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Estrogen is a primary sex hormone in women, which is responsible for the development and maturation of the female reproductive system and the exposition of female sexual characteristics. Production of estrogen is primarily a function of the ovaries but it can also be synthesised by several other body cells, including the adipose tissue.

While normal levels of estrogen are desirable for optimal body functioning, both high and low levels of this hormone are linked with different types of disorders. This only emphasises the importance of the hormone estrogen in your body and the dire need to maintain its normal levels.

But, how do you maintain normal levels of estrogen in your body and how do you know that you have an estrogen imbalance?

This article will answer these and many other questions revolving around the hormone estrogen. It will also explain the types, benefits and side effects of this hormone on your body and will put forward the symptoms of low and high estrogen levels. So, let’s get started.

  1. What is estrogen and what are the types of estrogen?
  2. Estrogen functions
  3. Benefits of estrogen
  4. Signs of low estrogen and high estrogen levels
  5. How to increase female hormone estrogen
  6. Estrogen side effects

Estrogen is one of the two major female sex hormones, which is not only responsible for the development of sexual characteristics in women but also has a role in the process of reproduction. Following are the major types of estrogen synthesised by your body:

  • E2 or estradiol- this is the most common type of the hormone, which is seen in the woman of the reproductive age.
  • E3 or estriol- this type of estrogen is one of the main hormones in pregnant women.
  • E1 or estrone- this is the only type of estrogen that is synthesised by your body following menopause.
  • Estrogen is one of the main female sex hormones, which makes it certain that it is involved in the initiation of the menstrual cycle. Not only this, but it is also responsible for its regulation in women across all ages.
  • Estrogen is involved in the development of primary sexual characteristics like the growth of breast tissue and the appearance of pubic hair at the age of puberty. So, estrogen is pretty much responsible for all the changes you experience around adolescence.
  • Another important function of estrogen is during pregnancy and childbirth. It contributes to breast enlargement and the development of milk ducts in pregnant women, which also explains its role during lactation.
  • Despite being a primarily female sex hormone, estrogen is essential in both men and women due to its basic functions. These include maintenance of the mineral content of the bone and regulation of the normal body functions.

So, estrogen performs all these functions in your body, which are very much essential and inevitable. But, what exactly are its health benefits, you will learn here:

  1. Estrogen for the skin
  2. Estrogen for wounds
  3. Estrogen for the bones
  4. Estrogen for the brain
  5. Estrogen for the heart

Estrogen for the skin

Having a forever young and wrinkle-free skin is the dream of many, but, are you aware of your body's hormonal influences in preserving and maintaining your youth? Well, as a steroid hormone, estrogen has several benefits for your skin. One of the most pronounced of these is that it aids in the prevention of skin ageing by several mechanisms.

First, it helps to improve the thickness of your skin by increasing the production of collagen, which is the most prominent skin protein. The thinner your skin is, the more prone it is to age-related damage and the manifestation of wrinkles. By increasing the thickness of your skin, estrogen basically delays this effect. Second, estrogen increases the moisture content of your skin. This it does by raising the levels of acid mucopolysaccharides and hyaluronic acid in your body. It also improves the functioning of the stratum corneum barrier, which may help to improve the lubrication of the skin.

While estrogen may perform this function perfectly in young individuals, the levels of estrogen are remarkably reduced in women after menopause, which explains why they experience wrinkling of the skin. But, this can be dealt with the help of estrogen supplements for the skin.

Studies have found that women who have undergone a hormone replacement therapy have higher levels of sebum in the skin. This helps them to ward off or delay the progression of skin wrinkles. But, hormone replacement therapy has its own risks. It may be a bit safer to employ topical estrogen for your rescue, which helps in achieving similar health benefits but may have lesser side effects. Studies have found that topical estrogen caters to improve the thickness of the skin and is thus preventive of skin wrinkles. So, you can opt for skin care creams containing this hormone to boost collagen production and to minimise skin ageing. However, they must not be used overenthusiastically as they can raise the localised concentration of estrogen at a site, which can lead to malignant changes.

Estrogen for wounds

Other than catering to a delay in skin ageing, estrogen is also involved in the process of repair. Researchers suggest that the hormone estrogen has a major role in wound healing. It helps to promote cutaneous wound healing by regulating the cytokine levels in the body. Of course, the estrogen in your body is functioning on its own and will contribute its part to wound healing, but you can enhance this process by making use of topical estrogen in the form of creams and lotions at the wound site. This may assist in a quicker wound healing, as it has been suggested by clinical studies. Not only this, the quality of wound healing will be better with lesser scars.

