As the strongest of the three estrogens, oestradiol (E2) -also known as estradiol- is an important factor in the female reproductive system. Understanding this hormone will help women take better control of their reproductive health.
Estradiol is one of three estrogen hormones naturally produced in the body. While men and women have estradiol, and it has a role in both of their bodies, women have much higher levels of the hormone than men.
Estradiol has several functions in the female body. Its main function is to mature and then maintain the reproductive system. During the menstrual cycle, increased estradiol levels cause the maturation and release of the egg, as well as the thickening of the uterus lining to allow a fertilized egg to implant. The hormone is made primarily in the ovaries, so levels decline as women age and decrease significantly during menopause.
In men, proper estradiol levels help with bone maintenance, nitric oxide production, and brain function. While men need lower levels than women, they still require this important hormone to function well.
In women, too much estradiol has been linked to acne, constipation, loss of sex drive, and depression. If the levels are extremely high, they can increase the risk of uterine and breast cancer as well as cardiovascular disease. Women with high estradiol levels may experience weight gain and menstrual problems. For men, it can lead to the development of female characteristics and loss of sexual function or muscle tone.
If the body does not have enough estradiol, bone growth and development are slowed, and adults can develop osteoporosis (bone weakness). Girls may experience delayed puberty with low estradiol levels. Mood swings have also been connected to low estradiol levels.
The effects of estradiol are clearly seen in women experiencing menopause. During this process, women naturally have lower levels of estradiol as the ovaries no longer produce it, causing the menstrual cycles to stop. This change often causes mood swings, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, and night sweats — the symptoms commonly associated with menopause. Over time, lower estradiol levels can lead to osteoporosis.
Should women going through menopause be treated with hormone replacement therapy?
Until recently, most women going through menopause were treated with estradiol as a form of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – usually by pill, gel, or patch – to help reduce the symptoms of menopause. While HRT is effective in improving these symptoms, recent studies have shown some risks associated with HRT, such as an increased risk of blood clots, heart disease and stroke, and breast cancer. Women interested in HRT should contact their medical provider, as factors such as age, lifestyle, and medical conditions can affect these risks. There are also non-hormonal options available to help with menopausal symptoms.
To begin the conversation, find an endocrinologist near you and book an appointment to discuss your hormone health.
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