Estrogens are present in significant amounts in both men and women. Their primary function is development of female secondary sexual characteristics. These includes breasts, endometrium, regulation of the menstrual cycle etc. In males estrogen helps in maturation of the sperm and maintenance of a healthy libido.
Estrogen is responsible for development of the female body and the secondary sexual characters. It helps decelerate height increase in females during puberty, accelerates burning of body fat and reduces muscle bulk.
It also stimulates growth of the inner lining of the uterus (endometrium) during the menstrual cycle, increases uterine growth, improves lubrication of the vagina, and thickens the vaginal wall while increasing blood vessels to the skin.
Types of Estrogen
Female hormones produced by the ovaries called estrogens. It is one of the main sex hormones in the body. It is mainly produced by the ovaries, but can be produced in men and women by other tissues like fat tissue, the brain and the reproductive organs. There are receptors for estrogen on almost every cell tissue in the body from the bone to the brain. There are three different types of estrogen – estrone, estradiol and estriol. Each form has slightly different effect on the same tissue. Estrone, estradiol and estriol together are known as the estrogenic hormones. Their balanced production is vital to a woman’s long-term and reproductive health.
- Estradiol is the most commonly measured type of estrogen for non-pregnant women. The amount of estradiol in a woman’s blood varies throughout her menstrual cycle. After menopause, estradiol production drops to a very low but constant level.
- Estriol levels usually are only measured during pregnancy. Estriol is produced in large amounts by the placenta, the tissue that links the fetus to the mother. It can be detected as early as the 9th week of pregnancy, and its levels increase until delivery. Estriol can also be measured in urine.
- Estrone may be measured in women who have gone through menopause to determine their estrogen levels. It also may be measured in men or women who might have cancer of the ovaries, testicles, or adrenal glands.
Estrogen’s Other Functions
Estrogens also control some of the metabolic processes of the human body, such as exactly how fast bones grow. It increases production of the cells that build bones, or osteoblasts. Healthy levels of osteoblasts are needed to maintain bone health and density. Women whose production of natural estrogen has decreased are at higher risk for developing fragile bones or osteoporosis. Actually, estrogens deficiency can lead to osteoporosis.
Estrogens also help lower cholesterol levels.
Estrogen assists in maintaining the balance of electrolytes and fluids in a woman’s skin. Women who no longer produce natural estrogen often complain of dry skin and discomfort related to dry vaginal tissues.
While it is not entirely clear what function small amounts of estrogen fulfill regarding a man’s health, too much estrogen can cause a variety of health concerns. Enlarged breasts, hyperthyroidism, a pear-shaped weight-gain pattern, cirrhosis and early aging can be symptoms of an imbalanced estrogen-testosterone ratio.
Deficit of estrogen
Deficiency of estrogen can lead to a number of problems including changes in mood, loss of bone mass, vaginal dryness and increased likelihood of urinary tract infections. Additionally, a lack has been linked to increased cholesterol which can lead to heart problems or risks for heart disease.
Women with very low body fat, often due to excessive exercise, may also experience low estrogen levels.
Symptoms of low estrogens could include fatigue, hot flashes, night sweats, memory lapses, difficult concentrating, joint pain, vaginal dryness, dry skin (which can lead to premature aging, wrinkles, and brown age spots), loss of libido, atherosclerosis, headaches/migraines, vaginal infection, arthritis, depression, panic attacks and low self esteem.
Low levels of estrogen could be caused by:
* Problems with ovarian function, which can be caused by a failure of an ovary to develop properly (Turner’s syndrome) or because of a drop in pituitary gland activity.
* Anorexia nervosa.
* A problem with the fetus or placenta during pregnancy.
Increased Levels of Estrogens
High levels of estrogen are very common in women, especially in women over 35, yet most ignore and try to live with the problem because they attribute it as part of their menstrual cycle or aging.
Many women of menopausal age believe they are actually lacking in estrogen, and this misconception has led many women to engage in hormone replacement therapy. However, this additional estrogen only exacerbates the problem further, complicating health even more.
Women who are overweight, have high blood pressure or diabetes, take estrogen-containing drugs or are in certain stages of pregnancy may also be suffering from excess estrogen. This condition is also referred to ‘estrogen dominance’, because while some women may have surges of estrogen, it is often the imbalance between the normal hormones levels in the body, progesterone and estrogen, where the problems most occur.
Symptoms of high levels of estrogen may include PMS, migraines, mood swings, feeling easily angered, cramps, uterine fibroids, depression, unexplained weight gain, feeling fatigued or lethargic, osteoporosis, insomnia, allergies, memory loss, skin problems such as acne, psoriasis, or a red flushed appearance, breast sore, tender, and/or enlarged breasts, miscarriage, low sex drive, high blood pressure, hot flashes and irregular periods.
High levels of estrogen could be caused by:
* Ovarian stimulation used to treat infertility (for example, before in vitro fertilization).
* Cancer, such as cancer of the ovaries, testicles, or adrenal glands.
* Serious liver disease (cirrhosis).
* A pregnancy with more than one fetus, such as twins or triplets.
* Early (precocious) puberty.