Could your estrogen levels be low without you even realizing it? Estrogen, the primary sex hormone in women, is responsible for the secondary sexual characteristics, like development of breasts and hips, as well as the regulation of your menstrual cycle. But it’s so much more. It increases bone formation, helps in protein synthesis, increases good cholesterol and tones down the bad. It regulates other hormones and libido and skin quality. Estrogen sulfates even play an important role in the biological response of estrogens in patients with hormone-dependent mammary (breast) cancer.
Keeping a watchful eye on this important hormone can be tricky, but so important. Here are five ways to gauge the health of your estrogen levels and what to do if you notice something is off.
1. Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
Low levels of estrogen can induce the hot flashes and night sweats so often parodied in menopausal women. But you don’t have to be menopausal to feel the heat. Anyone experiencing a reduction in estrogen can be subject to hot flashes and night sweats.
Estrogen supplements can mitigate these uncomfortable flashes. In a study of menopausal women, conjugated equine estrogen and 17β-estradiol, both estrogen supplements, have consistent and comparable effects on the treatment of hot flashes.
2. Mood Swings
Women experiencing low levels of estrogen are prone to mood swings and depression dependent on their hormone levels. Perimenopausal depression occurs in women at the onset of menopause when levels of estrogen are fluctuating with the change in the bodies. High highs and low lows, compounded by interrupted sleep, make the mood swings difficult to deal with. Estrogen replacement can help treat these symptoms, along with patience, time and understanding.
3. Dry Skin
Declining estrogen levels in women, while not completely understood quite yet, have been linked to a number of changes in the skin. Fine wrinkles, thinning skin and dryness have all been shown to occur in menopausal women or women lacking a proper supply of estrogen.
On the flip side, estrogen use has been linked to the prevention of dry skin and wrinkles, so if you want to make sure you look and feel as good as possible as long as possible, keep a close eye on those estrogen levels.
4. Erratic Menstrual Cycles
Estrogen regulates a woman’s menstrual cycle and reproductive health, so it’s only natural that any variances in estrogen levels would impact the regularity of periods. Estrogen may even affect cognition during a woman’s menstrual cycle! Erratic, missing or unusual periods can be a sign that something is amiss with estrogen levels.
Estrogen can be regulated by contraceptive pills, patches and injections that contain the hormone in women with deficiencies or irregular periods.
5. Decreased Sexual Desire
When it comes to low estrogen, a woman’s libido can take a definite hit. Low estrogen levels in menopausal women or women who have had hysterectomies have been linked to hypoactive sexual desire disorder, a sexual dysfunction that’s characterized by a barely there libido. It, too, has been connected to depression. A testosterone patch has been shown to increase sexual desire and improved sexual function in surgically induced menopausal women, though the long term safety of testosterone patches is not yet known.
Your sexual health is just as important as any other aspect of your health, and out of whack estrogen levels can impact more than just libido and sexual characteristics. If you notice any of the symptoms of low estrogen levels, talk to your doctor to determine the cause and explore your options to help you feel your best.
If you’d like to learn more about estrogen and your health and to hear speakers including Patricia Geraghty, MSN, FNP; Janis Jibrin, RD and Mary Peterson, an MD–OBGYN and midlife specialist, consider registering for Women’s Health Conversations 2016 Conference in Pittsburgh, Pa. Over two days, you’ll receive information and expertise from some of the top authorities in the field of women’s health. Join the conversation and register today.