Estrogen, often referred to as the “female hormone,” is more than just a menstrual regulator. It plays a pivotal role in women’s health, maintaining bone health, cardiovascular function, and even mood.
Many women experience low estrogen levels at some point in their lives, leading to a range of symptoms and potential health concerns.
In this blog post, we will discuss the causes and symptoms of low estrogen levels and explore natural ways to increase estrogen production.
What is Estrogen?
Estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, is associated with female reproductive development and function. This hormone is secreted by the ovaries, placenta, adrenal glands, and fatty tissues and influences various aspects of a woman’s overall well-being.
While predominantly found in higher concentrations in females, males also produce small amounts of estrogen.
There are different types of estrogen hormones:
This type of estrogen is a weaker form, primarily produced in the woman’s body after menopause. The body can convert estrone to other forms (such as estradiol) as necessary.
This “powerhouse” estrogen is produced by both sexes, but women have significantly higher levels during their reproductive years. Estradiol plays a crucial role in numerous functions, but too much can lead to:
- Loss of sex drive
- Increased risk of uterine and breast cancer (at very high levels)
Low estradiol levels can also be harmful, potentially contributing to weight gain and cardiovascular disease.
This “pregnancy-specific” estrogen surges during pregnancy, promoting uterine growth and preparing the body for delivery. Its levels peak just before birth.
Functions of Estrogen Hormone
The functions of estrogen include:
- Drives the development of secondary sexual characteristics and reproductive maturation in puberty.
- Promotes the development of egg follicles
- Sustains the thickness of the vaginal wall and encourages lubrication
- Controls the growth and functionality of the uterus
- Supports and preserves the mucous membrane lining the uterus, while also controlling the flow and thickness of uterine mucus secretions.
- Helps in forming breast tissue and halts milk flow post-weaning.
- Regulates the menstrual cycle
- Primarily responsible for the physiological changes during pregnancy.
- Plays a crucial role in pelvic widening
- Increases body hair growth
- Controls cholesterol levels
- Influences mood, cardiovascular health, and bone metabolism
Causes of Low Estrogen
Estrogen levels in females fluctuate throughout life due to various factors, one of which is age.
In females, estrogen levels typically increase during puberty. Throughout their reproductive years, hormonal fluctuations associated with the menstrual cycle cause these levels to naturally rise and fall.
As women approach perimenopause, a transitional stage leading to menopause, estrogen levels gradually decline.
Certain health conditions and circumstances can also impact estrogen production, which include the following:
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Thyroid disorders
- Pituitary gland dysfunction
- Recent childbirth or breastfeeding
- Low body weight
- Certain congenital conditions like Turner syndrome
- Medical treatments like chemotherapy
- Early ovarian failure
- Eating disorders
- Uterine removal (hysterectomy)
Symptoms of Low Estrogen
Symptoms of low estrogen are not always evident, and when they do manifest, they can mimic those of various other conditions. Thus, diagnosing it based on symptoms alone is challenging.
As a woman approaches menopause, they may experience signs such as irregular periods, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness. Other signs and symptoms of low estrogen, occurring either during or outside the menopause, include:
- Absent or irregular periods
- Brain fog (difficulty focusing)
- Mood changes
- Sleep disturbances
- Vaginal dryness
- Hot flashes
- Loss of sexual desires (libido)
- Experiencing pain during sexual intercourse
- Increased risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Bone fractures due to osteoporosis
- Elevated levels of cholesterol or triglycerides
- Risk of coronary heart disease
How to Increase Estrogen?
If you believe your estrogen levels are low, you may explore ways to boost them. One viable option to consider is hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which involves using synthetic estrogen to artificially regulate hormone levels, typically through patches, vaginal creams, or pills.
While HRT can be effective for many, it’s essential to be aware of potential side effects associated with estrogen-related HRT:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Leg cramps
- Weigh gain
- Blood clots
- Tender breasts
- An increased risk of certain cancer types
With these side effects, women with low estrogen levels may seek alternative ways to increase estrogen naturally.
How to Increase Estrogen Naturally?
Here are 5 tips to increase estrogen levels naturally:
Add phytoestrogen-rich foods to your diet:
Plants are full of bioactive compounds called phytochemicals that act as antioxidants and guard plants against DNA damage. Among these phytochemicals, one special group called phytoestrogens mimics your body’s own estrogen. Upon digestion, they are absorbed and recognized as estrogen, binding to the body’s estrogen receptors and offering similar effects.
While phytoestrogens may not have the same potency as estrogen produced internally or used in HRT, a study suggests that phytoestrogens may be able to reduce symptoms associated with low estrogen levels.
Here are various food types abundant in phytoestrogens:
- Soy: Tofu, tempeh, edamame, miso, and soy milk are all loaded with isoflavones, the most potent plant estrogens.
- Legume: Lentils, kidney beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, peas, and mung beans, rich in phytoestrogens, also serve as excellent plant-based protein sources.
- Nuts and seeds: Flaxseeds, sesame seeds, walnuts, and peanuts are packed with lignans, another type of plant estrogen.
- Whole Grains: Swap your white bread for whole grain options like wheat, barley, oats, rye, or flax. These grains are rich in lignans and offer a wealth of other nutrients.
- Fruits: Plums, pears, apples, grapes, and berries are abundant in phytoestrogens.
- Vegetables: Cruciferous vegetables like alfalfa sprouts, cabbage, garlic, onion, spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, and zucchini contain phytoestrogens.
- Eggs and Milk: Animal estrogens in eggs and milk can also contribute to estrogen intake.
Incorporating these foods into your diet provides natural sources of estrogen and contributes to a well-balanced and healthy eating plan.
Consume phytoestrogen-containing herbal supplements:
Consuming certain herbal supplements containing phytoestrogens may be one of the best ways to increase estrogen levels. Some examples include:
- Black cohosh: These supplements are traditionally used by Native Americans to support menstrual and menopausal issues. A study suggests that black cohosh also includes specific chemicals that activate estrogen receptors.
- Red Clover: Rich in isoflavones, similar to those in soy, red clover supplementation might contribute to elevated estrogen levels.
- Dong Quai: A staple of traditional Chinese medicine for menopause, dong quai may promote estrogen production, as studies suggest.
- Chasteberry: Known for its potential to alleviate PMS symptoms, chasteberry contains the phytoestrogen apigenin that has shown estrogenic effects.
However, make sure to consult your healthcare provider before starting any herbal supplements.
Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for both physical and hormonal balance. For some women who fall below their ideal weight, this can impact estrogen production, leading to certain symptoms. In such cases, gaining weight may help alleviate these symptoms and improve overall health.
If you struggle with maintaining a healthy weight through diet alone, consulting a dietitian or healthcare provider can be beneficial. They can help you tailor your diet to ensure you get all the necessary nutrients and calories.
Minimize stress levels:
If you frequently face stress, it may contribute to lower estrogen levels. Stress triggers the release of cortisol, a stress hormone. Elevated cortisol can hinder estrogen production, affecting your hormone levels.
To address this, engage in stress management techniques:
- Exercise regularly (in moderation)
- Practice meditation and breathing exercises
- Learn to decline stressful requests when necessary
- Allocate time for self-care daily
- Seek guidance from a professional counselor
- Limit caffeine intake
Improve your sleep routine:
Ensuring adequate rest is crucial for optimal bodily function. Adults typically require 7-8 hours of high-quality sleep per night, with some needing even more.
If you face difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep, consider these tips:
- Build a calming pre-sleep routine.
- Stick to a consistent bedtime every night.
- Get up at the same time every morning.
- Avoid lengthy daytime naps.
- Minimize caffeine intake, particularly in the afternoon.
- Engage in regular exercises and avoid strenuous activity just before bedtime.
- Limit water consumption before bedtime.
- Avoid eating a few hours before going to sleep.
Low estrogen levels can significantly impact a woman’s physical and emotional well-being. Understanding the causes and symptoms is the first step toward effective management. While medical interventions, such as HRT, are available, incorporating natural lifestyle and dietary changes can contribute to hormonal balance and overall health.
If you have concerns about your estrogen levels, consult a healthcare provider for personalized advice and guidance tailored to your situation.