What does estrogen do? Let’s talk about the function of estrogen in the female body, how it makes you feel, the benefits and if it can lead to weight gain.
What does estrogen do?
Estrogen plays a role in:
- The beginning of the menstrual cycle
- The growth bodily hair such as underarm and pubic hair
- The growth of breasts
- The widening of hips
- Fat distribution around the female body
- Fertility and child-birth
That’s not all though! Estrogen also plays a key function in:
- The development and maintenance of bones in both men and women
- Controls cholesterol levels
- Cognitive functon
Estrogen promotes organ functions, such as:
- The thickening of the vaginal wall, as well as lubrication
- The growth of egg follicles in the ovaries
- The thickening of the uterine wall, as well as the flow and thickness of uterine mucus secretions
- The formation of breast tissue
- The start and stop of breast milk during pregnancy and after child-birth
**What is estrogen? **
Estrogen is one of the most well known female sex hormones.
Estrogen plays a number of key functions in both females and males, though males produce a much smaller amount than women. Estrogen is made from cholesterol. (Cholesterol is a fat molecule that occurs naturally in the body, you may have heard of good and bad cholesterol before!)
In females, estrogen is largely produced in the ovaries. It is also produced in the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys, as well as fat cells in the body.
There are four well-known types of estrogen. These are often referred to as estradiol.
The four different types of estrogens have different functions during different life stages. When we refer to “weak estrogens” - we are talking about those that do not have a major impact on the body due to the fact that they “weakly” bind to estrogen receptors.
Hello Clue do a great job of describing estrogens and their receptors:
“Hormones facilitate communication between cells around the entire body. Cells that have receptors for estrogen have functions which are activated or deactivated by it. Think of estrogen as a key, and estrogen receptors as a lock—together they make your body systems work.”
**Here are the four major types of estrogen as well as where they are produced: **
- Estrone (E1): E1 is a weak estrogen which is produced mostly in body fat, but also in the ovaries and placenta. This is a weak estrogen
- Estradiol (E2): E2 is the most active type of estrogen in people who menstruate. E2 works with progresterone throughout puberty, the menstrual cycle and in the lead-up to conception and childbirth.
- Estriol (E3): E3 is the main estrogen associated with pregnancy. E3 is largely produced in the placenta.
- Estetrol (E4): E4 is another estrogen which is strongly associated with pregnancy. It is largely produced during from the placenta and the liver of the fetus.
Estrogen is not exclusive to females.
Males, trans-women, children and post-menopausal women also have estrogen in their bodies. For those who are not releasing eggs every month, estrogen is made in other areas of the body, such as the adrenal glands, fat tissues, bones, skin and the liver. Adult males produce estrogen in the testes.
How does estrogen affect the body?
It is pretty well-known that estrogen plays an integral role in the development of secondary sex characteristics, such as those that develop during puberty.
A lot of people do not know that estrogens also affect numerous other parts of the body such as the:
- Brain (low estrogen can impact on mood and cognitive function)
- Urinary tract
- Pelvic muscles
- Mucous membranes
- Skin (estrogen can make the skin darker! If you expose melanocytes to estrogen, they respond by making more melanin, but they don’t have the classic estrogen receptor.)
- Bones (estrogen works with Vitamin D3 and calcium to breakdown and rebuild bones. Post-menopausal women are four times more likely to experience osteoporosis due to the sharp decline in estrogen that occurs during the menopause.)
- Blood vessels (estrogen promotes blood clotting which maintains the strength and thickness of the vaginal wall and the urethral lining.)
- Reproductive tract
Estrogen plays a key role in menstruation. In the event that a female egg is not fertilized, estrogen levels drop drastically and menstruation begins.
If the egg is fertilized, estrogen will work with progesterone to stop ovulation during pregnancy and begin the process of thickening the uterine wallso the egg can implant and begin to grow to an embryo.
In pregnancy, the placenta produces estrogen to help futher thicken the uterine wall. Estrogen will also play a role in the production of breast milk and lactation.
High levels of estrogen can have a negative effect on the body. According to Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, high levels of estrogen are associated with a higher risk of ligament injury. It has also been found that high estrogen promotes the growth of tumours in breast cancer patients. These cancers are known as hormone receptor positive breast cancers.
High estrogen levels are associated with a condition called endometriosis.
How does estrogen make you feel?
Estrogen may not make you feel any sort of way! It’s very common to miss the signs of high and/or low estrogen.
There are a number of clues that may tell you that you are living with a hormone imbalance, such as:
- Irregular periods
- Slow or no development of secondary sex characteristics during puberty
- Difficulty becoming pregnant
- Mood changes
As all hormones fluctuate and change on a monthly, weekly and even daily basis, it’s important to note that there is a difference between PMS and a hormone imbalance. Estrogen levels change a lot during your monthly cycle, and throughout your life.
If you are experiencing the symptoms of high estrogen or symptoms of low estrogen, it’s important to speak with a healthcare professional or take a hormone test so you get the answers that you need, and fast.
What are the benefits of estrogen?
Estrogen has a number of benefits such as:
- Bone maintenance
- Vaginal & ovarian health
- Controls the symptoms of menopause
**Bone maintenance **
Estrogen plays a key role in the breakdown and rebuild of strong, healthy bones. Estrogen is sometimes used to treat bone loss and/or osteoporosis.
**Vaginal & ovarian health **
Estrogen promotes good vaginal health by promoting the development of lining, tissue, and pH balance. Estrogen helps to ensure that the vagina is lubricated during sex and childbirth, and lowers the risk of atrophic vaginitis (inflammation and itchiness of the vagina) as well as vulvar atrophy (dryness and soreness of the vagina as well as urinary incontinence).
**Controls the symptoms of menopause **
As mentioned, estrogen levels change and fluctuate over time. Estrogen naturally begins to dip as you approach the menopause.
The symptoms of the menoapuse may include:
- Hot flashes
- Excessive sweating
- Vaginal dryness
Estrogen is often used by doctors to help combat the symptoms of the menopause.
**Does estrogen make you fat? **
Estrogen causes a typical female fat distribution pattern in breasts, buttocks, and thighs.
During the reproductive years, women get additional fat deposition in the pelvis, buttocks, thighs, and breasts to provide an energy source for eventual pregnancy and lactation.
In menopause, a woman’s estrogen levels are inversely related to her weight. In a study of newly menopausal healthy women over a four‐year period, women showed an increase in weight and body fat (primarily as visceral adipose tissue), which coincided with a drop in estradiol levels and a decrease in physical activity and energy expenditure.
Studies have shown that estrogen incorporates crucial elements into the DNA responsible for weight control. The absence of both estrogen and these crucial elements leads to progressive obesity.
*Written by Hannah Kingston on June 18, 2021 *
- What is estrogen? - hormone.org
- Estrogen 101 - helloclue.com
- Menopause, Perimenopause and Postmenopause - my.clevlandclinic.org
- What is estrogen?- livescience.com
- Effects of Oral Contraceptive Use on Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury Epidemiology - journals.lww.com
- Low estrogen symptoms - stdwatch.com
- High estrogen symptoms- stdwatch.com