Estrogen is a hormone that plays various roles in the body. In females, it helps develop and maintain both the reproductive system and female characteristics, such as breasts and pubic hair.
Types of Estrogen
This type of estrogen is present in the body after menopause. It is a weaker form of estrogen and one that the body can convert to other forms of estrogen, as necessary.
Both males and females produce estradiol, and it is the most common type of estrogen in females during their reproductive years.
Too much estradiol may result in acne, loss of sex drive, osteoporosis, and depression.
Very high levels can increase the risk of uterine and breast cancer.
However, low levels can result in weight gain and cardiovascular disease.
Levels of estriol rise during pregnancy, as it helps the uterus grow and prepares the body for delivery. Estriol levels peak just before birth.
Functions of Estrogen
Estrogen enables the following organs to function:
Ovaries: Estrogen helps stimulate the growth of the egg follicle.
Vagina: In the vagina, estrogen maintains the thickness of the vaginal wall and promotes lubrication.
Uterus: Estrogen enhances and maintains the mucous membrane that lines the uterus. It also regulates the flow and thickness of uterine mucus secretions.
Breasts: The body uses estrogen in the formation of breast tissue. This hormone also helps stop the flow of milk after weaning.
Effects of Estrogen imbalance
An imbalance of estrogen leads to:
Irregular or no menstruation
Light or heavy bleeding during menstruation
More severe premenstrual or menopausal symptoms
Hot flashes, night sweats, or both
Noncancerous lumps in the breast and uterus
Mood changes and sleeping problems
Weight gain, mainly in the hips, thighs, and waist
Low sexual desire
Vaginal dryness and vaginal atrophy
Feelings of depression and anxiety
Estrogen therapy can help manage menopause symptoms as part of hormone therapy, which people usually refer to as hormone replacement therapy.
The treatment may consist solely of estrogen (estrogen replacement therapy, or ERT), or it may involve a combination of estrogen and progestin, a synthetic form of progesterone.
Hormone treatment is available as a pill, nasal spray, patch, skin gel, injection, vaginal cream, or ring.
It can help manage:
Decreased sexual desire
Side effects of Estrogen therapy
Fluid retention, leading to swelling
Food sources of Estrogen
Some foods contain phytoestrogens, which are plant-based substances that resemble estrogen.
Some studies suggest that these may affect levels of estrogen in the body.
However, there is not enough evidence to confirm this.
Foods that contain phytoestrogens include:
Soy and some foods containing soy protein
Seeds and grains