Everything you need to know about estrogen

First of all, let’s take a look at what are the main female’s hormones and how they influence our bodies throughout the life span.

Estrogen and progesterone are the two female’s sex hormones. Testosterone is considered a male’s hormone but women do produce it too in small amounts.

Estrogen (oestrogen) is produced mostly by our ovaries but the adrenal glands and fat cells might also produce it in small amounts. Estrogen is mainly responsible for the development and regulation of the female’s reproductive system. It also affects the urinary tract, the heart and blood vessels, bones, breasts, skin and hair. It keeps cholesterol in control and protects bone health for both women and males. It contributes to the cognitive system and to other essential processes in the body. Estrogen helps women develop and maintain female characteristics, such as breasts and pubic hair.

For a good physical and mental health, it is very important to ensure that you have an appropriate level of estrogen in your body. However, normal levels of estrogen vary from woman to woman and from a period of the month to another.

High levels of estrogen have been linked to higher chances to develop blood clots and stroke. Similarly, it can lead to thyroid dysfunction.

Main symptoms of high levels of estrogen: fatigue and weight changes.

Low levels of estrogen have been linked to missed or irregular periods, infertility (low levels of estrogen can prevent ovulation) and weak bones.

Main symptoms of low levels of estrogen: painful sex, lack of vaginal lubrification, amenorrhea or irregular periods, shift in mood, hot flashes, depression, migraines.

Estrogen and mental health

There are many proofs indicating an existent correlation between estrogen and women’s emotional wellbeing.

Research has shown that a decrease in the level of estrogen in women was associated with mood swings and premenstrual syndrome, premenstrual dysphoric disorder and postpartum depression.

Estrogen acts almost everywhere in the body, including in the brain.

  • it has an impact on the serotonin
  • it modifies the secretion of endorphins (the hormones that makes us feel good)
  • it might promote nerve growth

Estrogen and Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

About 90% of women experience unpleasant symptoms before their periods. If these symptoms interfere with the quality of life, then it is defined as premenstrual syndrome.

PMS manifest by:

  • physical and emotional symptoms that occur few days before the period and for more than one consecutive month
  • symptoms that disappear after the period
  • symptoms that cause significant personal problems ( at work, at school, in relationships)
  • social withdrawal due to irritability, anxiety or depressive symptoms

Estrogen and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)

Women with PMDD have higher chances to experience a negative mood before their periods. Some experts consider PMDD as being a severe form of PMS. 3 % to 9% of women experience PMDD and they generally suffer from serious emotions challenges that interfere with day-to-day life.

Estrogen appears to influence these mood disturbances. However, research still cannot explain exactly how. All we know so far it that women with PMS and PMDD might be more prone to estrogen fluctuation during menstrual cycle and that they might have normal amounts of estrogen but their brains “decode” it differently.

Estrogen and Postpartum Depression

10% to 25% of women suffer from major depression within the 6 months after a childbirth. Although it is treated like normal depression (with therapy and antidepressants), there is a possibility for a new treatment that involves increasing the amount of estrogen in the body. More on post-partum depression, here.

Estrogen and Postmenopausal Depression

At menopause, the levels of estrogen drop significantly. Some women feel better but others do not. Unfortunately, hormone replacement therapy does not seem to improve depression in women after menopause. Low levels of estrogen might have an impact on the quality of sleep, which might impact the mood and lead to anxiety. If any of these symptoms are experienced for more than two-three weeks, a health provider should be contacted.

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