What do low estrogen levels mean for your body?

A tampon in a fruit

Estrogens are an important group of hormones that play a key role in a woman’s sexual and reproductive health. Low estrogen levels may lead to irregular menstrual cycles, bone ailments such as osteoporosis, and cholesterol, as well as skin-related issues. Therefore, it is very important to understand how to maintain your estrogen levels.

While women of all ages can have low estrogen, girls who are yet to reach puberty or older women, who are approaching menopause are at a higher risk of experiencing low estrogen levels. Read on to learn what does low estrogen levels mean and how to treat this condition.

What is estrogen and what do low estrogen levels mean?

Estrogen is an important female sex hormone, and its levels vary throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle. “Persistent estrogen levels below 30 pg/mL are considered low in a premenopausal woman,” says gynaecologist and obstetrician Dr Rekha Ambegaokar.

How does estrogen affect the body?

Estrogen plays a significant role in various aspects of women’s health. Let’s find out!

1. Maintains reproductive health

The estrogen levels of our body are what regulate menstrual cycles and support reproductive tissues. The National Institute of Health states that estrogen is responsible for developing female sexual characteristics. In fact, in the treatment of menopause, hormone replacement therapy is done, and estrogen is the most common hormone used.

2. Maintains bone health

Estrogen maintains bone density and prevents osteoporosis. A study, published in Maturitas, points out that estrogen plays a role in the growth as well as maturation of bones, and low estrogen levels can lead to decreased bone mass and reduced bone strength.

3. Helps to keep cardiovascular system in check

Estrogen levels influence cardiovascular health by maintaining blood vessel flexibility and promoting good cholesterol levels. A study, published in Circulation, suggests that estrogen is being used widely by postmenopausal women to prevent cardiovascular diseases.

4. Affects cognitive function

Our estrogen levels can affect our mood and cognitive functions. Research, published in Fertility and Sterility, states that estrogen in your body interacts with neurotransmitters that affect our mood and cognitive abilities. High levels of estrogen can lead to poor cognition.

5. Maintains skin and hair

Estrogen maintains skin elasticity and hair health. It plays a significant role in skin ageing, pigmentation as well as hair growth and prevention of skin cancer, states this study, published in Experimental Dermatology.

Low estrogen levels can cause irregular periods. Image courtesy: Pexels

What are the symptoms of low estrogen levels?

With estrogen affecting our bodies in so many different ways, both low estrogen levels and high estrogen levels can create havoc in the way our bodies function,. Here are some of the symptoms that you may experience if your estrogen levels are lower than normal:

  • Dry skin
  •  Tender breasts
  •  Weak or brittle bones
  •  Trouble concentrating
  •  Moodiness and irritability
  •  Vaginal dryness or atrophy
  •  Hot flashes and night sweats
  •  Irregular periods or no periods (amenorrhea)

Other signals of low estrogen levels

You may also experience the following side effects of low estrogen:

  • Weight gain: Lower levels of estrogen, particularly after menopause, can cause weight gain, especially an increase in visceral fat (belly fat).
  • Slower metabolism: Low estrogen levels can cause the body to convert more energy sources into fat. This, combined with a reduced ability to exercise and an altered metabolism with age, contributes to weight gain.
  • Hunger pangs: Estrogen deficiency can alter hunger signals in the brain, leading to increased food intake and subsequent weight gain.

Also Read: Sudden increase in weight? Your high estrogen levels could be the culprit!

Causes of low estrogen levels

There are many causes of low estrogen levels. The major causes are explained below:

  • Menopause: The ovaries, which are the major producers of estrogen, become non-functional at menopause, causing estrogen levels to drop.
  • Surgical removal of ovaries: Oophorectomy, the surgical removal of ovaries, leads to an immediate drop in estrogen levels.
  • Genetic conditions: Conditions like Turner’s syndrome and Fragile X syndrome can affect estrogen production.
  • Thyroid dysfunction: Hypothyroidism can disrupt hormonal balance, including estrogen levels.
  • Pituitary dysfunction: Disorders affecting the pituitary gland can impair hormone production and regulation. This can also lead to nausea as well as headaches and vision.
  • Excess exercise: Intense physical activity can lead to reduced body fat, which is necessary for estrogen production.
  • Eating disorders: Conditions like bulimia and anorexia can lead to malnutrition, affecting hormone levels.
  • Autoimmune disorders: Autoimmune diseases can interfere with hormone production.
  • Chronic kidney disease: Kidney disease can impact the overall hormonal balance in the body.
A measuring tape
Sudden weight fluctuations can signify a change in estrogen levels. Image courtesy: Pexels

What are the risk factors for low estrogen levels?

There are a few risk factors that one needs to be aware of to maintain estrogen levels.

  •  Age (especially approaching menopause)
  •  Family history of hormonal imbalances
  •  Extreme dieting or eating disorders
  •  High levels of physical activity
  •  Certain medical treatments (e.g., chemotherapy)
  •  Chronic illnesses

How are low estrogen levels diagnosed?

It is very important to let your doctor know if you are facing any symptoms of low estrogen. A physical exam will be performed, and other risk factors such as your age or family history will be evaluated. After this, serum estrogen level tests and blood tests will be conducted if required, and these will measure the amount of estrogen in the blood.

How are low estrogen levels treated?

Low estrogen levels are treated with hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). HRT can be administered in several forms, including:

  • Topically: Creams or patches applied to the skin.
  •  Orally: Pills are taken by mouth.
  •  Vaginally: Creams, rings, or tablets inserted into the vagina.
  •  Injections: Injections are given directly into the bloodstream.
  •  Monitoring: Close monitoring is required for patients on HRT to adjust doses and minimise potential side effects.

Summary

Estrogen is very important for your body and low estrogen levels can often lead to a host of health complications. Menopause, generic conditions, thyroid as well as eating disorders can lead to low estrogen levels. It is very important to take note of the symptoms which can include irregular periods or no period, dry skin and tender breasts, and consult a doctor.

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