- Megan Gross
Your Hormones 101 - Estrogen
Everyone has heard of estrogen, but do you know how it affects your body?
Estrogen is imperative for many tasks throughout the endocrine system. There are four types of estrogen; estrone, estradiol, estriol, and estetrol. Estradiol is the main type of estrogen prevalent in the reproductive years (from puberty to menopause) so that is the one we’ll focus on in this post.
Estrogen is responsible for the development of secondary sex characteristics in women (breast growth, pubic hair, as well as hip growth and adipose tissue distribution). It also is responsible for the development of the endometrial lining in the uterus. This is what sheds off during menstruation. Estrogen will also surge during the menstrual cycle, which releases a surge of luteinizing hormone that tells the ovaries to release their mature follicle (ovulation).
On top of the typical reproductive impact that estrogen has, it is also protective to the brain, cardiovascular system, and skeletal structures. Estrogen is supportive of skin tissue and helps skin keep its integrity or youthful appearance. This includes vaginal tissue; without adequate amounts of circulating estrogen the vaginal tissue becomes thin and can make intercourse painful.
Estrogen impacts the female sex drive. We often hear of the importance of testosterone for female libido. However, without estrogen, testosterone can actually impair female libido. Therefore, if you have low estrogen levels, you likely will also experience a low sex drive. One time commonly when women experience low-estrogen induced low libido is if they are breastfeeding. Our estrogen levels are extremely low when we are breastfeeding a newborn baby, so our very wise bodies often tell our reproductive organs that now would in fact, not be a good time to get pregnant. As a result, many women do not feel very interested in having sex.
Finally, estrogen impacts our moods. There is thought to be a link between neurotransmitters (the happy chemicals that circulate in our brain) and estrogen receptors. So, when levels of estrogen are lower (during times of menopause and postpartum) women are more likely to experience new or worsening feelings of depression and anxiety.
The tricky thing about estrogen is that it is constantly fluctuating, both when you are experiencing menstrual cycles, as well as during pregnancy and postpartum, and during perimenopause and menopause. Having an awareness of not only where you are in your cycle/what estrogen is up to during the phase of life you’re in but also what estrogen does for your body will help you address many issues you may face.