What is Estrogen?

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What Is Estrogen?

The hormone that controls a woman's monthly cycle, estrogen, gets a lot of attention in women's lives, but it is actually a hormone that affects both men and women. Here's what you need to know about estrogen and the way it can affect you.

Understanding Estrogen

What is estrogen? It is the hormone that causes a girl to develop into an adult during puberty. It creates the changes that cause growth of the breasts, hair in the pubic area and under the arms and the beginning of menstruation. Once puberty is complete, estrogen continues to work, helping control the menstrual cycle, protect bone health and keep cholesterol in control. Estrogen is also crucial to fertility.

What Does Estrogen Do?

Estrogen is produced primarily in the ovaries, the organ that produces the woman's eggs. Adrenal glands also make some estrogen, which is why men will have estrogen in small amounts. Fat also creates estrogen. Once it is created, estrogen is transported to the body's tissues through the blood.

During the menstrual cycle, estrogen levels change. In the middle of the cycle, estrogen levels are at their highest. Women will have lower estrogen levels during their periods. Because menstruation ceases in menopause, estrogen levels also drop at this time.

Problems from Incorrect Estrogen Levels

When your body makes too much or too little estrogen, it can create problems. Women who have low estrogen levels may have a lessening of menstruation. They may also experience symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, insomnia and low libido. Mood swings and dry skin are also a problem. High estrogen levels can cause weight gain and menstrual changes, as well as a worsening of PMS symptoms. Cysts in the breasts and fibroids in the uterus can also happen.

Men who have too little estrogen may have excess belly fat and low libido. Men with too much estrogen may grow breasts and have poor erections.

Three Types of Estrogen

Not all estrogen is the same. The body makes three types:

  • Estradiol – Common in childbearing women.
  • Estriol – The estrogen produced during pregnancy.
  • Estrone – The estrogen produced after menopause.

The only way to know your estrogen levels is to have them checked by a doctor using blood or urine tests. Always discuss test results with your doctor.

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