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About 1% of women experience menopause before the age of 40. But for most women, the average age is 51.
Menopause is diagnosed when you've gone 12 months without your menstrual cycle. But perimenopausal symptoms that cause mild to severe discomfort and emotional changes last 4 years on average. Luckily, there are treatments to help ease you through this period.
Estrogen plays a big role in menopause. But what does estrogen do and how can it help you through "the change"?
In this guide, we'll explain how estrogen has always affected your body and how it's affecting your body now. We'll discuss how estrogen pills can help ease your symptoms and what you need to be aware of if you choose this treatment.
Keep reading to find out everything you've ever needed to know about the estrogen hormone.
What Is Estrogen?
Hormones are chemicals produced by your body. They tell your body how to behave.
Estrogen is a group of hormones. These sex hormones are more present in women than in men. They ensure the development of female characteristics and have a big influence on reproduction.
Estrogen is responsible for the growth and development of breasts, pubic hair and armpit hair. They have a significant impact on your bones, brain, and skin. Your reproductive system is reliant on estrogen as well.
These hormones regulate your menstrual cycle and are crucial for the processes involved in reproduction. It's primarily produced in the ovaries but fat cells and the adrenal gland also produce estrogen.
The Estrogen Cycle
When you reach puberty around the ages of 8-13 and begin your first menstrual cycle, your ovaries begin releasing estrogen.
Traveling through the bloodstream, estrogen delivers messages to various cells in your body. It ensures that your body is ready for fertilization and implantation.
Halfway through your menstrual cycle, estrogen tells your ovaries to release an egg. It's responsible for the growth of uterine lining capable of housing an embryo.
If the egg is not fertilized, your estrogen levels decrease. This is when your uterine lining is shed and menstruation begins.
If the egg is fertilized and you become pregnant, estrogen and progesterone (another sex hormone) stop the body from ovulating for the entire time you're pregnant.
Estrogen also gives you the ability to lactate.
Forms of Estrogen
Estrogen is the name given to a group of 3 similar hormones.
- The only type of estrogen found in post-menopausal women. It's a weak form of estrogen that's found in fat and muscle.
- This steroid is produced in the ovaries and it's the strongest form of estrogen.
- This form of estrogen is actually a waste product. It's produced after your body has used estradiol. It's also the weakest of all three forms of estrogen.
How Estrogen Affects Different Body Parts and Functions
Estrogen has an effect on more than just your reproductive system. Below is a list of all the functions of estrogen in different parts of the body.
- Lubricates the vagina. Stimulates the growth of the vagina and the thickening of the vaginal wall.
- Fosters the growth of your eggs.
- Fosters the thickening of the uterine walls. Causes the uterine muscles to develop and contract. Contractions are essential to childbirth and to shedding tissue during menstruation.
- Fallopian tubes: Responsible for the growth of a thick, muscular wall in the fallopian tubes, and for the contractions that transport the egg and sperm cells.
- Mammary glands. Works with the hormones in these glands to develop and grow breasts. Also stops lactation after breastfeeding.
- Links the brain to sexual development and enhances chemicals that make you feel good. Regulates body temperature.
- Effects on the thickness and quality of the skin.
- Works with vitamin D, calcium and other hormones on bone development. Effects on bone strength and bone loss. Also responsible for what makes women's bone structure different from men.
- Liver and heart. Protects the heart by regulating cholesterol in the liver.
- Creates the difference between men and women's hair. Responsible for the permanency of the hair on women's hair.
- Helps your hips and thigs store fat.
- The reason why women's voices tend to be more high-pitched then men's.
What Happens When You Have an Estrogen Imbalance?
Estrogen levels vary widely in every woman's body. You can measure a woman's estrogen levels in the morning and again at night and notice varying levels on any given day. These fluctuations are normal.
Problems arise when these levels are regularly too high or too low. This kind of imbalance in hormones can create a range of health problems. They're also responsible for undesirable changes to physical and emotional health.
