Hormones are chemical matter produced by various organs and glands that are secreted throughout the body. They travel through the bloodstream and are responsible for regulating the activity of particular organs. The most well-known of the traditionally “female” hormones is estrogen.
Despite popular familiarity with the term “estrogen”, many women remain uncertain as to what role it performs within the body. In order to make informed decisions about health — especially during menopause — having a clear understanding of estrogen's function is essential. An estrogen imbalance can have serious detrimental effects on health and well-being, producing a range of unpleasant side effects and conditions.
Keep reading to learn more about estrogen and its importance to the female body.
What Is Estrogen?
Although associated exclusively with women, estrogen is a hormone found in both males and females. In women, estrogen affects everything from appearance to reproductive ability.
The majority of the female body's estrogen is produced in the ovaries; it is formed from the corpus luteum and developing egg follicles. Smaller concentrations of estrogen (10% or less) are produced by the breasts, liver, and adrenal glands.
Estrogen is one of four hormones in the female body that regulates the menstrual cycle and contributes to general good health. The others are:
- Luteinizing Hormone (LH)
- Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
Types of Estrogen Hormones
There are two main types of estrogen, steroidal and non-steroidal. In most cases, estrogen is a steroid compound hormone made up of three different types of hormones: estrone, estradiol, and estriol.
Steroidal estrogen hormones
Estrone, estradiol, and estriol are part of the metabolic system and are formed from cholesterol. Estradiol is the most important of the three and is secreted by the ovaries. The adrenal glands are responsible for producing estrone. Estriol, a by-product of both estrodial and estrone, is created mainly in the liver.
Non-steroidal estrogen hormones
Many natural and synthetic substances are known to have estrogenic activity; unlike plant- and animal-derived estrogen, they are not essentially steroids:
- Xenoestrogens. Synthetic substances
- Phytoestrogens. Plant products
- Mycoestrogens. Fungi-produced substances
For adolescent females, puberty begins when estrogen production in the ovules is increased. For the next 25 years or so, estrogen levels remain fairly stable, thereafter beginning a steady decline. The production of estrogen also takes a nosedive due to the number of mature ovules available in the body to make it. To compensate for falling estrogen levels and availability, the body produces two other hormones: FSH LH.
Estrogen is responsible for, among other things, female reproduction. In addition to regulating the menstrual cycle, estrogen affects the reproductive and urinary tracts, the heart and blood vessels, bones, breasts, skin, hair, mucous membranes, pelvic muscles, and the brain.
To learn more about the role of estrogen in the body, keep reading below.
Role of Estrogen
Estrogen is an extremely important female hormone, fundamental for the overall health of the body, the formation of female sexual characteristics, and reproductive function. Below is a list of some of the significant roles estrogen performs in the body:
- Promoting formation of female sexual characteristics
- Accelerating metabolism
- Regulating the menstrual cycle
- Increasing uterine tissue growth
- Preserving bone density
In addition to the aforementioned physical effects, estrogen has been proven to play a key role in mental health. Several recent studies have shown a direct correlation between estrogen levels and mood. Sudden estrogen withdrawal, estrogen fluctuations, or periods of sustained low estrogen levels can all contribute to a poor mood, particularly for menopausal women.
Now that estrogen's functions in the body have been described, continue reading to better understand the roles and effects of estrogen.