Hormone 101: Estrogen
Where is it released from?
The ovaries produce and release two groups of sex hormones - progesterone and estrogen. These two work together to assist in the balanced development of a woman’s sex characteristics.
What’s the main function?
Estrogen plays a huge role in regulating our reproductive health and menstrual cycles by sending messages to the uterus to grow and replace the lining that was shed in the previous cycle. One of the first signs of estrogen at work in a woman’s life cycle is during puberty, when it’s working hard to support the healthy development of breasts and a fuller figure. As women age, estrogen levels typically dip the closer we get to menopause. Estrogen also regulates other metabolic processes in the body, such as bone growth and cholesterol; therefore if our estrogen levels are low (or high), it’s important that we know about it.
What are the effects of imbalances?
Estrogen levels have a domino effect on brain chemistry and moods as estrogen affects parts of the brain that control our emotions. We may notice this during our menstrual cycle, especially if things are out of balance. As is true with our cycles, every woman has a very different experience of hormone levels rising and falling, all areas of health: mental, physical and emotional, need to be taken into consideration. Those of us who thrive during ovulation and experience it as a creative, inspired time of the month, may not have imbalances or health issues that could contribute to rises in estrogen feeling uncomfortable. If your estrogen levels are already low, during the phases in your cycle when estrogen is rising you might have difficulties feeling regulated and balanced. Symptoms of low estrogen range from fatigue, depression and mood swings to urinary infections, painful sex and even brittle bones. If our estrogen levels are too high however, this can also be problematic, as the ‘estrogen dominant’ state can aggravate anxiety and cause bloating and weight gain.
How does it relate to your lifestyle?
Nutrition and lifestyle both play a huge role in hormonal health. Women with low body fat, who have a history of eating disorders or excessive exercising, typically don’t produce as much estrogen. The body is designed to respond when we’re out of balance - so when we’re dieting, losing weight and assuming success, we often don’t have the body’s full story. The same goes for stress as the body uses up more progesterone to manufacture the stress hormone cortisol and in turn leaves us with an excess of estrogen. Either way - high or low, estrogen imbalance can cause unnecessary havoc and the only way out is through.
Words by Amy Mabin
Read more of our Hormone 101 series: