The body’s hormones play a large role in how a person feels, how much energy they have, and even their overall quality of life. So when something is “off” with your hormones, boy can you feel it! Knowing what your symptoms are telling you is a great way to advocate for yourself and get the support your body needs!
What is estrogen and why is it important?
Estrogen is a group of hormones primarily responsible for both bodily growth and reproductive development in women. All humans create and need estrogen, but it is produced in different places. For those with ovaries, the main estrogen production comes from follicular development of eggs from these ovaries.
Without estrogen, the body would struggle to fully develop or properly maintain the reproductive system. Each menstrual cycle, estrogen allows an egg to ovulate and the menstrual lining to be thick enough for implantation.
While these processes may not seem all that important if you’re not trying to conceive a pregnancy, they are an important process! When they aren’t happening consistently, it can be a sign of hormone imbalance.
Low estrogen can cause many side effects. Knowing what they are may help you get the support you need in order to feel better!
Symptoms of Low Estrogen
One of the most noticeable symptoms of low estrogen is the development of vaginal dryness. As estrogen stays low over time, it causes physical changes in the vagina. Specifically, the tissues there become “thinner, drier, and less flexible."
That means that this condition can last throughout the rest of life, if not supported through various treatments. (And also why more women notice this happening after menopause, when estrogen levels plummet.)
This vaginal dryness leads to painful sex, which can affect personal fulfillment and intimate relationships. Because of the changes in the vagina, bodily-made lubrication may not be as abundant nor as sufficient.
Even with store bought lubricants, it may not be effective in addressing the vaginal dryness from low estrogen. Instead, treatments that address the issue of low estrogen production are most helpful for desired results.
Hot flashes/Night Sweats
You may have initially thought of menopause when thinking about dropping estrogen levels, and for good reason! Estrogen decreases drastically during menopause. But those changes in estrogen can begin long before menopause, if there’s a cause.
That means that symptoms typically associated with menopause, like hot flashes and night sweats, may start early, too! This does not mean you’re automatically going through menopause, but it could be a sign that your estrogen levels are unusually low and need support.
There are many possible causes for putting on some extra weight, but if you notice it’s primarily showing up as belly fat, it may be a sign of low estrogen levels. Healthy estrogen levels actually help the body control weight gain and distribution as early as puberty and throughout reproductive years.
But, when estrogen levels drop significantly (before or during menopause), the body begins gathering stores of fat in the abdomen. Without estrogen, the body doesn’t have what it needs to control weight like it did, and weight (specifically in the abdomen) can start increasing.
When ovaries struggle to produce enough estrogen to stimulate ovulation, cycles get longer and periods stop being regular. This may look like missing a period, or going 6-8 weeks (or more) between periods instead of the traditional 4 weeks.
While this may seem like a blessing instead of a symptom, irregular cycles are associated with increased risk of developing osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. If you suspect your estrogen is low because of irregular cycles, consult your doctor about investigating the cause and treating the underlying reason.
Because of the critical role of estrogen production, studies say that, “women are at a higher risk than men to develop mood disorders and depression.” This is because the body experiences drastic changes in its estrogen level throughout each menstrual cycle, followed by a permanent decrease in estrogen level at menopause.
This does not mean you’re without options! If you’re experiencing consistent mood changes or depression, low estrogen may be the cause and treatment is available.
Estrogen allows the body to create new cells, ovulate eggs, and have more energy! When the ovaries struggle to produce this estrogen, the whole body feels the effects, including feeling tired (fatigued) and having a hard time sleeping at night.
There is also a relationship between the body’s production of estrogen and its production of melatonin, which helps the body fall asleep and stay asleep. These combining factors mean that fatigue may be one of the most life-affecting signs of decreased estrogen production.
How can I support estrogen production?
There are some supplements that can help the body produce estrogen or mimic the effects of estrogen on the body. Things like soybeans and wild yams have been shown to improve the symptom of vaginal dryness. Flaxseed oil may help the brain to stay sharp and not feel the effects of fatigue quite so strongly. Those taking red clover report fewer night sweats and weight gain.
Proov Boost contains evening primrose oil, dong quai, red clover, and black cohosh to support your body’s natural estrogen production.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Since initial clinical trials of hormone replacement therapy for menopause in the 1990s, it has been used as a main treatment by medical professionals for low estrogen. However, as research on HRT continued, reports showed that it may actually have more negative effects than beneficial ones in women of menopausal years.
The jury is still out for younger women, as research has been mixed. But if you’re considering hormone replacement therapy, consider both the benefits and consequences of its use.
Don’t overlook the impact of supporting your body and hormones through lifestyle changes! It may be possible to naturally support your estrogen levels by adding in moderate exercise, eating a nutritionally balanced diet, maintaining a healthy body weight, reducing stress, and prioritizing sleep. Hormone imbalances may be caused by a lack of one of these bodily needs.
Although these symptoms are most likely to occur during menopause or postmenopause, they can pop up long before, if the body has a hard time producing sufficient estrogen.
If you have any of these symptoms, talk with your doctor about lifestyle changes, supplements, and therapy that can help you get back to feeling great!