Estrogen is a hormone. Although present in the body in small amounts, hormones have big roles in maintaining your health.
Estrogen is commonly associated with the female body. Men also produce estrogen, but women produce it in higher levels.
The hormone estrogen:
- is responsible for the sexual development of girls when they reach puberty
- controls the growth of the uterine lining during the menstrual cycle and at the beginning of a pregnancy
- causes breast changes in teenagers and women who are pregnant
- is involved in bone and cholesterol metabolism
- regulates food intake, body weight, glucose metabolism, and insulin sensitivity
Girls who haven’t reached puberty and women approaching menopause are most likely to experience low estrogen. Still, women of all ages can develop low estrogen.
Common symptoms of low estrogen include:
- painful sex due to a lack of vaginal lubrication
- an increase in urinary tract infections (UTIs) due to a thinning of the urethra
- irregular or absent periods
- mood swings
- hot flashes
- breast tenderness
- headaches or accentuation of pre-existing migraines
- trouble concentrating
You may also find that your bones fracture or break more easily. This may be due to a decrease in bone density. Estrogen works in conjunction with calcium, vitamin D, and other minerals to keep bones strong. If your estrogen levels are low, you may experience decreased bone density.
If left untreated, low estrogen can lead to infertility in women.
Estrogen is primarily produced in the ovaries. Anything that affects the ovaries will end up affecting estrogen production.
Young women may experience low levels of estrogen due to:
- excessive exercise
- eating disorders, such as anorexia
- a low-functioning pituitary gland
- premature ovarian failure, which can result from genetic defects, toxins, or an autoimmune condition
- Turner syndrome
- chronic kidney disease
In women over age 40, low estrogen can be a sign of approaching menopause. This time of transition is called perimenopause.
During perimenopause your ovaries will still produce estrogen. Production will continue to slow until you reach menopause. When you’re no longer producing estrogen, you’ve reached menopause.
The most common risk factors for low estrogen levels include:
- age, since your ovaries produce less estrogen over time
- family history of hormonal issues, such as ovarian cysts
- eating disorders
- extreme dieting
- excessive exercising
- issues with your pituitary gland
A diagnosis of low estrogen followed by treatment can prevent many health issues.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of low estrogen, consult your doctor. They can assess your symptoms and make a diagnosis if needed. Early diagnosis may help prevent further complications.
During your appointment, your doctor will discuss your family health history and assess your symptoms. They’ll also perform a physical exam. Blood tests will likely be needed in order to measure your hormone levels.
Your estrone and estradiol levels may also be tested if you’re experiencing:
- hot flashes
- night sweats
- frequently missed periods (amenorrhea)
In some cases, your doctor may order a brain scan to check for any abnormalities that may be affecting the endocrine system. DNA testing may also be used to assess any issues with your endocrine system.
Women who have low levels of estrogen may benefit from hormonal treatment.
Women between the ages of 25 to 50 who are estrogen deficient are generally prescribed a high dose of estrogen. This can reduce the risk of bone loss, cardiovascular disease, and other hormonal imbalances.
The actual dose will depend on the severity of the condition and the method of application. Estrogen can be administered:
- via injection
In some cases, long-term treatment may be needed even after your estrogen levels return to normal. This may require lower doses of administered estrogen over time in order to sustain your current level.
Estrogen therapy may also ease the severity of menopausal symptoms and reduce your risk of fractures.
Long-term estrogen therapy is primarily recommended for women who are approaching menopause and have also had a hysterectomy. In all other cases, estrogen therapy is only recommended for one to two years. This is because estrogen therapy may increase your risk of cancer.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
HRT is used to augment your body’s natural hormone levels. Your doctor may recommend HRT if you’re approaching menopause. Menopause causes your estrogen and progesterone levels to significantly decrease. HRT can help return these levels to normal.
In this therapy, hormones can be administered:
- via injection
HRT treatments can be adjusted in dosage, length, and the combination of hormones. For example, depending on the diagnosis, progesterone is often used in conjunction with estrogen.
Sex hormones, such as estrogen, influence the amount of fat in the body. Estrogen regulates glucose and lipid metabolism. If your estrogen levels are low, it can result in weight gain.
Research suggests that this may be why women approaching menopause are likely to become overweight. Being overweight can increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
If your estrogen levels are low and it’s affecting your weight, consult your doctor. They can assess your symptoms and advise you on next steps. It’s always a good idea to eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly. Talk with your doctor about developing a diet and exercise plan that’s right for you.
Hormones, such as estrogen, play a key role in your overall health. Genetic defects, a family history of hormone imbalances, or certain diseases can cause your estrogen levels to drop.
Low estrogen levels can interfere with sexual development and sexual functions. They can also increase your risk of obesity, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease.
Treatments have evolved over the years and become more effective. Your individual reason for low estrogen will determine your particular treatment, as well as the dosage and duration.