Estrogen is normally thought of as a “female hormone” and is responsible for regulating a woman’s sexual and reproductive growth and development. While it is present in smaller quantities in men, it plays a pivotal role in a woman’s physical and emotional health. Estrogen levels routinely rise and fall in a woman’s body during her monthly cycle, and understanding the role this hormone plays can help women begin to understand the various stages of their menstrual cycles.
Role of Estrogen in the Menstrual Cycle
During the first week of a woman’s menstrual cycle her estrogen levels are at their lowest levels, and she often experiences feelings of fatigue and a decline in her sexual desire. For woman closer to menopause, the opposite can be true. During the second week, estrogen levels begin to build back up in the body as the lining in the uterus begins to thicken. Some women may notice a milky discharge from their vagina, and an increase* in their energy levels. Sexual desire will also increase*, along with better muscle coordination. Elevated moods are also commonly reported with the higher levels of estrogen. Unfortunately the higher levels of the female reproductive hormone can also cause acne breakouts during this stage of the menstrual cycle.
The third week of a woman’s menstrual cycle brings lower levels of estrogen and higher levels of progesterone. As the lining in the uterus begins to relax in anticipation of the next stage in the menstrual cycle, the lower levels of estrogen can cause women to experience bloating and even hot flashes. This hormonal imbalance can also affect a woman’s mood causing her to feel irritable, anxious, and depressed. Extremely vivid dreams and cravings for sugary foods can also be caused by the lower levels of estrogen. During the fourth week of the menstrual cycle both of the estrogen and progesterone levels have dropped, causing the uterus to shed its lining. This results in the menstrual flow women experience during this stage of their monthly period. For women who experience all of the symptoms associated with their changing estrogen levels, this is the time when they feel their best.
Symptoms of an Estrogen Imbalance
While it is normal for a woman’s hormonal levels to change throughout her monthly cycle and cause certain symptoms associated with her period, estrogen imbalances can occur. Some of the symptoms that could indicate abnormal estrogen levels include,
- Sudden and severe mood swings
- An increase* in headaches or even migraines
- Pain or tenderness in the breasts
- Irregular or abnormally heavy menstrual periods
- Reoccurring hot flashes
Natural Remedies for Changing Estrogen Levels
Some women have found that eating a healthy diet that is low in fat can help to relieve some of the symptoms associated with the changing levels of estrogen. Diets low in fat help to keep the estrogen levels naturally low in the body which can result in fewer menstrual symptoms. Heating pads and over the counter pain aids can also help with the leg cramps and lower back pain that many women feel during their monthly periods.
Certain foods can also help to regulate estrogen levels, especially during the first week of the menstrual cycle when the hormonal levels are at their lowest. Kidney and pinto beans, along with chickpeas, peanuts and citrus fruits. Broccoli, carrots, and even chocolate call all help to balance a woman’s estrogen levels and help to prevent many of the symptoms they can experience during their menstrual cycles.
The Importance of Estrogen
Estrogen plays a pivotal role in a woman’s menstrual cycle from the production of the egg in the fallopian tubes to the shedding of the uterine lining during the end of a woman’s period. This is not the only function this important female hormone has in a woman’s body. Estrogen is also responsible in helping to prevent bone loss which can occur as women grow older, and it is also crucial for a healthy sex life. Low levels of estrogen can cause the lining of the vagina to weaken and become dry, which can result in a decreased* libido and painful sexual intercourse.
While it is normal for every woman to experience some of these symptoms during their menstrual cycles, sudden or severe problems should be immediately discussed with a health care provider. Estrogen may play a large role in a woman’s menstrual cycle, but it can be managed with a healthy diet and plenty of exercise.