Estrogen and your body have been going hand in hand since you were a teenager. Through thick and thin, good or bad, estrogen has been your dear friend. But, there comes a point in every woman’s life when her primary sex hormone starts to disappear. Low estrogen tampers with your health and can contribute to burdensome issues like weight gain. But, as we say in Women’s Health Conversations, you are in control of your body, and you don’t have to accept the negative side effects of low estrogen as you age.
During the time of perimenopause, which usually occurs in a woman’s forties, physical changes and new emotions can be overwhelming. Menopause and post menopause bring their own challenges, but it all goes back to how your body deals with the waning level of estrogen. Once you understand what happens physiologically when estrogen starts to diminish, and possible treatments, this change can become easier to manage.
What Happens to Your Body Without Estrogen
We all know that estrogen is responsible for the secondary sexual characteristics, like breasts and hips, as well as regulation of the menstrual cycle. But estrogen also plays a role in bone formation by promoting growth and maturation of the bone. Estrogen increases good cholesterol and tones down the bad. Estrogen is responsible for regulating hormones, libido, and skin. All of these functions are important – so what happens when we lose estrogen?
When women go through menopause, three major changes happen: “the ovaries stop releasing eggs, ovarian function decreases, and menstrual periods stop.” There is a possibility that during this physiologic transition, women will experience menopausal symptoms.
These five symptoms can signify that you have low estrogen:
1. Hot Flashes/ Night Sweats
2. Mood Swings
3. Dry Skin
4. Erratic Menstrual Cycles
5. Decreased Sexual Desires
What Are Estrogen Treatments?
If your low estrogen symptoms are severe enough, you may start to search for a solution. Hormone therapy has been around for 50 years. It’s the concept that, by using medications containing female hormones, symptoms caused by low estrogen should be mitigated. Since your body no longer produces estrogen during menopause, the idea of supplementing estrogen would make sense.
However, in light of the Women’s Health Initiative’s 2002 publication regarding risks of hormone therapy, the decision to use estrogen treatments needs to be discussed with your doctor. She or he can best evaluate the risks and benefits in your unique situation.
Estrogen-only treatments do carry the increased risk of these 5 things:
1. Stroke or blood clot
2. Dementia in women over 65
3. Some types of cancer
4. High blood pressure
5. Severe allergic reactions
The biggest pro tip for estrogen treatments for menopause is to use the lowest dose that helps and use it for the shortest time needed.
With the noted risks understood, studies show that these treatments can help with bone strength and hot flashes.
Estrogen Treatments and Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis-related fractures affect approximately one in two white women. For women affected, fall prevention is key along with exercise to build muscle. However, there is data that supports the conclusion that estrogen treatment can have a positive impact on the prevention of bone mineral loss and consequent fractures.
A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reveals that “Long-term estrogen replacement therapy confers significant protection against bone loss and fracture.”
As you age, exercise must be included in your daily routine. According to the NHLBI, “Thirty minutes of weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, stair climbing, weight training, tennis, and dancing, done three to four times a week can help prevent osteoporosis.” Weight bearing exercise and balance exercises will help with fall prevention.
Estrogen Treatments and Hot Flashes
Another common side-effect of menopause and a sign that you have low estrogen is hot flashes. These periods of blood vessel dilation, afflicting 70 percent of women in menopause, are a common indication for estrogen treatments.
An alternative estrogen-like treatment could be the use of botanical products that contain or act like estrogens. The NHLBI lists soy and herbs, such as black cohosh, as possibilities. However, “limited research has yielded conflicting results on the safety and effectiveness of botanical products.”
Whatever estrogen treatment you choose to ease menopause – if any – it’s always important to consider how they will make you feel. While losing your estrogen can be a difficult transition, there are treatments to help you through it all. The combination of managing your diet, exercise plans, and treatments, will be beneficial to your journey.