Low estrogen can happen for a variety of reasons, but the main cause is the menopause.
This phase of a woman’s life can be hugely affected by the lowering of estrogen levels and the resulting symptoms.
We have looked at some of the most common low estrogen symptoms and how to treat them.
Knowledge is power so inform yourself about the symptoms of low estrogen so that you can find the best way to treat the ones that affect you the most.
What Does Estrogen Do?
Estrogen is a hormone which is vital for female reproductive development and ongoing health.
It’s also responsible for many other bodily functions not immediately associated with it, including insulin sensitivity, glucose metabolism and cholesterol metabolism.
There are three kinds of estrogen; estriol, estradiol, and esterone. All have an effect on female sexual health.
The majority of estrogen in a woman’s body is made by the ovaries, but small amounts are also made in the adrenal glands and fat cells.
When a woman enters into her perimenopause or full menopause the level of estrogen in her body begins to decline. This is a natural and transitional phase in all women’s lives.
Symptoms Of Low Estrogen
When estrogen levels begin to drop women experience a range of symptoms.
Not all women will get the same symptoms and most will not suffer all of the symptoms that we have listed below.
However, it is important to know which symptoms you may face when estrogen drops so that you can recognize them if they occur.
As women age beyond childbearing years the role of estrogen becomes less important and the ovaries produce less of it.
So what symptoms might you expect to encounter as your estrogen drops?
Changing Menstrual Cycle
For the majority of women the first sign of low estrogen comes in the form of irregular menstrual cycles.
This could be missing periods entirely for months at a time, or they become less predictable.
As the ovaries slow down, production of estrogen lessens and this is when most women become perimenopausal.
The fluctuations in the estrogen levels are what cause periods to become irregular or to lessen.
Full menopause is classified as the absence of any menstrual bleeding for a year. At this point most estrogen production has stopped.
While many women welcome the end to periods there are other health factors to consider.
A lot of women experience breast tenderness around the time of their periods. This is due to the fluctuations that happen in estrogen levels in different phases of their cycle.
When you enter the menopause the level of estrogen drops and stays low. This can cause breast tenderness.
As the ovaries stop making the estradiol form of estrogen it is left to the body’s fat cells to make estrone. This is not produced at the same level and symptoms such as sore breasts can occur.
The fluctuating nature of estrogen at this time means you make experience breast tenderness at any time.
There is a link between estrogen and serotonin, the neurotransmitter that is responsible for mood regulation.
Serotonin also makes melatonin which is a hormone that your body produces in response to darkness. In other words it makes you feel sleepy.
Low estrogen levels can affect serotonin and this has a knock on effect on the levels of melatonin in your body.
This can mean that you have trouble sleeping, falling asleep or waking up frequently during the night.
The result can be a feeling of fatigue which can impact on your day and energy levels. Many women also get night sweats which also cause them to wake up during the night.
One of the most distressing aspects of low estrogen levels is the effect it has on serotonin production.
Serotonin regulates our mood and its levels drop along with estrogen during menopause and perimenopause. As a result some women can experience mood swings.
These moods can include feeling sad, anxious, irritated or frustrated. You may not realize at the time that your moods are being affected in this way.
Often it takes friends and family to point out how your moods have changed.
The disruption that low estrogen causes to your sleep rhythm through low melatonin or night sweats only serve to add to these mood swings.
Unfortunately, many women suffer from what are called hormonal migraines.
These occur due to the low estrogen levels in the body and can be very distressing and disabling.
Occasionally migraines can make it impossible to carry on with your normal day due to pain, light sensitivity or nausea and vomiting.
While not everyone may experience migraines many women may suffer headaches as a result of low estrogen.
Estrogen controls the chemicals in the brain that affect the feeling of pain. Therefore low estrogen levels may trigger migraines and headaches.
The interaction between estrogen and pain sensitivity is complex and can be impacted by other symptoms such as fatigue.
A common and distressing symptom of low estrogen during menopause are hot flashes.
These are incidences of a sudden rise in body temperature affecting the torso, neck and face. They are accompanied by reddening of the skin and sometimes, increased perspiration.
Exactly how hormonal changes cause hot flashes is not entirely clear, but there is a theory that low estrogen is the culprit.
