Hormones affect every single system in your body, which is why it’s important for you to get to know these little chemical messengers.
Today we’re going to focus on estrogen, one of the main sex hormones.
Although it’s mostly associated with reproduction, estrogen also plays a variety of other roles in your overall health.
Estrogen is vital when it comes to bone health, cognitive function, and fertility — plus so much more.
For all there is to know about hormones and their impact on your health, consider talking to a women’s health naturopath for more information and resources.
In the meantime, let’s start with the basics — what exactly is estrogen, and how does it function within your body?
What Is Estrogen?
Regardless of your biological sex, your body produces estrogen — though it is commonly referred to as the female sex hormone.
This is because estrogen is produced in small amounts in the adrenal glands, but it mostly comes from the ovaries.
Alongside progesterone, estrogen is responsible for many of the physical changes we call puberty, including the start of the menstrual cycle, pubic and underarm hair growth, and breast growth.
Although estrogen is very important for your reproductive system, it also affects many other bodily functions and systems.
There are three main types of estrogen that serve different purposes, which are referred to as E1, E2, and E3.
Let’s look at what differentiates these three types of estrogen from one another, and how they function in your body.
Estrone, also known as E1, is the only type of estrogen made by your body after menopause.
It is a weaker estrogen than the other two forms, and your body can convert it into another kind of estrogen if and when needed.
High levels of estrone have been linked to breast cancer and endometrial cancer, though research into this form of estrogen is still ongoing.
While estrone is considered the weakest type of estrogen, estradiol is the strongest — and the most abundant, unless you’re pregnant and experiencing a boost of E3.
The main function of estradiol is to mature and maintain your reproductive system.
Estradiol levels increase during menstruation and it is primarily produced in your ovaries, which is why levels of this estrogen will significantly decrease during menopause.
Estradiol also helps with bone health and maintenance, brain function, and nitric oxide production — so it’s necessary for all individuals to ensure your estradiol levels are stable and balanced.
The third form of estrogen, estriol, is produced by your placenta, which is an organ that grows and develops during pregnancy.
Although your ovaries will always produce small amounts of estriol, it is during pregnancy that your estriol levels should rise and spike three weeks before giving birth.
Estriol helps your body prepare for giving birth by promoting uterus growth and preparing for both labour and breastfeeding.
Estriol levels can also help your doctor ascertain the health of your baby before they’re born.
What Does Estrogen Do?
There are many functions and roles estrogen plays within your body.
Firstly, when it comes to your reproductive system, estrogen enables various organs to function properly.
Some of estrogen’s functions within your reproductive system are to:
• Stimulate egg follicle growth in your ovaries
• Maintain vaginal wall thickness
• Promote vaginal lubrication
• Maintain the mucous membrane and secretions of your uterus
• Help form breast tissue
• Stop breast milk production after weaning
Aside from its key role in reproductive health, estrogen also affects many other areas of your body.
It helps control cholesterol levels, promotes cognitive health, and protects your bones, skin, and other tissues.
As is the case with other hormones, estrogen plays some role in a wide range of bodily functions — which means it is very important to ensure your estrogen levels are in balance.
Let’s look at the variety of symptoms which may manifest if your body doesn’t produce enough estrogen.
Symptoms Of Low Estrogen
Low estrogen levels may develop for a variety of reasons, and the cause may not be discernible.
Some of the more common symptoms of low estrogen are similar to those of menopause.
These symptoms include:
• Infrequent or irregular menstruation
• Headaches or migraines right before your menstrual cycle
• Insomnia or trouble sleeping
• Mood swings
• Hot flashes and/or night sweats
• Low libido
• Vaginal dryness and/or vaginal atrophy
• Dry skin
• Depression and anxiety
Men who have low estrogen levels may experience symptoms such as low libido, infertility, and, perhaps paradoxically, gynecomastia.
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, talk to your doctor about testing your estrogen levels.
