Why is estrogen important in women?
General Nutrition • • 1 minute to read • By Praveena Kuchipudi, INFS Faculty
Author: Praveena Kuchipudi
Estrogen is the sex hormone that plays a major role in the women’s health. It is mainly a ‘female hormone’. What women undergoes endogenously (inside their bodies) is mainly because of estrogen – female characteristics such as reproductive organs function, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.
Estrogen is also present in men, but less than compared to its levels in women. In men, testosterone is the hormone that is present in high levels compared to estrogen. Both the sex hormones are present in both genders and are balanced accordingly.
We already know the importance of estrogen in reproductive health of women. But estrogen have many other roles in overall health of women such as, bone health, __ health, post-menopausal or aging issues and also mental health.
Let’s understand more about this pivotal hormone in women.
Hormones are the chemical messengers that help activate the cells on how the body should work efficiently. Estrogen is a hormone primarily secreted by the ovaries of the female reproductive system. There are three types of estrogen,
- Estrone (E1)
- Estradiol (E2), and
- Estriol (E3)
Of the three, estradiol (E2) is the most abundant estrogen form, present from the first menstruation ( menarche ) until the last period ( menopause ). Estrone (E1) is most produced by the male hormone androgen but very little by the ovaries. It is produced in fat and muscle cells. It is also present during the same period of time as that of estradiol. Estrone is the only form of estrogen that is produced in the body when a woman enters menopause. Estriol (E3) is produced in high levels compared to E1 and E2 only during the pregnancy phase.
When we talk about estrogen’s role in women, it is mainly about the estradiol (E2) as it plays a role in most of woman’s lifetime.
Role of Estrogen
Estrogen starts producing around the time of the first menstrual period, and it usually understood as the body is preparing towards the child-bearing phase. Moreover, its importance is beyond the reproduction or fertility, and it plays role in various other organs and tissues. Let’s look at a few important health aspects on how and where estrogen plays a role for overall health in women and also, and what can be the solution if there is decline/imbalances in the production of this hormone.
- Menstrual health
Estrogen levels keep fluctuating during the whole menstrual cycle. When there is a drop in estrogen (E2) in the follicular phase of the cycle, the lining of the uterus shed and this starts the menstruation. In the ovulatory phase, the release of E2 starts, increases the luteinizing hormone (LH) resulting in the release of the egg.
If the released egg is not fertilized, the lining of the uterus starts thickening and this is the start of luteal phase leading to the next menstrual period. The E2 levels increases in the luteal phase.
If the released egg is fertilized, the lining of the uterus thickens and forms a place for the embryo development, leading to pregnancy phase. Estriol (E3) will be in higher levels to support the growth and development of embryo.
Now, if there are any dysfunctions in the production of menstrual cycle hormones, in particular estrogens, either due to familial or genetic or malnutrition, other estrogen-dependent metabolic functions gets disturbed paving way to lifestyle disorders along with infertility.
- Menopause and Post-menopause
Estrogen (E2) starts to fluctuate erratically 4-5 years before the onset of menopause. Menopause occurs with cessation of menstrual cycle or period. During this time, the E2 declines, and it starts to show the effects on most metabolic parameters (discussed below). At this phase, estrone (E1) still continues to be produced in other peripheral tissues.
To manage the symptoms and negative effects in post-menopausal phase, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can be considered at the right time before onset of menopause under physician’s supervision.
- Obesity and towards metabolic syndrome
Malnutrition (under or over nutrition) can lead to estrogen deficiency, which is called as secondary amenorrhea is also observed in women (pre-menopausal or normal). Along with inadequate nutrition, other factors can contribute to it are stress, disordered eating, excessive exercise or a combination of all the factors.
With estrogen deficiency and menopause, it impacts negatively on the metabolic health resulting in hypothyroidism, increase in cholesterol levels (cardiovascular disorders), less fat oxidation (hard to lose weight), low absorption of calcium which decreases the formation of bone cells (degradation of bone health) and so on.
Estrogen also regulates the transport of glucose, and involves in the biochemical pathways to produce ATP (energy).
- Bone health
Due to the decrease levels of estrogen with menopause, bone density will decline as mentioned due to low absorption of calcium.
- Mental health
Changes in the estrogen and other hormones during the menstrual cycle affect the brain and the body axis, which results in increase in stress hormone and also decreases the mood-balancing hormone ‘serotonin’. It results in anxiety, mood disorders and eventually depression. Due to the same reason, women also get into eating disorders, resulting in lifestyle disorders such as obesity.
Estrogen is the fundamental hormone that regulates both mind and body in women. Women need to be educated about the least aware topic of their entire life phases. In addition, keeping a check on eating and lifestyle habits, exercise (not over training), adequate sleep. Also, note down the various frequent symptoms they normally encounter and get regular checkups done to rule out the possible lifestyle conditions.
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