Estrogen imparts typical female characteristics to women. Women do not have much facial hair and can enjoy a smooth and glowing skin because of ample estrogen in their body. Estrogen is a female steroid sex hormone that is released by the ovaries. It plays an important role in menstruation.
It is also responsible for the typical "pear shape" of the female body, as it is responsible for the size and shape of breasts, widened pelvis, storage of fat in the buttocks, thighs and hips. Low estrogen levels are usually noticed in women after menopause but these days, more and more premenopausal women are being treated for decreased estrogen levels.
Since you are interested in knowing the effects of low estrogen on your body, it is essential to know the functions of estrogen.
- Estrogen plays an important role in the development of breasts and hips. It gives shape to your body. Development of pubic and underarm hair at the onset of puberty also depends upon the flow of estrogen.
- Estrogen helps speed up metabolism and reduces muscle mass.
- It stimulates endometrial and uterine growth.
- It helps maintain the health of the skin, vessels, vaginal flora, bone density, etc.
- It promotes synthesis of proteins and coagulation of blood (wound healing).
- It plays an important role in fat deposition and fluid balance in the body.
- It helps regulate lung function, digestion, menstruation, etc.
- It helps maintain the mental health of a woman.
Causes of Deficiency
Menopause is the natural cause of low estrogen levels. A hysterectomy (removal of uterus and/or ovaries) can also be a cause of dropped estrogen levels. Estrogen and weight gain go hand in hand. So underweight women (women with low body fat) or women who perform strenuous exercises can have insufficient estrogen. Turner's syndrome (an inherited disease) and thyroid disorders can also be the reason behind decreased estrogen levels.
Dysfunction of the pituitary gland, hypogonadism, anorexia nervosa (eating disorder), polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), intensive physical training, intake of certain steroid medications, and drugs like ampicillin, clomiphene, etc., childbirth, breastfeeding can lower estrogen levels.
Women who are capable of reproduction, generally have high estrogen levels. Premature ovarian failure (POF) is characterized by low estrogen levels as ovaries stop producing estrogen. Estrogen levels may drop down after undergoing cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is recommended to women who have inadequate estrogen.
Estrogen side effects are usually noticed after consumption of estrogen drugs. Women may notice increased estrogen levels due to higher amount of estrogen in birth control pills which might eventually result in fluid retention and excessive weight gain. So low estrogen birth control pills are usually recommended.
Scarcity of estrogen leads to hormone imbalance and exhibits several symptoms.
- Women may suffer from irritability and stomach problems like bloating, gas, discomfort, etc.
- Insufficient supply of estrogen from the glands can cause osteoarthritis, leading to joint pain, swelling and stiffness of joints.
- Women with decreased estrogen production can suffer from short-term memory failure or poor memory.
- Low levels of estrogen can result in infertility, lack of menstruation, irregular periods, lack of ovulation, etc.
- Decreased estrogen levels mainly result in bone loss. Women are likely to develop osteoporosis due to scarcity of estrogen.
- Decreased sex drive, painful intercourse, vaginal dryness, itching sensation in the vagina are the main side effects of reduced flow of estrogen.
- Low estrogen side effects in men include thin bones, as estrogen is responsible for good bone mineral density and strong bones.
- Scarcity of estrogen can cause low blood pressure, excessive fatigue, thinning of tissues, lethargy on light exertion, depression, mood changes, thin hair, headaches, lower back pain, insomnia, etc.
- Menopause symptoms like dry skin, hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, bladder infections, fatigue are experienced by women who have estrogen deficiency. Young women with low estrogen are likely to experience an early menopause.
- Depleted estrogen levels can result in increased LDL (bad cholesterol) and decreased HDL (good cholesterol) which may in turn lead to obesity and heart diseases.
- Estrogen deficiency can lead to rapid pulse rate, increased risk of heart attack, stroke and bone fractures. Women with lower than normal levels of estrogen may suffer from panic attacks and low self esteem.
A few years before, synthetic hormones were used to treat estrogen deficiency. But studies have made it clear that use of such synthetic hormones eventually results in serious side effects. Men and women now prefer natural alternatives to hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Experts say that foods and herbs which are natural sources of phytoestrogens, should be included in regular diet.
For example, flaxseed, sesame seeds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachio nuts, sunflower seeds, chestnuts, soy beans, navy beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, vegetables like asparagus, bok choy, carrots, green peppers, potatoes and zucchini, fruits like peaches, raspberries and strawberries, grains like wheat, rye, oats and barley provide good quantity of phytoestrogens. These foods, when included in regular diet, can correct the levels of estrogen.
Estrogen determines women's health by regulating various important reproductive processes. Menopausal women can opt for natural alternatives to HRT. They can help avoid low estrogen side effects. Excessive consumption of sugary and spicy food can affect estrogen levels. Regular exercise, and consumption of lots of fresh fruits and vegetables can help maintain normal estrogen levels. For severe symptoms, women should consult a doctor.