Most people think of estrogen as the female sex hormone, and it certainly does play a major role in reproduction and sexual health for women. It’s also present in much smaller quantities in men.
But what a lot of women don’t know is that estrogen affects their lives and their health in many other ways, too. That’s why when menopause occurs, a lot of women are surprised by the changes that occur.
As a leading OB/GYN in Lawrenceville, Georgia, Daniel Esteves, MD helps women manage estrogen levels during menopause and at other stages of life, too. Here’s what our team wants you to know about the role estrogen plays in your body, your health, and your wellness.
Estrogen is a hormone that, in women, is primarily produced in your ovaries. Aside from fluctuations caused by your menstrual cycle, overall estrogen levels remain relatively stable during your reproductive years.
When you enter menopause, your ovaries stop producing estrogen, although it’s still made in very small quantities elsewhere, including your adrenal glands and your fatty tissue.
While menopause is a main cause of estrogen decline, other factors can also cause low estrogen levels, including:
- Genetic issues
- Eating disorders
- Conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome
- Autoimmune diseases
Even strenuous exercise can lower your natural levels of estrogen.
Estrogen and your body
Estrogen circulates throughout your body, so it’s no surprise that it can have widespread effects on your health. These are some of the biggest ways estrogen affects your body and your wellness.
Menstruation and reproduction
Estrogen plays central roles in menstruation, conception, and pregnancy. During child-bearing years, estrogen prepares your body for pregnancy by causing the lining of your uterus to thicken before your period.
When you menstruate, you shed the lining along with blood and vaginal secretions. Not surprisingly, birth control pills and other hormonal contraceptive methods use a form of estrogen to help manage your cycle and prevent pregnancy.
Breast growth is another change that happens during puberty, occurring when estrogen ramps up development of mammary gland tissue, along with other tissue changes in the breast. Estrogen also spurs development of mammary ducts that supply breast milk.
Estrogen helps keep cholesterol levels in check by decreasing low-density lipoproteins (LDL), the type of cholesterol responsible for clogged arteries. It also increases high-density lipoproteins (HDL), the kind of cholesterol that helps clear away LDL deposits. It also decreases inflammatory effects for healthier blood vessels.
In premenopausal women, these effects help lower the risk of coronary artery disease. During menopause, the risk of heart disease steadily increases. In fact, heart disease is the top cause of death among American women.
Estrogen has a major effect on your mood, influencing the way your brain and nerve cells communicate and, importantly, managing your production of a mood-balancing chemical called serotonin. During childbearing years, lower estrogen levels are thought to contribute to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and postpartum depression.
Estrogen plays an important role in the bone-replacement cycle, helping your bones replace old tissue with new, strong, healthy bone tissue. When estrogen levels fall during menopause, women have a much higher risk of osteoporosis, a chronic medical condition that significantly increases the risk of fractures.
Estrogen also plays a role in the development and maintenance of your vagina. When estrogen levels decline, vaginal tissue becomes thinner and dryer, resulting in pain during sex, burning and itching symptoms, and even an increased risk of infections.
Hormone replacement therapy for low estrogen
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) supplements the estrogen that’s naturally produced by your body. Doctors frequently recommend it during menopause, but it can be used for other causes of low estrogen, too.
Like birth control, HRT is available in multiple forms, including pills, shots, implants, and patches. Depending on your needs, Dr. Esteves may prescribe estrogen alone or in combination with another hormone called progesterone.
HRT is prescribed in specific doses, and regular monitoring ensures your dose remains optimized for you as your needs and symptoms change. In addition to reducing unpleasant symptoms associated with low estrogen, HRT may also reduce your risk of osteoporosis once you enter menopause.
HRT offers plenty of benefits for women suffering from the effects of low estrogen, but it’s not always an appropriate choice. For instance, women with bleeding disorders may not be good candidates for HRT. Before recommending HRT, our team performs a comprehensive exam and medical history review to help each patient find a solution that’s right for them.
To learn more about estrogen replacement therapy and whether it’s a good idea for your health and wellness goals, call Daniel Esteves, MD, at 770-676-5878 or book an appointment online.