What is estrogen?
Estrogen is a hormone that helps regulate many functions in your body. For females assigned at birth, it helps develop and maintain your reproductive system and characteristics like breasts and pubic hair. “Estrogen is a hormone that’s secreted by the ovaries,” says Dr. Kollikonda. “During the reproductive age, it regulates the menstrual cycle.”
What is estrogen’s function?
Your levels of estrogen rise as you hit puberty. Then, each month as your estrogen levels surge, your uterine lining preps for fertilization. When those levels drop, menstruation begins.
As you age, your estrogen levels begin decreasing, leading to menopause, which marks the end of the reproductive years.
“As we get older, ovarian function declines and the number of egg sacs decrease in the ovaries,” says Dr. Kollikonda. “That decreases the levels of estrogen. It’s a normal aging process.”
Benefits of estrogen
Known mostly for how it helps with the reproductive system, research now shows that estrogen helps almost every organ system.
Protects your heart
Estrogen is good for your heart by keeping cardiovascular tissue healthy. It also helps with keeping your blood pressure stable.
And when your estrogen levels are high, it helps keep blood triglycerides (a type of fat) low, increases HDL cholesterol (the good kind) and lowers LDL cholesterol (the bad kind).
The link between estrogen and your heart is still being studied. For example, studies have shown that heart disease increases in individuals who get bilateral oophorectomy (the removal of both ovaries) before menopause.
Protects your brain
Estrogen protects your brain by helping maintain proper blood flow. It also protects against inflammation and disease. It even assists in helping with memory and fine motor skills.
If you’ve experienced brain fog — find it hard to focus or lose your train of thought — low levels of estrogen may be to blame.
But research shows that brain fog lifts after menopause, though it isn’t entirely clear if that has to do with estrogen levels.
One study shows that the longer an individual has been exposed to estrogen the better their brain health is as they age.
Improves your muscle mass and bone density
The hormone also plays a vital role in the growth of your bones and improving muscle mass.
It helps protect against osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become weak and brittle from loss of tissue.
“In menopause, bone mass decreases due to the decrease of estrogen and makes them weak and fragile with the increased tendency to break easily,” says Dr. Kollikonda.
Boosts your mood
Those mood swings you get right before your menstrual cycle might be caused by the shifting levels of estrogen.
The hormone is known to help keep serotonin levels regular (those “feel-good hormones”) and help the effectiveness of endorphins. It can even aid in protecting nerves and encouraging nerve growth.
But researchers are still trying to figure out if low levels or high levels of estrogen can impact your mood.
Estrogen is vital when it comes to your sex life. The hormone keeps your vagina lubricated so sex is enjoyable.
When estrogen levels are low, your vagina walls get thin and produce less lubricant.
“During menopause, the elasticity of your vagina is going to decrease,” says Dr. Kollikonda. “Sex can be very painful.” Thankfully, the use of vaginal creams or lotions can help.