Estrogen for the bones

Although the formation of bones is completed by late adolescence by the laying down of the skeletal tissue, remodelling of bone keeps on occurring throughout life to maintain adequate bone length and density. It has been well-established that the hormone estrogen plays a major role in the process of bone remodelling. It assists in the maintenance of bone homeostasis and is involved in the expression of bone cells including osteocytes, osteoblasts and osteoclasts. Estrogen also regulates the release of insulin-like growth factors, which affects bone resorption.

Due to the role of estrogen in the regulation of bone function, low levels of circulating estrogen are associated with a greater risk of osteoporosis, the incidence of which is high among postmenopausal women. Osteoporosis is a significant matter of concern as it leads to the weakening of bone and bone pain along with an increased risk of fractures.

Estrogen for the brain

A mild decline in memory and cognition may be considered to be a factor of old age but progressively marked decline points to disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Studies have linked sufficient levels of circulating estrogen to be protective against the manifestation of memory-related disorders, especially in women. It has been described that a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s after menopause could be due to a decline in this hormone. Some sort of protective relationship has also been observed in men but the effects aren’t as pronounced.

Not just cognitive decline, the role of estrogen in women has also been suggestive to be preventive of chronic stress and depression. Low levels of circulating estrogen as seen in postmenopausal and premenopausal women are usually associated with a greater incidence of stress and depression among women. Thus, it can be comprehended that adequate levels of circulating estrogen are essential for the maintenance of a healthy mental state in women.

Estrogen for the heart

Estrogen has protective benefits on the heart. Studies state that the hormone estradiol, which is most commonly present in women, helps to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disorders. It even has immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory effects. So, it has been suggested to be preventive of atherosclerosis. This also puts forward that the decline in estrogen hormone after menopause may be responsible for an increased incidence of heart attack and other cardiovascular disorders in women.

Understanding the hormone estrogen is important so that you have a clear picture of your health. Here is how you can know:

Low estrogen

  • Discontinuation of menstrual cycle or reduction in its frequency
  • Menstrual migraine or prevalence of severe headaches right before the beginning of the menstrual cycle
  • Hot flushes
  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Thinning of the vagina
  • Mood swings
  • Dryness of the skin
  • Low sexual desires

These symptoms are usually seen in postmenopausal women or women approaching menopause. They may also be seen in women who have had surgical removal of the ovaries.

High estrogen

  • Menstrual problems like heavy or light bleeding
  • Prevalence or worsening of premenstrual symptoms
  • Presence of breast lumps
  • Presence of fibroids in the uterus
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of sexual desire
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Weight gain around the area of the waist, hips and thighs

Now you understand the benefits of estrogen and can probably decipher why it's important to maintain its levels in the body and can even make out if you have sufficient levels or not. But, how exactly do you maintain estrogen levels or increase them if you they are currently low? Well, this section will tell you how.

  1. Estrogen rich foods: Phytoestrogens
  2. Hormone replacement therapy or estrogen replacement therapy

Estrogen rich foods: Phytoestrogens

Certain natural food products are rich in compounds similar to estrogen, while others may be fortified with it. Plant-derived components which perform this function are called phytoestrogens as they bind to estrogen receptors in the body. Consumption of these foods can help achieve the functional benefits of the hormone but it cannot exclusively raise the levels of the hormone in your body. These foods include:

  • Soybean and soy products like soy milk, dairy products and soy flour
  • Grape skin
  • Citrus fruits like orange and lemon
  • Citrus fruit juices
  • Capsicum peppers including red, yellow and green peppers
  • Green leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, kale and parsley
  • Celery sticks
  • Green tea
  • Fruits like apples, apricots, cherries
  • Berries like strawberry and blueberry
  • Legumes and beans
  • Chocolate
  • Alfalfa and clover
  • Flaxseeds
  • Multi-grain bread

Other than these foods, it has also been said that estrogen and estrogen-like compounds may be present in a variety of other foods you consume. These food types and their dosages have not yet been established, but, it has been acknowledged that the Asian diet is already rich in estrogen-like foods. So, the consumption of these foods may suffice in some women.

