If you don't quite remember the finer points of high school health class, here's a refresher on estrogen. Adequate estrogen levels are essential to the overall health of your body. It is a steroid hormone secreted by the ovaries, the placenta, and adipose tissue. At the onset of puberty, estrogen stimulates the development of female secondary sex characteristics – growth of armpit and pubic hair, hip growth, and breast development – and it promotes the growth and maintenance of your reproductive system. Estrogen is also necessary for bone development and maintenance. Both an excess and lack of estrogen can have negative effects on your body.
Estrogen and Fertility
Adequate estrogen levels influence healthy fertility. The menstrual cycle occurs in three different stages, which are regulated by the anterior pituitary gonadotropin hormones. These hormones produce and regulate estrogen and progesterone. Dysfunction of your menstrual cycle, such as amenorrhea – lack of menstruation – or dysmenorrhea – painful menstruation, results from the disruption of normal levels of progesterone and estrogen. Low estrogen levels signify there are physiological factors inhibiting your fertility, considering estrogen is primarily produced in your ovaries and is necessary for ovulation.
Estrogen and Adipose Tissue
Unhealthy levels of adipose tissue, which essentially could be considered the largest estrogen-producing gland in the body, can negatively impact reproduction, fertility, and pregnancy. Because estrogen is also produced by fat cells called adipocytes, body weight extremes are unhealthy. In cases of extremely low body fat, amenorrhea can occur, due to a lack of estrogen production. Basically, the body is signifying a lack of fertility and an inability to produce and grow a fetus. In contrast, obesity produces excessive levels of estrogen, which can increase your risk for various cancers, primarily breast, as excess estrogen has the capability to produce tumors.
Estrogen and Bone Health
Estrogen also plays an important role in your bone health. It is essential for stimulating the secretion of growth hormones, which initiates bone growth during puberty. Thus, as previously mentioned, low body fat results in a lack of circulating estrogen, leading to low bone density, eventual osteoporosis, and possibly skeletal abnormalities. Therefore, young females -- especially during the years of crucial bone growth -- must maintain a healthy body weight in order to prevent eventual osteoporosis.
Estrogen is an essential sex hormone for the health of the female body. Maintaining a proper balance throughout the body is important for female fertility, bone health, and reproductive growth. In conjunction, sustaining a healthy level of body fat is necessary to keep this balance. In addition, you can obtain phytoestrogens -- an external estrogen source -- from food sources. Legumes, primarily soya beans, are rich sources.
- Fertility and Sterility; Adipose tissue and reproduction in women; Henry Bohler et al.
- Bailliere's Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism;The Female Athlete; Michelle P Warren MD and Shanmugan Shantha MD.
Megan Grover is a working nutritionist holding a Bachelor of Science from Waynesburg University and a Master of Science in human nutrition from the University of Sheffield. She has experience in primary and secondary scientific research.