are mainly three types of estrogen:
- Estradiol – it is the most common type found in the blood stream of reproductive age group.
- Estriol – during pregnancy, it is the main source of this hormone
- Estrone – it is the only type of estrogen which is produced in the body after menopause
The level of this hormone fluctuates throughout the menstrual cycle. During monthly ovarian cycle, these levels are at its lowest while it peaks during the middle of menstrual cycle. At the time of menopause, this level drops permanently.
What Can Go Wrong?
Sometimes, estrogen levels increase or decrease significantly in your serum for many reasons. Sometimes receiving estrogen replacement therapy or using birth control pills can increase the serum of this hormone way too much.
How To Know About Your Estrogen Levels?
A urine or blood sample is taken to check estrogen levels. One should keep a check on their symptoms and if something unusual is experienced, note it down and consult your doctor at earliest convenience.
Symptoms of low estrogen are experienced after surgical removal of ovaries or at menopause. These are;
- Night sweats and/or hot flashes
- Thin and dry vagina
- Reduced frequency of periods or no periods
- Dry skin
- Mood swings
- Difficulty in sleeping
- Low sexual drive
- Menstrual migraine- it is a condition in which women gets severe headache just before the periods, this happens due to drop in estrogen levels
In men, low level of this hormone reduce the sexual drive and increase the belly fat.
Symptoms Of High Estrogen Levels
High level of this hormone can:
- Weight (or fat gain) especially at hips, thighs and waist
- Abnormal menstrual bleeding (heavy or light bleeding)
- Worsening premenstrual syndrome
- Induce Depression or/and anxiety
- Decrease libido
- Development of fibrocystic breasts i.e. non-cancerous lumps in breast
- Development of non-cancerous tumors in uterus (fibroids)
In men if this hormone gets increased it may lead to:
- Enlarge breasts
- Erection problems
For right treatment, it is necessary to provide complete medical history including, surgeries and child births to your physician. Your doctor may also ask about sexual history, don’t feel embarrassed and do not hide anything. A complete pelvic examination is usually to look for the signs of infection, irritation, skin disease or any congenital abnormality. To locate the site of pain, a gentle pressure may be applied to pelvis and genitals. Sometimes, visual inspection is done via speculum, an instrument that separates the walls of vagina. For some women, pelvic examination can be too painful to handle especially if there are any cystic or non-cystic masses; in all such cases, you may ask the doctor to stop anytime. Depending upon condition, pelvic ultrasound may be suggested.
- Glover, E. M., Jovanovic, T., Mercer, K. B., Kerley, K., Bradley, B., Ressler, K. J., & Norrholm, S. D. (2012). Estrogen levels are associated with extinction deficits in women with posttraumatic stress disorder. Biological psychiatry, 72(1), 19-24.
- Toffoletto, S., Lanzenberger, R., Gingnell, M., Sundström-Poromaa, I., & Comasco, E. (2014). Emotional and cognitive functional imaging of progesterone effects in the female human brain: A systematic review. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 50, 28-52.