Clinical studies have put forward certain benefits and side effects of the inclusion of these foods in your diet owing to their estrogen-like effects. Their intake has been evidenced to relieve menopause symptoms in women like hot flushes and mood swings. So, including them in your diet may help in forming a smooth transition to menopause. Other benefits and functions include maintenance of normal hormonal levels in the body, regulation of bone mass density, especially in women. Some research also hints at their cardiovascular benefits by aiding a reduction in LDL and total cholesterol levels and it also shows cancer-preventive properties.

Excessive phytoestrogens, especially soy-based compounds have pronounced side-effects which include an increased risk of breast cancer and an early appearance of breast buds as early as 2 years of age. The risk of breast cancer is potentiated if soy-based formulas are fed to infants. So, infants must not be fed with such items. Other than in infants, increased consumption of these foods has been linked with a very counterintuitive effect, in that, it reduces the levels of female hormones, estrogen and progesterone. Behavioural changes and an increased risk of lordosis are among some other side effects of their consumption. Changes in hormonal and sexual activity may also be seen.

Hormone replacement therapy or estrogen replacement therapy

A large number of postmenopausal women undergo hormone replacement therapy, in order to ease menopause symptoms like hot flushes, weight gain, reduced sexual desires and vaginal dryness. This therapy caters to replace the level of hormones that are lowered as one approaches menopause and are responsible for these symptoms. Hormone replacement therapy is given in the form of tablets, skin patches and creams containing a combination of female hormones.

While procurement of this therapy may help with these concerns, it has been recognised to have much larger side effects, which include an increased risk of development of breast cancer and other types of cancer like endometrial cancer among women. This occurs due to an increased concentration of estrogen, which is stored within tissues. Other side effects of this therapy include an increased risk of blood clotting, heart attack, cardiovascular disorders and stroke due to a rise in blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Thus, it is recommended to talk to your doctor about any concerns related to this issue. If you are already on this therapy, you must immediately contact your doctor in case of mild side effects like headache, dizziness, muscular pain or blurred vision.

An excess of the female hormone estrogen has a number of side effects and health risks, which is why it is important to regulate its normal levels and avoid undertaking any hormone replacement therapies.

Mild side effects of estrogen

Some of the mild side-effects of oral estrogen therapy include:

If you experience any of the above symptoms, it is recommended to talk to your doctor who may modify your dosage. It is also imperative that you do not exceed the prescribed dosage and always take your medications on time. If you miss a dose, it is advisable to take one immediately. However, if a long time duration has passed by and it is almost the time for the next dose, you must not take a double dose.

Moderate side effects of estrogen

Some of the serious side effects of estrogen include:

In case you experience any of the above, it is important to call your doctor immediately and discuss about your condition.

Serious side effects of estrogen

Some of the more serious side effects of estrogen therapy like an increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disorders can be explained as:

Breast cancer

The risk of breast cancer is anyhow higher among women after menopause and taking estrogen supplements or undergoing a hormone replacement therapy potentiates this risk. Higher risk can be explained on the basis of increased production of estrogen by the breast tissue. This localised increase in estrogen levels stimulates the initiation of breast cancer. Once initiated, the tumour sends signals to keep increasing estrogen secretion in order to facilitate its growth. Since estrogen production takes place in the fat cells of the breasts, it has been concluded that an increase in body weight is responsible for this occurrence. Since hormonal therapies lead to weight gain and cater to an increase in the hormone estrogen, the relationship can be explained. Often to manage breast cancer due to hormone replacement therapy, anti-hormone replacement therapy is described for patients, which may have side effects like hot flushes, vaginal dryness, decreased libido, fatigue and skin changes, which are the manifestation of postmenopausal symptoms.

Other side effects

While breast cancer is one of the most recognised side effects of estrogen therapy, increased levels of estrogen can also lead to a greater risk of other types of cancer like ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer and other neoplasms. It can also lead to the development of autoimmune disorders and polycystic ovarian disease. Further, an excess of this hormone is also linked with a greater risk of infertility.

Side effects in men

A rise in the levels of estrogen can lead to the manifestation gynaecomastia along with an increased risk of infertility and certain types of neoplasms in men.

Overdose

An estrogen overdose can cause stomach upset, vomiting and vaginal bleeding.

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