Understanding Estrogen Basics For Menopause

Understanding Estrogen Basics For Menopause


Menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of our reproductive years. For some it’s “hurray”, while for others it’s an “awww”. Either way, I look at it as a privilege to get this far.

During this the transition into menopause (that’s perimenopause), the ovaries gradually reduce their production of hormones, including estrogen, leading to major changes in the body. Sometimes we feel these changes and sometimes we don’t.

There are many hormones to consider when talking about menopause. Most of us focus on the sex hormones – estrogen, progesterone and testosterone – but there are plenty of others we need to understand.

This article focuses on the basics of estrogen, which is often referred to as the “female hormone,” (although men have it too). Estrogen plays a crucial role in so many functions of our body beyond making babies.

Understanding the basics of estrogen and its role during menopause is essential for women as they navigate this transformative stage of life. Let’s delve into the fundamentals of estrogen, explore its fluctuations during menopause, discuss common symptoms of estrogen deprivation, and explore strategies for managing these changes effectively. 

 

What is estrogen?

We first have to understand that  “estrogen” is an umbrella term. We have several types of estrogen in our body. Most. of the time we are usually talking about our most potent estrogen called estradiol or E2. However there are other important estrogens like estrone (E1) and estriol (E3). Estetrol (E4) is another type of estrogen, but this is mostly discussed in pregnancy. 

 

What is estrogen for?

Estrogen has many jobs to do in the body, because we have estrogen receptors on nearly every cell in our body.

We need estrogen for:

  • Reproduction
  • Manage the menstrual cycle
  • Vaginal health
  • Healthy skin
  • Brain function
  • Strong bones
  • Regulate body temperature
  • Healthy gut
  • Stable mood
  • Immune health
  • Healthy heart

There are more things estrogen affects, but we will keep this list short.

Where do we get estrogen?

Estrogen is made mainly in our ovaries. When we are premenopausal and have a regular cycle, our estradiol (one of our estrogen types) normally increases and decreases  with every period. In the graph below estradiol is light blue and you can see it rising to its peak towards ovulation in preparation to release an egg. It then falls, but has another shorter rise in the luteal phase around day 21 of our cycle.

As estrogen is on a low in the luteal phase, you can see progesterone rising. This is the “See-saw” effect between estrogen and progesterone. 

Photo credit: Point Specifics

As our ovaries start to retire, we move production of the little estrogen we have to our adrenal glands. This is a big job for our adrenals, which are already responsible for our stress hormones like cortisol. This is why it is now a crucial time to manage our stress.

As a side note, estrogen is also made in smaller amounts in our fat tissue. Once we stop cycling, our body tries to pull out as much estrogen it can from the adrenals and fat tissue. But it won’t nearly give us enough to slow the effects of menopause. 

 

How much estrogen do we need?

This depends. I will save the details for another blog post. In general during menopause, typical levels of estradiol in a blood test while not taking hormone therapy is less than 30 pg/mL. This doesn’t mean it is optimal. A healthy cycling woman during pre-menopause may have anywhere from 40 pg/mL to 500 pg/mL depending on where she is in her cycle. While taking hormone therapy, the range on where our symptoms are alleviated to where we feel really good, can be very wide. That being said, functional medicine doctors genrally like to have their patients somewhere between 200 pg/mL and 400 pg/mL. You need to speak with your own health practitioner about more details that are releveant to you and your condition. 

 

How can we tell if our estrogen is too high or low?

You may have heard of “estrogen dominance”, which mostly means an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone, rather than just estrogen being too high. 

Whether you are taking hormones or not, it is worthwhile understanding if your estrogen is out of balance.  Too make things more simple, we will show you symptoms of what being “too hight” or “too low” in estrogen look like. 

Estrogen deficiency (low) may show up like this:

  • Hot flashes and/or night sweats
  • Kicking off the sheets*
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Vaginal dryness (pain during intercourse)
  • Dry eyes
  • Dry skin
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Bloating
  • Headaches/migraines
  • Brain fog/Forgetfulness
  • Racing mind at night
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low libido
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced stamina
  • Rapid heart beat or palpitations
  • Back and/or oint pain
  • Bone issues – fractures, osteopenia/osteoporosis

Many women I meet around the world may say they don’t experience hot flashes or night sweats, so they say they are “not yet in menopause”. They then proceed to tell  me, “but I may kick off the sheets because I get a little hot”. They don’t realize that if they are regularly warm at night when it’s the middle of winter and they don’t have a fever, then it’s likely due to a loss of estrogen.

Symptoms of excess estrogen (high):

  • Tender breasts
  • Breast fullness
  • Nipple tenderness
  • Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
  • Impatient, but clear of mind
  • Heavy periods and/or clots
  • Moodiness
  • Depression
  • Irritation
  • Water retention (swollen fingers, legs and/or ankles)
  • Itchiness
  • Weight gain around the hips and thighs
  • Uterine fibroids or polyps

 

What do I do?

If you are feeling the symptoms of excess or deficient estrogen, then it is time to find your menopause doctor. Read this blog article to know how or reach out to me and I am happy to help at zora@hackmyage.comhttps://hackmyage.com/find-a-menopause-doctor/

We would love to invite you to our private membership group Biohacking Menopause. This is a safe space where women and professionals offer valuable support and recommendations for managing your symptoms effectively. Join us today!

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