What is Estrogen?

Estrogen is a key hormone in the human body and is important for both men’s and women’s health. Hormones are substances that act as messengers, sending signals throughout the body to regulate various functions.

This article will explain estrogen, the different types of estrogen, and its many functions. We’ll also examine how estrogen impacts health, the effects of having too much or too little of it, and how people manage estrogen levels. 

Table of Contents

What is Estrogen?

Estrogen is a group of hormones that play a vital role in the growth and development of female sexual characteristics and reproductive processes. Although it is mainly discussed in the context of women’s health, estrogen is also present in men, where it supports certain bodily functions.

The body makes estrogen in various places, including the ovaries in women, the testes in men, and fat cells. It supports the maturation of sperm and helps to maintain a healthy libido. 

These hormones are essential for managing the menstrual cycle and pregnancy in women, contributing to bone health, and influencing the condition of skin, hair, and mucous membranes.

Types of Estrogen

There are three main types of estrogen that the body produces, each serving unique roles at different stages of life. These are estradiol, estrone, and estriol.

Estradiol (E2)

This is the most common type of estrogen in women of childbearing age. It plays a key role in the menstrual cycle and fertility. Estradiol is also important for maintaining healthy bones and skin. It’s the strongest of the estrogens and has significant effects on the reproductive system and secondary sexual characteristics.

Estrone (E1)

This is the main form of estrogen after menopause. It is weaker than estradiol and is produced mainly in fat tissue. Estrone can be converted into estradiol if the body needs more, especially during menopause, to help manage symptoms related to estrogen decrease.

Estriol (E3)

This is the estrogen that becomes most prominent during pregnancy. The placenta produces it in large amounts, providing oxygen and nutrients to your growing baby. Estriol helps to prepare the uterus for childbirth and maintains the pregnancy.

Each type of estrogen contributes to the health and functioning of the body in different ways, depending on age, gender, and physiological conditions.

Functions of Estrogen

what is estrogen

Estrogen has many important roles in the body, affecting both women and men. Here’s how it helps:

In Women

Estrogen controls the menstrual cycle and prepares the body for pregnancy. It thickens the uterus lining to prepare it for a fertilized egg and supports the egg’s development and release during ovulation.

It helps maintain strong bones by working with calcium, vitamin D, and other hormones to break down and rebuild bones according to the body’s natural processes.

Estrogen improves heart health by helping to control cholesterol levels. It increases the amount of good cholesterol and decreases bad cholesterol in the bloodstream.

It can affect mood and emotional well-being. Estrogen interacts with chemicals in the brain that influence mood, often positively affecting how one feels.

In Men

Just like in women, estrogen is crucial for healthy bones in men. It helps prevent bones from becoming too brittle.

Estrogen in men is essential for regulating libido and erectile function. It also plays a role in the maturation of sperm.

Sources of Estrogen

Estrogen is produced in various parts of the body. The main sources are the ovaries in women, the testes in men, and fat cells in both genders. Some other tissues, like the liver and adrenal glands, also contribute to estrogen production. Let’s look at how these sources play a role:

Ovaries: In women, the ovaries are the primary source of estrogen. They produce estrogen as part of the menstrual cycle, regulating reproduction and secondary sexual characteristics.

Testes: In men, the testes produce estrogen in smaller amounts. However, it’s crucial for bone health, brain function, and the regulation of the reproductive system.

Fat Cells: Both men and women have fat cells that can produce estrogen. This is why body weight can influence estrogen levels and why maintaining a healthy weight is important for hormonal balance.

Placenta: During pregnancy, the placenta produces estrogen, particularly estriol, which helps maintain the pregnancy and prepares the body for childbirth.

Adrenal Glands: These glands release a small amount of estrogen in both men and women, contributing to the overall levels in the body.

Synthetic and Plant-based Sources: In addition to natural production, estrogen can also come from outside sources. Some medications contain synthetic estrogen, which is used in hormone replacement therapy and birth control pills. Phytoestrogens, which are plant-based compounds resembling estrogen, can be found in foods like soy and flaxseeds. These external sources can affect the body’s estrogen levels and are often used to manage symptoms of estrogen imbalance.

Estrogen Imbalance: Causes and Effects

An estrogen imbalance can occur when the body has too much or too little estrogen. Both situations can affect health in various ways.

Causes of Low Estrogen Levels

  • Approaching menopause or being in menopause.
  • Problems with the ovaries, like failure or removal.
  • Eating disorders or very low body fat.
  • Extreme exercise or training.