An imbalance in estrogen levels can cause:
- Infrequent menstration.
- Menstruation stopping altogether.
- Very light or very heavy menstruation.
- Hot flashes and night sweats.
- Lumps or cysts occurring in the breasts or the uterus.
- Emotional changes such as frequent changes in mood.
- Sleep disorders or problems sleeping.
- Weight gain.
- A loss of sexual desire.
- Chronic fatigue.
- Depression and/or anxiety.
- Dry skin occurring anywhere on the body.
- Lack of vaginal lubrication. This can cause pain during intercourse.
What Does Estrogen Do During Menopause?
Estrogen typically begins to decline when women are in their 40's.
Lower levels of estrogen can cause the common symptoms of menopause. These include hot flashes, dryness of the vagina, weight gain the hips and thighs, problems sleeping, and a reduction or loss of sexual desire.
When your body stops producing estrogen in the quantities it did earlier in life, it also has an effect on your bones. Bone development slows down significantly when estrogen levels decrease. This is why women are more likely to develop osteoporosislater in life.
Estrogen can also have a big impact on the functioning of your brain and it's effect on your emotions. Lowered estrogen levels can cause depression, anxiety, and fluctuation in emotions (mood swings).
Synthetic estrogen is estrogen that's either created in a laboratory or taken from pregnant mares. It's used in a number of medical applications.
Birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and bio-identical replacement therapy (BHRT) are the three most common uses for synthetic estrogen.
Estrogen's role in birth control is to hinder the pituitary gland from releasing follicle-stimulating hormone. It prevents the body from producing luteinizing hormone and stops ovulation.
Birth control may be prescribed for more than just preventing pregnancy. For women with irregular menstrual cycles, it can help with regulation. It can also reduce cramping and regularly heavy flow.
Women who have a history of cysts or ovarian cancer may take birth control to reduce their risks. It's also prescribed as a method for treating acne.
For perimenopausal women, birth control may be prescribed as a way to combat mild symptoms.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has two main uses: treating postmenopausal symptoms and helping transgender women transition from male to female.
Estrogen helps transgender women develop breasts and hinder the growth of undesirable body hair. It's a key factor in the transition from male to female because it stimulates the functions of the body that make a woman characteristically female.
HRT can also relieve the symptoms of menopause. It provides the body with additional estrogen when levels decrease naturally.
It can be prescribed as a pill, patch, topical gel or cream or as a nasal spray. HRT's can also be injected.
HRT can help reduce physical symptoms like hot flashes and vaginal dryness. It can also combat the emotional changes of menopause. These include mood swings, problems sleeping, anxiety or depression and low sex drive.
Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy
Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT) is only used to treat menopausal women who have had their uterus removed. It increases estrogen levels in the same way as HRT but is linked to uterine cancer. It cannot, therefore, be used on women who have their uterus.
ERT prevents and/or control the physical symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, loss of collagen, and dental problems. It also works against emotional symptoms such as sleep problems and mood swings.
ERT has been shown to prevent the development of osteoporosis. It can also prevent colon cancer and reduce bone loss.
Potential Side Effects of Synthetic Estrogen
Estrogen affects the endocrine system. For this reason, it's linked to some cancers. Breast and uterine cancers are especially sensitive to estrogen.
Synthetic estrogen may also cause blood clotting. Blood clots can lead to stroke and heart attack.
Taking estrogen can also lead to denser breast tissue. This makes it more difficult to perform mammograms. Mammograms are essential to detecting breast cancer.
HRT specifically is known to cause bloating, soreness of the breasts, headaches, nausea and water retention. In some women, it can cause more mood swings than it prevents.
Are You Suffering From Hormone Imbalance?
What does estrogen do during menopause? It makes your physical and emotional health fluctuate and can cause unbearable symptoms. The advances in medical science allow us to treat those symptoms with a great degree of success.
If you're interested in reducing your symptoms, contact us to find out if you're a candidate for hormone replacement therapy.
Published: July 15, 2018
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