A Brief Overview
Oestrogen is one of the key female sex hormones and is made mostly in the ovaries, but also in the adrenal glands and fat tissue (as well as the placenta in pregnancy). The adrenal glands and fat tissue become the key producers of oestrogen during peri-menopause and post menopause.
Oestrogen is actually a broad term for a group of 3 Oestrogens known as Oestrone (E1), Oestrodiol (E2) and Oestriol (E3).
This is the hormone that gives us our feminine characteristic and plays a role in our menstrual cycle. It affects many tissues throughout the body. Our brains, bones, breasts, heart, lungs, ovaries, vagina, digestive system, bladder and muscles have receptors for oestrogen. It’s key roles include:
- Protecting our brains – and cognitive function
- Protecting our bone mass
- Protecting our heart by ensuring our arteries remain supple
- Protects collagen which keeps ourskin supple
- Keeps the vagina lubricated
- It is a proliferative hormone
There are issues with too much and too little Oestrogen. This not only relates to the actual amount, but also (particularly as sex hormones start declining in our 40s) the ratio between Oestrogen and Progesterone. This is termed Oestrogen dominance, and is linked not only to raised Oestrogen (natural and external sources), but to low relative Progesterone, high insulin levels, increased abdominal fat (which produces Oestrogen) and impaired detoxification (think liver function, genetics and sluggish bowels). Symptoms are many and can include:
- Mood fluctuations – anxiety, depression, irritability
- Low libido
- Low thyroid function including fatigue
- Hot flushes and night sweats
Oestrogen dominant related conditions such as Fibrocystic Breasts, Fibroids and Endometriosis
- Increased risk of Oestrogen related cancers including Breast Cancer
Considered a ‘balancing’ and ‘calming’ hormone. Progesterone plays a role in preparing the body for pregnancy and regulates the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. It’s produced by our ovaries during our cycle, our placenta in pregnancy and in the adrenal glands in small amounts (the main source post-menopause) It has many roles:
- It balances Oestrogen to reduce Oestrogen dominance
- It protects our our bone health
- It promotes quality sleep
- It’s calming. It touches the GABA (calming) receptors in our brain. Low progesterone is linked to increased mood issues including anxiety and irritability
- It plays a role in breast, cardiovascular, brain and nervous system health.
- We can produce other hormones from it – including Cortisol, Testosterone and Oestrogen.
Our levels naturally decline during the peri-menopause, but there are many other factors that impact on balance, including genetic mutations, luteal phase defects, low thyroid function, and stress, as well as poor diet and lifestyle issues. When we’re stressed, our body can favour the production of cortisol, the stress hormone over the production of sex hormones.
This is one of the family of androgen hormones. Think of this as the ‘oomph’ hormone. Whilst we produce relatively less than men, it’s still important for our vitality. It gets converted into oestrogen in our adrenals, fat tissue, ovaries, placenta and brain, but it’s tightly controlled to make sure we don’t get too much by Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG)
It gives us oomph, assertiveness, confidence, libido, bone and muscle strength and good memory and cognitive function.
Things that can negatively impact on testosterone balance are many and include:
- High insulin, which results in less SHBG and more free Testosterone. This is linked to weight gain and a diet high in sugars and refined foods. We can see this in PCOS (Polysystic Ovarian Syndrome)
- Stress can lead to low Testosterone as the body favours the production of the stress hormone, Cortisol, rather than sex hormones. How is your sex drive when you’re stressed?
So what affects our hormone balance?
If you are peri-menopausal, or in your 40’s, I recommend that you consider the root cause underlying imbalances before taking HRT, as you may find that by tackling underlying root causes, your health improves and symptoms reduce, which means you may feel you don’t need hormone replacement. Taking HRT without addressing other imbalances can make some symptoms and imbalances worse.
Or, with full information to hand, and having ruled out and tackled underlying imbalances, you may decide to explore HRT with someone who can tailor-make a bio-identical hormone prescription to your individual needs.
Using a functional medicine approach which considers biochemical individuality, in my 1:1 consultations, I help you identify which factors in your diet, lifestyle and biochemical make-up could be impacting on hormone balance and contributing to your symptoms. We then work out a plan to address those factors.
Where appropriate I may recommend functional testing of hormone levels to gain further insight into what might be going on. This may include blood testing or DUTCH (Dried Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones).
You may also be interested in my Hot Women – Menopause Survival Workshops which give you knowledge, advice and tools to address some of these underlying factors in a small group setting. Click here for more details