When you think of oestrogen, what do you think of? Some are quick to say weight gain, some think menopause and others who are savvy think of females. When I think of oestrogen, I think of an almost misunderstood, and definitely undervalued key player in women.
Oestrogen is often considered the ‘female hormone’. Men have it too, but it is found in much much larger amounts in women. It is the hormone that ‘arrives in forces’ or ‘makes its grand entrance’ with puberty. It’s the hormone that is the reason for breast growth, hip widening, buttocks, thighs, curves, and of course the menstrual bleed.
In my opinion, it also plays a large role in why men die younger than women.
Oestrogen has so many functions and benefits within the body. Its functions are so wide, intricate and complicated, but they are primarily positive. Unfortunately, too much of a good thing is bad, but let’s not let that overshadow the positives. Let’s celebrate the benefits of oestrogen. Let’s celebrate what essentially makes us women.
Oestrogen may be involved in:
Protecting you from heart disease.
When you compare heart disease in men and women, men significantly outweigh women. This is the case all the way through until women are 60 years and older,. Once women reach this significant age (notably after menopause and the absence of oestrogen), their risk significantly increases and eventually outweighs men of a similar age.
Oestrogen is believed to have this positive effect via effects on the inner layer of the artery wall, helping to keep blood vessels flexible – meaning they can relax and expand to accommodate blood flow. In addition to this, it is believed to have both anti-inflammatory and vaso-protective roles (blood vessel protection) within the cardiovascular system.
Support cellular energy.
Oestrogen has been shown to regulate the structure and function of mitochondria, particularly in tissues that have a high energy demand. Mitochondria are important organelles that can be considered the tiny engines that produce cellular energy. The ability of oestrogen to protect and enhance the function of mitochondria produces a wide-reaching domino effect of benefits.
Protecting your liver.
The risk of developing Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is both age related, but also hormone related. Studies have shown that ageing itself is a naturally occurring risk factor, which unfortunately may confound the impact of menopause. A study has found that younger women who have had their ovaries removed are at a nearly two-fold higher risk of developing NAFLD. Further to this, in postmenopausal women, hormone treatment reduced plasma levels of liver enzymes – a marker of liver disease in NAFLD. Therefore, the absence of ovarian hormones (via natural menopause or surgical menopause) leads to an increased risk of NAFLD, which is partially reversible, or at least responsive to oestrogen supplementation.
Body fat distribution.
Oestrogen plays a key role in where body fat is distributed around the body. During reproductive years the strong oestrogen levels cause the typical female fat distribution pattern in the breasts, buttocks and thighs, creating the curvaceous feminine shape, and a biologically healthier fat distribution. Post menopause, when oestrogen levels are low, body fat distribution changes with central obesity being more pronounced, leaving you with a higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic illnesses. This positive effect of oestrogen suggests a protective fat distribution benefit. Additionally, oestrogen plays a role in fat deposits around the face, with the menopausal changes creating a hollower and aged appearance (due to a lack of fat deposits creating the plump, luscious look).
Increasing sensitivity to insulin.
It is well known that oestrogen production aids insulin sensitivity, and oestrogen deficiency plays a role in insulin resistance. It is also understood that oestrogen treatment reduces, or improves, insulin resistance in post-menopausal women. These links may be considered as a protective effect that oestrogen has over weight gain and insulin resistance. Unfortunately, you lose that protection when you lose your oestrogen.
Oestrogen is important in the adjustments of cholesterol metabolism. Internal oestrogen production is known to be involved in the healthier cardiovascular profile seen in premenopausal women. Oestrogen’s known effects on the cholesterol profile include the increase of HDL cholesterol (the ‘good cholesterol’) and the decrease of LDL cholesterol (the ‘bad cholesterol’). This beneficial effect disappears in menopause when the internal oestrogen production is significantly reduced.
When working well, bones are in a constant and balanced state of building, and breakdown. Oestrogen plays a strong role in this balancing process by inhibiting excess bone reabsorption. The drop in oestrogen that occurs at menopause results in an increased risk of bone loss and the development of osteoporosis.
Oestrogen appears to aid in the prevention of skin ageing in several ways. It aids by increasing skin collagen content and thickness, and by increasing skin moisture. Outside of ageing concerns, it has been suggested that oestrogen plays a role in wound healing, scarring and skin sensitivity.
Brain function and memory.
Sex hormones, particularly oestrogen, possess potent antioxidant properties and play an important role in neuroprotective action (brain protection). The oestrogens help with brain function, brain cell communication and brain inflammation. Furthermore, a loss of sex hormones has been suggested to promote an accelerated ageing profile, particularly of the brain. The exact mechanisms of how oestrogen does this isn’t clear, but this amazing sex hormone has been linked to brain protection, verbal memory and spatial ability!
Serotonin is a chemical that has a wide variety of functions and is sometimes called the ‘happy chemical’. This is likely because it contributes to feelings of wellness and happiness. After menopause, the blood levels of serotonin decrease by about 50% and interestingly, oestrogen therapy restores these levels and may play a role in increasing serotonin receptors. This relationship between oestrogen levels and serotonin levels may contribute to the monthly mood changes, as well as the low moods that are often seen in the post-menopausal time period.
Oestrogen and other sex hormones do not create sexual desire, but sexual desire is clearly subject to hormonal influence. It is well known that a women’s libido or desire spikes just before ovulation, for reproduction purposes. It is now known that after menopause, when the natural ovulation spike no longer occurs, oestrogen supplementation, mimicking the ovulation spike, increases sexual desire and libido in postmenopausal women.
Oestrogen plays a key role in vaginal health. It is significantly important in keeping the vagina moist, in maintaining thickness of the vaginal lining, and in keeping the tissue flexible.
Oestrogen helps to stimulate the growth of an egg follicle, is involved in the transport of the egg and sperm down the fallopian tubes, it enhances and maintains the mucus membranes in the uterus, and aids with labour or a menstrual bleed.
Makes you feel sexier and act more provocatively.
And, apparently the higher your oestrogen levels, the higher your thrill-seeking behaviour and the more provocatively you dress.
Oestrogen: it does a lot more than just cause you to bleed every month. And it plays quite a few protective or beneficial roles. Oestrogen… it’s not so bad.
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