Estrogen is a natural hormone produced by the body, and although it is most commonly associated with women, estrogen occurs in men as well. There are a few vital contributions that estrogen has to the healthy development of our bodies, especially when it comes to puberty and reproduction. But, there are times when our bodies may produce too much or too little estrogen; when that happens, shifts occur and a number of symptoms may arise. In this 3-part series, we will go through what estrogen is, the various under- and over-production effects of estrogen in women, and lastly, we’ll take a peek into how estrogen plays a role in a man’s overall health. In this article, you’ll get a simple overview of what estrogen’s role is in our bodies.
The first thing you need to know about estrogen is that it is produced naturally in the body with fluctuating highs and lows throughout a woman’s cycle. The highest is in the middle of the menstrual cycle and the lowest during your period. As we stop ovulating, estrogen levels drop, this explains the connection between low levels of estrogen and menopause.
Known as the sex hormone, estrogen contributes to a variety of functions:
- turns a girl into a “woman” through puberty – growth of breasts and pubic hair, and start of menstrual cycles
- important to childbearing
- keeps cholesterol in control
- protects bone health (for example, osteoporosis)
- affects your brain (mood), heart (decreased estrogen can bring on increased inflammation), skin (dry), and other tissue (vaginal walls)
Estrogen is just one of the hormones that plays a role in the normal sexual and reproductive development in women. Women with low levels of estrogen who are experiencing difficulty getting pregnant, might be put on hormone therapy which will introduce extra estrogen to the body to help simulate the hormone cycle. For women who are trying to ward off pregnancy, birth control acts as a bio-identical hormone supplement to maintain levels of estrogen (and progesterone); without a surge in estrogen, your ovaries will not release an egg.
The effects of increased or decreased estrogen levels in the body extend beyond whether our reproductive organs can successfully do their jobs or not. As our sex hormones are not solely made to reproduce, one of estrogen’s other functions is to keep the walls of the vagina lubricated with clear fluid and the lining healthy, thick, and elastic. By maintaining healthy levels of lubrication, the vagina welcomes penetration (i.e. sexual intercourse) without distress or pain. Should the levels of estrogen dip, this can impact the amount of moisture available, making sexual intercourse less enjoyable due to dryness.
Vaginal dryness is a treatable symptom of reduced estrogen levels. Also known as vaginal atrophy or GSM (Genitourinary Symptoms of Menopause), this condition can lead to distressing urinary symptoms. Vaginal estrogen cream has been the only therapy available up to recently. But now, through Vaginal laser Therapy (diVa) or the O-Shot PRP Therapy, we can restore function and appearance of the vagina both internally and externally. Your sexual desire will often return and vaginal lubrication will increase, helping you maintain healthy vaginal function and allowing sexual intercourse to be more pleasurable.
Estrogen plays a vital role in a woman’s development. As we saw, estrogen helps with the reproductive aspect of being a woman (puberty, menstrual cycles, childbearing), but it also helps with a woman’s overall health from affecting mood and behaviour to producing natural lubrication in the vagina.
There is so much to learn about estrogen, in our next blog, we’ll talk more in depth about what happens when your body produces too little or too much estrogen. We’ll take a look vaginal dryness as well as all of the treatments available.
It’s important to know your body and understand what is going on beneath the surface. It may seem like you don’t have control over the what your body naturally does on its own, but you do – and by paying close attention to your behaviour and general health, you can play an active role in tending to your happiness and overall well-being.