It is thought that the low levels of estrogen cause your body’s internal thermostat, the hypothalamus, to decide that you are too warm.
As a result the body produces a hot flash to cool down your core and protect your vital organs.
There is some debate as to whether hot flashes and night sweats are the same thing, with the later happening purely at night.
It is now accepted that these are two different symptoms of low estrogen.
While hot flashes happen during the day and cause a sharp peak in sweating that disappears quickly, night sweats are more prolonged.
When a woman experiences night sweats there is a lot of sweating that lasts for a longer period of time and decreases slowly.
The uncomfortable sensation which accompanies night sweats is sufficient to disturb sleep and add to fatigue and mood swings.
Frequent Urinary Tract Infections
Estrogen plays a large part in protecting the lining of a woman’s urethra. The job of the lining is to protect the urethra from infection-causing bacteria.
With low estrogen the lining begins to thin out and this can cause more frequent urinary tract infections.
As a result menopausal women are disproportionately susceptible to urinary tract infections.
Less estrogen in the body also means that bacterial levels can change which can allow infection to set in.
Along with all the other symptoms that women experience during menopause those who suffer from chronic or frequent urinary tract infections have to deal with this added complication.
A severe symptom of low estrogen for women is vaginal atrophy. This is when the tissue of the vagina becomes thin, dry and even shrunken.
It is very common among women who are going through the menopause.
This condition comes on over a long period of time and at first you may not even notice. However, the symptoms of vaginal atrophy can make sex painful and this may be your first clue.
Vaginal atrophy can also cause burning during urination and create a sense of urgency to use the bathroom. Inflammation can become an issue which only adds to the discomfort.
One of the risks of low estrogen levels in women is bone loss. Estrogen is necessary for healthy bones and to maintain their density and strength.
With lower levels of this hormone in the body there is the increased risk of osteoporosis or brittle bones.
Estrogen works in conjunction with vitamin D, calcium and other minerals to keep bones strong.
As estrogen drops during menopause there can be a higher occurrence of fractures. Women with a family history of osteoporosis are more likely to develop the condition.
Treatments For Low Estrogen
Menopause is a naturally occurring part of a woman’s life and shouldn’t be treated as a disorder.
The lower levels of estrogen which contribute so much to the symptoms of menopause can however, be treated.
The kind of treatment you choose will depend on your own personal experience of menopause and which symptoms are most troublesome.
Some women benefit from HRT while others prefer a more natural approach through diet, exercise and herbal supplements.
Let’s take a look at each option, so you can choose the right treatment for your low estrogen levels.
However, with such an important topic you should always speak to your doctor or other medical professional in the first instance.
Hormone replacement therapy or HRT is the treatment for replacing the lost estrogen in your body.
It may be done with just estrogen or a combination of estrogen and progesterone. The method of delivery may be in tablet form, a patch or a rub on gel.
HRT can relieve a lot of the symptoms of menopause and help to prevent other issues such as osteoporosis.
Some treatments may increase the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke or blood clots in the legs or lungs.
This is why it is important to speak to your healthcare provider about your options.
Diet & Supplements
Some women prefer not to take hormone replacement therapy for a variety of reasons.
There are lots of diet options and herbal supplements that can be taken which may relieve symptoms of low estrogen.
There are many foods that contain phytoestrogen which is a plant derived compound. It can mimic the effects of estrogen in the body.
Flax seeds, soy, as well as some fruits and vegetables are high in phytoestrogen.
Herbal supplements such as red clover and black cohosh can help with the symptoms caused by low estrogen.
Mood swings, anxiety and depression are symptoms of menopause.
Although there are medications that you can take to help with these issues many women prefer the natural approach.
Exercise is a great mood booster and will get your metabolism moving too. Remember whatever works for you is the most important thing.
If doing yoga, jogging or swimming help you to feel better and relieve some of your symptoms, that is what you should do.
Every woman is different, and we all experience menopause differently.
What works for one woman may not work for another so bear this in mind when trying treatments for low estrogen.
There is plenty of help out there for women who are going through the menopause or suffering from low estrogen for other reasons.
Don’t be embarrassed to ask for advice and help from a medical professional.