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We often discuss the risks and problems associated with high estrogen, but what happens when you have low estrogen? It can similarly have effects on your health. For example, low estrogen is related to sexual function, the risk for heart disease, osteoporosis, and a greater risk of obesity.
What is Estrogen?
Estrogens are a group of hormones, although we often refer to them under the single umbrella of estrogen.
Estrogen plays a role in female reproductive therapy and sexual development, and estrogens are a sex hormone. The ovaries make most of the estrogen in women, but the adrenal glands and fat cells produce some.
Along with the regulation of the menstrual cycle, estrogen affects:
- The reproductive tract
- Urinary tract
- Heart and blood vessels
- Mucous membranes
- Pelvic muscles
- The brain
Types of estrogen include:
- Estrone occurs in the body after menopause and is a weaker form of estrogen.
- Estradiol, produced by men and women, is the most common form in women during the reproductive years. Too much estradiol can lead to depression, loss of sex drive, acne, and osteoporosis. Extremely high levels are associated with a greater breast and uterine cancer risk.
- Estriol levels rise during pregnancy and peak just before birth.
Estrogen levels can vary among people and fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle and, if you’re a woman, throughout your life. Some of the many factors that can impact estrogen levels include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Anorexia or extreme dieting
- Extreme exercise
- Older age
- The use of medicines
- High blood pressure
- Primary ovarian insufficiency
When you have an estrogen imbalance, it can cause symptoms including:
- Irregular periods or no period
- Heavy or light menstrual bleeding
- Severe PMS or menopausal symptoms
- Non-cancerous lumps in the uterus and breasts
- Mood changes
- Problems sleeping
- Weight gain, especially in the thighs, hips, and waist
- Low libido
- Vaginal dryness
- Vaginal atrophy
- Mood swings
- Dry skin
Symptoms of Low Estrogen
So, back to the original question—what happens when you have low estrogen? Low estrogen levels aren’t a major cause of concern in men.
In women, symptoms of low estrogen can include:
- Painful sex because of a lack of lubrication
- Increased urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Missed or irregular periods
- Mood changes
- Breast tenderness
- Worsening migraines or new headaches
- Problems concentrating
- Hot flashes
- Tender breasts
- Bones that break or fracture more easily
If you have low estrogen as a woman and it goes untreated, it can cause infertility.
Also, sex hormones influence the amount of body fat we have. Estrogen regulates your glucose and also your lipid metabolism, so if your levels are low, it can lead to weight gain.
This is why women who are approaching menopause are susceptible to weight gain and becoming overweight. Being overweight can increase heart disease risk and the risk for obesity, and diabetes.
If you suspect you have estrogen levels that are abnormally low, you should talk to your doctor to devise a plan.
What Are the Causes of Low Estrogen?
Since estrogen is primarily made in the ovaries, anything affecting your ovaries will affect your production.
Some of the reasons that a young woman might experience the effects of low estrogen include:
- Eating disorders like anorexia
- Excessive exercise
- Problems with the function of the pituitary gland
- Turner syndrome
- Chronic kidney disease
- Premature ovarian failure can come from toxins, genetic irregularities, or an autoimmune disorder
In women who are older than 40, low estrogen can be a sign of menopause. This transitional time is known as perimenopause. Your ovaries still produce estrogen in perimenopause, but it will keep slowing until you reach menopause.
Risk factors for low estrogen levels are:
- A family history of hormone-related issues like ovarian cysts
- Age because your ovaries naturally produce less estrogen over time
- Eating disorders or extreme dieting
- A substance use disorder
- Extreme exercise
- Problems with the pituitary gland
- Radiation or chemotherapy
Treatments for Low Estrogen
If you have low estrogen levels, your doctor may decide you could benefit from hormone therapies. Non-hormonal options are also available for women at risk for stroke, blood clots, breast cancer, or liver disease.
Supplements for Low Estrogen
While you shouldn’t use supplements instead of medications, you might talk to your doctor about a plan to try natural remedies for low estrogen first because hormonal therapies can have risks.
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The supplements that can help raise estrogen in women include:
A pro-hormone, DHEA, can help raise estrogen levels. DHEA is also a supplement that women often turn to when dealing with symptoms of menopause, and in studies, it is beneficial.
DHEA might also have other health benefits. It can potentially slow the aging process or counteract the effects of aging, it has been found more effective than a placebo in treating depression, and studies show that it could reduce the risk of osteoporosis. DHEA supplements are also used for improving vaginal dryness in post-menopausal women.
Black cohosh is one of the more widely used supplements for low estrogen and menopause symptoms. There are indicators that black cohosh can help reduce hot flashes and it’s also sometimes used for other hormonally-related conditions like menstrual cramps and PMS.
Black cohosh acts as a phytoestrogen, the critical ingredient in the supplement Remifemin.
Phytoestrogen is a plant compound that mimics the effects of estrogen.
Chasteberry is also known as vitex agnus-castus. The herbal supplement treats PMS and menstrual disorders, infertility, acne, problems with nursing, and menopause.
Vitex or chasteberry is thought to work by decreasing prolactin levels, a hormone. In doing so, the chasteberry can help rebalance other hormone levels, including progesterone and estrogen.
What happens when you have low estrogen? If you’re a man, probably not much unless it’s exceedingly low.
Low estrogen can significantly affect your health and well-being if you’re a woman. When you have low estrogen, it can affect your mood, fertility, and sex drive. Low estrogen puts you at greater risk of UTIs, broken bones, migraines, depression, and hot flashes.
Talk to your healthcare provider about concerns you have as far as your estrogen levels.