Effects of Low Estrogen Levels

  • Menstrual periods may become irregular or stop.
  • Hot flashes and night sweats.
  • Dry skin and thinning hair.
  • Mood swings and trouble concentrating.
  • Bones may become weaker, raising the risk of osteoporosis.

Treatment often involves hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to bring estrogen levels back to a normal range, improving symptoms.

Causes of High Estrogen Levels

  • Obesity, as fat cells produce estrogen.
  • Hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills if not properly balanced.
  • Tumors in the ovaries or other parts of the reproductive system.

Effects of High Estrogen Levels

  • Weight gain, especially around the hips and waist.
  • Menstrual problems, such as heavy periods or skipped periods.
  • Feeling tired or experiencing mood swings.
  • Increased risk of breast and uterine cancer.

Managing high estrogen often involves lifestyle changes like diet and exercise, adjusting medication, and treating any underlying health issues.

Estrogen and Health Risks

While estrogen is essential for many body functions, imbalances can increase the risk of certain health issues.

Connection with Cancer

High levels of estrogen are linked to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer in women. This is because estrogen can promote the growth of some types of cancer cells. In men, high estrogen levels have been associated with an increased risk of breast and prostate cancer.

Cardiovascular Health

Estrogen has a complex relationship with heart health. In women, before menopause, natural estrogen seems to protect against heart disease. However, after menopause, the risk of heart disease rises, partly due to reduced estrogen levels. Yet, using synthetic estrogen as hormone replacement therapy can increase the risk of blood clots and stroke in some women.

Mental Health

Estrogen can affect mood and mental health. Both high and low levels of estrogen can lead to mood swings, depression, and anxiety. Balancing estrogen levels is important for emotional well-being.

Bone Health

Estrogen is vital for bone health. Low estrogen levels, especially in postmenopausal women, can decrease bone density, making bones weaker and more likely to break.

Managing estrogen levels is important for reducing these health risks. Lifestyle changes, medication, and regular check-ups can help maintain healthy estrogen levels and overall well-being.

How to Manage Estrogen Levels

Keeping estrogen levels balanced is important for both men and women to maintain good health. Here are some ways to manage estrogen levels:

Lifestyle Changes

Diet: Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help maintain healthy estrogen levels. Some foods, like flaxseeds and soy products, contain phytoestrogens, which can affect estrogen levels.

Exercise: Regular physical activity can help balance hormones. It’s beneficial for managing weight, which can influence estrogen production in fat cells.

Stress Reduction: High stress can affect hormone balance. Practices like meditation, yoga, or regular exercise can help reduce stress levels.

Medical Treatment

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): For those experiencing low estrogen levels, especially due to menopause, HRT can help relieve symptoms by balancing hormone levels. However, discussing the benefits and risks with a healthcare provider is important.

Medication Adjustments: If you’re taking medications that affect estrogen levels, like certain birth control pills or hormone therapies, talk to your doctor about adjusting the dosage or exploring alternatives.

Balancing estrogen levels involves a combination of healthy lifestyle choices, medical interventions when necessary, and regular monitoring. If you’re concerned about your estrogen levels or experiencing symptoms of an imbalance, reaching out to a healthcare professional is a crucial step toward managing your health.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does estrogen do to a woman?

Estrogen plays a key role in a woman’s body by regulating the menstrual cycle, supporting pregnancy, and preparing the body for childbirth. It helps develop female secondary sexual characteristics, such as breasts and wider hips. Estrogen also contributes to bone health, affects the skin and hair, and regulates mood.

What happens when a girl has more estrogen?

When a girl has high levels of estrogen, she may experience various symptoms, including weight gain, heavy or irregular menstrual periods, mood swings, and, in some cases, fatigue. Over time, high estrogen can lead to more serious conditions such as fibroids, endometriosis, and an increased risk of certain cancers, like breast and ovarian cancer.

What happens if estrogen is high?

If estrogen is high, it can disrupt the hormonal balance and lead to various health issues. Symptoms may include bloating, swelling, menstrual irregularities, headaches, and mood changes. Over time, high estrogen levels can increase the risk of breast and uterine cancer, blood clots, and stroke, especially if not properly managed. It’s important to address high estrogen levels with lifestyle changes, medication, or other treatments recommended by a healthcare provider.

About Eric Barnett

Avatar photoEric is a personal trainer and avid outdoor enthusiast who strives to always be on the forefront of health innovation. A father of two who recognized early on that as he aged, he needed to keep his body and nutrition in check to keep living life to the fullest.

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