8 Facts About Estrogen That’ll Change The Way You View “The Change”
You don’t have to be a woman to know that estrogen plays a seriously powerful role in a woman’s life. While the conversation around menopause tends to focus on very specific side effects, this hormone supports a range of vital organs and tissues. Embracing and educating ourselves about estrogen’s role in our overall health might unlock some life-changing truths about how to navigate our own menopause journey.
1. Estrogen levels affect the entire body
There are three types of estrogen, and each type has receptors throughout key tissues and organs in the body. When most people use the term “estrogen,” they’re usually referring to estradiol (E2), the strongest type of this hormone.1 It’s produced primarily by the ovaries, but also in small amounts of other tissues and organs.
The other two types of estrogen are estriol (E1), mostly produced by the placenta during pregnancy, and estrone (E3) which is produced in the ovaries, body fat (adipose tissue), and adrenal glands.2 Both are weaker than estradiol, but all three types of estrogen play a vital role in our overall health as women.
Apart from being found in a woman’s ovaries, placenta, and breasts, estrogens can occur in skin, bone, liver, adrenal glands, and even our brains.3 This explains why many of the symptoms—like hot flashes, muscle aches, and mood swings—influence several aspects of health. Estrogen is an integral part of many bodily processes and diminished amounts affect several systems not only just reproductive health.
2. Men need estrogen too
Men may not go through menopause, but they rely on estrogen just as much as we do. Not only do men produce estradiol and estrone, but there’s also a specific enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen.4 Men also have estrogen receptors throughout their bodies, in their brains as well as their reproductive organs. This can serve as a fun reminder if any men in our lives try to question our hormonal impulses during menopause. We’re not the only people whose health is tied to this vital hormone.
3. Women still produce one type of estrogen after menopause
Women still produce estrone, a type of estrogen, after menopause. Estrone is also produced primarily in our ovaries, but unlike the other estrogens it’s also produced in body fat and adrenal glands.2 It’s known as the “weaker” form of estrogen, but after menopause there’s nothing weak about it. In fact, estrone is found in higher quantities in postmenopausal women than women during other periods of their lives.2 This may be because our bodies convert estrone into the more powerful form of estrogen (estradiol) when needed. 2
4. Menopause symptoms are signs our body is in transition
Just because we produce less estrogen as we age, doesn’t mean we stop needing it. Our hearts, brains, livers, and skin all rely on estrogen.5 Those annoying symptoms we suffer through are messages from our body signaling that it’s in transition.
While we may not always be able to pinpoint exactly what our body is telling us, the important thing is that we’re listening and actively seeking solutions.
5. The medical research surrounding estrogen is limited
We understand a lot about estrogen, but there is still a lot left to learn. Given that one of the two primary estrogen receptors wasn’t even discovered until 1996, researchers are still exploring the many ways this powerful hormone affects our health as we live and age.6
Perimenopause, for example, manifests itself differently in every woman. Many women suffer symptoms for years without realizing what they’re going through. As such, research tends to study postmenopausal women, and the health issues specific to that age group such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. But there’s new information emerging practically every year regarding estrogen’s role in other aspects of our health like cognitive function and sleep.
“Research tends to study postmenopausal women, and the health issues specific to that age group such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.”
This lack of a one-size-fits-all answer to managing menopause is a great reminder about how unique this phase of life is for each of us. It’s also a good reason to schedule a specific appointment with your health care practitioner every year to discuss your wellness journey and how the menopausal transition may be impacting your health. Set aside time to discuss which signals your body is sending you and if there are any other health concerns they could be masking.
6. A lack of estrogen can also affect your gut health
Our sex hormones influence the balance of bacteria in various parts of our body, but especially in the gut.7 This is because the gut plays a key role in metabolizing estrogens.7 It converts the estrogens we’ve already made into different forms, and makes them available to continue supporting the various tissues and organs which rely on them.
Menopause disrupts this natural gut process and balance. If you’re not producing estrogen, you’re also not metabolizing it, which can impact gut health.
7. Losing estrogen during menopause can lead to larger health problems
Menopause is one of the main reasons why certain women are at a higher risk for osteoporosis.8 This is because estrogen plays a key role in bone health, and declining estrogen levels can lead to bone loss.
Menopause is one of the main reasons why certain women are at a higher risk for osteoporosis.
In addition to osteoporosis, estrogen loss can impact other areas of health and increase our risk for several health conditions. Our bodies are going through a transition, the results of which are wholly unique to us. Major health systems, including cardiovascular and musculoskeletal, are all adapting to this lack of estrogen. As our bodies adjust to a new normal, it only makes sense that we may need to incorporate new approaches or adapt our perspectives towards our wellness routine.
8. Manipulating estrogen levels isn’t always the answer
Estrogen is a “master regulator,” and ultimate multitasker. It sends messages to cells all over our bodies, and interacts with other hormones as well.3 During menopause, estrogen replacement therapy may an option to address changes in levels. However, estrogen has significant effects through many bodily process, so it’s vital to determine the right option for you. This may involve other techniques that can help our bodies acclimate to different estrogen levels during the menopausal transition.
This is just another reason why it’s so important to check in with our health care practitioners regularly. How we manage our symptoms may need to evolve over time to match our body’s needs.
Listening to our bodies may be the key to a better menopause journey
Estrogen levels fluctuate throughout our lives, but never so much as during menopause. We should allow ourselves the freedom to feel out what our bodies need, and the grace to get it wrong sometimes.
Finding what works for you may take some trial and error, and it will probably change over time. What worked for your friends and family might not work for you. The important thing is to acknowledge that regardless of what our symptoms are, our bodies are undergoing a massive transition. And acknowledging our needs during this time could be the key to making this era of life the best one yet.
- Hormone Health Network. “Estradiol.” 2017. Endocrine Society. Accessed on: October 2, 2019. <https://www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/glands-and-hormones-a-to-z/hormones/estradiol>
- Hormone Health Network. “What is Estrone?” 2017. Endocrine Society. Accessed on: October 2, 2019. <https://www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/glands-and-hormones-a-to-z/hormones/estrone>
- Patel, S et al. Estrogen: The necessary evil for human health, and ways to tame it. Science Direct. 2018; 102: 403–411.
- Schulster, M et al. The role of estradiol in male reproductive function. Asian J Androl. 2016; 18(3): 435–440.
- Hormone Health Network. “What is Estrogen?” 2018. Endocrine Society. Accessed on: October 2, 2019. <https://www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/glands-and-hormones-a-to-z/hormones/estrogen>
- Kuiper, GG et al. Cloning of a novel receptor expressed in rat prostate and ovary. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1996; 93(12): 5925-30
- Vieira, A et al. Influence of Oral and Gut Microbiota in the Health of Menopausal Women. Front Microbiol. 2017; 8:1884.
- National Osteoporosis Foundation. “What Women Need to Know.” 2019. National Osteoporosis Foundation. Accessed on: October 2, 2019. <https://www.nof.org/preventing-fractures/general-facts/what-women-need-to-know/>