One solution to low estrogen levels is estrogen therapy, which has been growing in popularity as a safe, effective, and natural treatment for hormone imbalances.
What Is Estrogen Therapy Used For?
Supplementing estrogen through bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, or BHRT, can help.
BHRT helps raise estrogen levels by providing natural hormones that are molecularly identical to those produced by your body.
There are many different forms of estrogen therapy, including implants, patches, creams, gels, and intravenous injections.
Let’s look at five common uses for estrogen therapy.
1. To Help Ease The Symptoms Of Menopause
Hormone levels naturally drop as you age — it’s a natural part of life.
Estrogen therapy can help ease symptoms such as mood swings, chronic fatigue, hot flashes, weight gain, and insomnia.
2. As A Treatment For PCOS
Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is an endocrine disorder that causes your ovaries to develop many small cysts.
Although the cysts themselves are not directly harmful, they can lead to altered (low) levels of estrogen, progesterone, and other hormones.
PCOS can be an incredibly painful condition and it may result in infertility, metabolic syndrome, sleep apnea, and a higher risk of endometrial cancer.
By supplementing your body with estrogen, hormone therapy can help ease symptoms of PCOS by regulating your estrogen levels and eliminating associated symptoms.
3. As A Treatment For Osteoporosis
Estrogen is important for bone health because it encourages bone production by promoting osteoblast activity, which is why it’s no wonder estrogen therapy is often used as treatment for osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a bone disease that occurs when bone loss renders your bones fragile and weak.
Estrogen therapy is a beneficial preventative treatment for those approaching or currently experiencing menopause, because estrogen deficiency is considered a major factor in the development of postmenopausal osteoporosis.
HRT has been found to reduce bone fractures, preserve bone mineral density, and reduce bone turnover, working to protect your bone health and prevent the development of osteoporosis.
4. As A Treatment For Infertility
If you’re trying to conceive, dealing with infertility can be immensely stressful as the cause is not always known.
Low estrogen levels may result in infertility by preventing ovulation, which is why estrogen therapy may be a beneficial treatment option.
HRT has been found to improve the outcomes of in vitro fertilization in individuals experiencing infertility.
The above study also found estrogen therapy caused “potential spontaneous conception” in individuals experiencing infertility by reducing circulating FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) levels, a crucial factor in getting pregnant.
If you’re having issues trying to conceive and suspect low estrogen levels may be a contributing factor, talk to your naturopathic doctor about estrogen therapy as treatment for infertility.
5. For Transgender Individuals Hoping To Transition
Estrogen therapy is often an important part of the transition process for many transgender individuals.
In women who were assigned male at birth, HRT can cause physical developments such as breast development, reduced male pattern hair formation, female-pattern fat distribution, a decrease in body hair growth, and many other bodily changes.
HRT is a crucial part of transitioning for many transgender people.
It can help alleviate gender dysphoria and its associated symptoms, including depression, anxiety, poor energy levels, and sleep issues.
Estrogen therapy is often used in tandem with anti-androgens, or testosterone blockers.
If you’re transgender and looking to include hormone therapy in your transition process, talk to your health practitioner about the different forms of HRT.
Book An Appointment At Annex Naturopathic
The importance of hormones in your overall health cannot be understated, which is why it’s important to ensure your hormone levels are stable and in balance.
Getting to know how estrogen functions within your body helps you to understand how all the pieces fit together, and how you can ensure you’re giving your body what it needs for optimal health.
Estrogen therapy, or HRT, is a safe and effective treatment option to help bring your hormone levels to where they should be.
For more information on hormone therapy and how it can benefit your health and wellbeing, contact us at Annex Naturopathic.
We’d love to work with you to develop an all-natural treatment plan that addresses your concerns and works for you and your lifestyle.
Book an appointment with Annex Naturopathic today — we can help.
Yours in Health,
Annex Naturopathic Clinic is a clinic in Toronto that offers integrative healthcare solutions from Drs. Marnie Luck, ND, and Tanya Lee, ND