Last week we talked about what estrogen is and what it does. This week we dive into what happens when estrogen levels are low.
Low estrogen (and for the purposes of this post we’re talking exclusively about estradiol) normally does not affect the majority of women until they are heading into menopause. Women who have endured postpartum will remember the emotional roller coaster, which is often a preview of perimenopause (which starts any time after 35). With so many women having babies later in life, postpartum and perimenopause can hit at the same time. And what a joyful time that is. You have a new baby, you feel alone, you’re anxious and feeling down and now perimenopause hits and the world feels like it’s caving in around you.
What are some of the symptoms of low estrogen?
- Weight and appetite – Low estrogen stimulates appetite. Of course with a stimulated appetite, often comes eating more food which in turn creates weight gain. This is not a hard and fast rule, but it’s pretty accurate.
- Sex -Estradiol makes the genital skin sensitive. When estradiol is low, the hormonal-control centres of the brain assume you’re in danger so of course you don’t want to become pregnant. Consequently the vagina becomes dry and the nerves that populate the clitoris, G-spot and the inner lips of the vulva start to disappear. Getting wet is difficult and orgasms are, well, not as easy to come by and not as intense as they were when you were younger.
- Mood – Estradiol increases serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter. As estradiol fades during perimenopause, serotonin levels drop which sometimes leads to depression. Your moods become unpredictable and stormy and you feel like you’re losing your mind.
- Bones – Bone loss is a problem for women with low estrogen, especially after menopause. Estrogen is necessary in your bloodstream to keep bones healthy, dense and flexible. Lack of estrogen can result in mild bone loss (osteopenia) or more serious bone loss (osteoporosis).
- Hot flashes, night sweats and insomnia – It’s no wonder you have insomnia when you’re laying there trying to sleep, wearing nothing (which I always recommend as there are health benefits to sleeping naked), the fan blasting on you and no blankets and you’re still soaking wet and not in a good way 😉 Who could sleep under those circumstances?
- Subfertility (also known as diminished ovarian reserve), infertility – The older we get, the less viable our eggs are which explains why a 16 year old gets pregnant just thinking about it (yes, I’m being silly but you get the point) whereas a 36 year old might be trying and getting nowhere. Did you know that we’re born with approximately one to two million eggs and that by puberty we’re down to 300,000 to 500,000, by age 35 only 60 percent of those eggs are ripe and by 45 that number drops to 15 percent? So you get the picture. Consequently the older we are, the harder it is to conceive.
So what causes low estrogen? There are numerous reasons.
- Perimenopause and menopause – let’s face it, you’re generally over 35 when you hit perimenopause and your ovaries aren’t functioning the same.
- Hypogonadism – Not restricted to any particular age, ovaries have decreased functional activity which may be caused by genetics such as Turner’s syndrome in which a woman is missing one X chromosome.
- Hypopituitarism – decreased production of one of the eight hormones that modulate your endocrine glands, such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). Your pituitary is a neighbor to your hypothalamus and it produces numerous hormones.
- Hypothalamic defects – Decreased production of estrogen due to a problem with the hypothalamus, which is part of the control system for your ovaries. Kallman’s syndrome, a genetic disorder associated with loss of smell and lack of gonadotropin-releasing hormones, which are FSH (see above) and luteinizing hormone (LH) and which results in low estrogen.
- Miscarriage – When a baby is not carried to term, which occurs in 15 to 20 percent of pregnancies, the mother’s hormone levels drop and her estrogen levels may plummet temporarily as a result.
- Delivery of placenta after childbirth – This temporarily causes you to enter a menopausal state because of your low levels of estrogen and progesterone and lasts until your period returns.
- Breast-feeding – Depending on frequency, volume and duration, breast-feeding lowers your estrogen levels and may prevent ovulation.
- Anorexia nervosa, bulimia and other eating disorders – Lower body fat (where estrogen is also produced) can cause lower estradiol levels, which can lead to amenorrhea, or a cessation of your period, for three months or lower.
- Extreme exercising or training – Female bodybuilders and professional athletes often experience lower estrogen due to lower bodyfat levels.
- Gluten intolerance – This is an increasingly common reason for estrogen-related problems such as amenorrhea, infertility and diminished ovarian reserve.
Next week I’ll provide you with recommended changes to your diet to help you boost your estrogen levels if they’re low.
Until then, wishing you all the best,