What is Estrogen?
Estrogen refers to a group of hormones, steroid compounds or chemical messengers which are secreted by the female gonads to influence the development, maturation and, ultimately, the functions of the female reproductive system. Common examples found in this group of hormones are estradiol, estrone, and estriol. Estrogen hormones are predominantly produced by the ovaries. Other sources are the placenta and the adrenal glands.
What are the Functions of Estrogen?
Estrogen is found in both men and women but it is majorly secreted in women of the reproductive age to exert various functions which include:
- Promoting the development of secondary female sexual characteristics such as breast enlargement, menstruation and growth of pubic hair
- Controlling the ovulation cycle and inducing ovulation
- Maintaining vaginal health through lubrication and thickening the vaginal wall
- Increasing vascularization to the skin which improves skin’s health and radiance
- Increasing uterine growth
- Promoting thickening of the uterine wall during menstruation and pregnancy in liaison with progesterone
- Working together with testosterone, estrogen controls a woman’s sex drive
- Increasing fat deposition
- Accelerating the metabolism levels in the body
Effects of Estrogen on Various Biochemical Parameters
1. Effects on Hormones:
Estrogen promotes the functions of the hormones oxytocin and testosterone. Testosterone is responsible for a woman’s sex drive while oxytocin is a ‘love hormone’ that is produced during physical touch and sexual climax. In addition, estrogen works hand in hand with progesterone to maintain the uterine wall.
2. Effects on Cancer:
Some forms of breast cancers, about eighty percent, are hormone sensitive. This means that these cancerous growths are accelerated by high estrogen levels. Lowering estrogen levels in such patients has proved effective in terms of controlling the spread.
3. Effects on the Libido:
While the libido in both men and women is primarily controlled by testosterone, in women, it is impossible for testosterone to function without estrogen. Estrogen enhances testosterone’s ability to boosts a woman’s sex drive to the point where testosterone without estrogen actually lowers the libido.
4. Effects on Fetal Development:
Estrogen promotes fetal development which is why its production is significantly boosted by the placenta during pregnancy. It promotes bone formation and resorption as well as lung functions.
5. Effects on Mental Health:
Studies have shown that fluctuation of estrogen levels can alter a woman’s mental health. These fluctuations cause mood swings, postpartum depression and premenstrual syndrome. However, the conditions are not permanent and can be controlled by stabilizing estrogen levels.
6. Effects on Skin:
Estrogen increases the production of pheomelanin which is a type of melanin that is responsible for red color on areas such as the lips. Estrogen also increases blood flow to the skin for healthier and more radiant skin.
7. Effects on Heart Disease:
Estrogen lowers the risk of heart disease in women by preventing arteriosclerosis. This is because estrogen maintains the health of arteries by protecting them from damage.
Estrogen Dominance in Women
Estrogen dominance in women is actually a medical condition referred to as estrogen dominance syndrome. It is caused by natural hormonal fluctuations during puberty or menopause. Liver failure can also cause estrogen dominance syndrome. This syndrome is characterized by:
- Problematic and heavy periods
- Ovarian cysts
- Breast cancer
This condition is treated by taking progesterone pills which may be in form of birth control pills. A high fiber diet and regular exercise are also known to be effective.
What Causes the Dropping of Estrogen Levels and what is the Effect?
Low estrogen levels are as a result of decreased production of estrogen by the ovaries. This can be due to natural causes such as menopause. Nonetheless, low estrogen levels may also be due to induced causes that include:
- High stress levels
- High intake of caffeine
- Hysterectomy: A surgical procedure in which the uterus is removed
- Genetic disorders such as Turner’s syndrome
- Thyroid gland disorders
- Poor diet and lifestyle
How Menopauses affects Estrogen Levels?
Menopause normally leads to lowering of estrogen levels. This lowering of estrogen levels is often manifested by:
- Low libido
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal dryness
- Mood swings
- Menstruation ceasing to occur
- Urinary incontinence
However, sometimes the reverse can happen and instead of estrogen levels lowering, they surge. This condition is often referred to as estrogen dominance syndrome and is controlled by taking progesterone supplements. In cases where estrogen levels reduce, estrogen supplements are recommended.
What are the Effects of Low Estrogen on A Woman’s Sexual Function?
Low estrogen levels negatively affect a woman’s sexual function by lowering a woman’s sexual receptivity. This is because low estrogen levels render testosterone ineffective thereby lowering a woman’s libido.
How does Estrogen Fight Aging?
Several studies have been done on how to use estrogen to fight aging. These studies have had some promising results. For one, menopausal women who use estrogen through hormone replacement therapy have a lowered risk of heart disease due to the positive effects of estrogen on arterial health. In addition, these women have reported an improvement in the appearance of facial wrinkles and fine lines. Estradiol and estriol are also prominent ingredients in ointments that treat vaginal drying.
The latest fad is using topical creams with estradiol and estriol to improve the appearance of wrinkles. In this case, studies are inconclusive and differ in the results. Some dermatologists claim this can work while others strongly disagree.
Why are Athletes at risk of Low Estrogen Levels?
Female athletes who are unable to balance between sports and their bodily requirements may suffer from estrogen levels. This is referred to as the Female Athlete Triad Syndrome. It has three components: low energy due to eating disorders, amenorrhea and reduced bone strength (osteoporosis). Of interest is amenorrhea which is characterized by the cessation of menstruation for more than three months. This is normally due to decreased estrogen levels as a result of exercising too intensely coupled with not eating enough.
How to Treat Low Estrogen Levels?
Low estrogen levels, particularly during menopause, can be treated using Hormone Replacement Therapy. This treatment plan involves introducing synthetic estrogen into the body to boost natural estrogen levels in the body. This therapy may be in form of tablets, injections or patches.
All in all, estrogen is quite an interesting group of hormones attributed to femininity. A lot of research on the possibilities of this hormone as well as the psychological effects it has on women is underway. From claims that it can fight aging to more claims that it makes women super competitive with other females, the possibilities are endless.