Last week I did an article on the hormone testosterone so to cover all bases I thought I would do an article on estrogen and progesterone. Now like testosterone, estrogen and progesterone are found in both sexes with testosterone being prominent in males and estrogen and progesterone being prominent in females.
So what is estrogen? Well its a collective term for a number of different hormones which are basically different types of estrogen. Below is a list of the three different types.
Estrone (E1) This is a weak form of estrogen and the only type found in women after the menopause. Small amounts of estrone are present in most tissues of the body, mainly fat and muscle. The body can convert estrone to estradiol and estradiol to estrone.
Estradiol (E2) This is the strongest type of estrogen. Estradiol is a steroid produced by the ovaries. It is thought to contribute to a range of gynaecological problems, such as endometriosis, fibroids, and cancers that occur in females, particularly endometrial cancer.
Estriol (E3) This the weakest of the estrogens and is a waste product made after the body uses estradiol. Pregnancy is the only time at which significant amounts of estriol are made. Estriol cannot be converted to estradiol or estrone.
All of these are classed as sex hormones which are produced mainly in a woman's ovaries and in a mens testes. To a lesser degree they are also produced in the adrenal glands.
In women they play an essential role in the growth and development of female secondary sexual characteristics, such as breasts, pubic and armpit hair, and the regulation of the menstrual cycle and reproductive system. During the menstrual cycle, estrogen produces an environment suitable for the fertilization, implantation, and nutrition of an early embryo.
In men the main form of estrogen is estradiol (E2) and estrone (E1) to a lesser extent. Testosterone is the most significant hormone to male sexual development and function. But estrogen needs to stay in balance with testosterone to help control sex drive, the ability to have an erection, and the production of sperm.
As described in my earlier article testosterone naturally decreases as men age, while estrogen increases. This isn’t much to be concerned about unless your estrogen levels become abnormally high.
Both men and women can suffer from both high and low estrogen. However it is more common for men to suffer with high estrogen rather than low estrogen and women to suffer from low estrogen as opposed to high.
The reasons for this are ageing and the subsequent menopause.
Women past a certain age will experience menopause. Menopause is defined as having no menstrual period for one year. The age you experience it can vary, but it typically occurs in your late 40s or early 50s. Menopause can cause many changes in a woman's body. The symptoms are the result of a decreased production of estrogen and progesterone in the ovaries. Symptoms may include hot flashes, weight gain, night sweats, and decreased libido. It can also increase your risk of diseases such as osteoporosis. If you feel you are experiencing these symptoms whilst still having a menstrual cycle then it is possible that you may be perimenopausal. This is the period during which your body transitions into menopause. A visit to your doctor is required for a full hormone blood panel test.
This will show if your body is still producing estrogen and progesterone. If they are low your doctor may prescribe these hormones as tablets. This is known as hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
In men the symptoms of high estrogen are very similar to women who have low estrogen.
Men will experience a reduced libido and maybe erectile dysfunction. Their testes will produce less sperm and they may even begin to develop breasts. This is known as gynaecomastia. They will also hold a lot of water and look very puffy as opposed to lean.
So what can be done to support healthy levels of estrogen.
You guessed it. Diet, Exercise and Lifestyle.
For males your diet should include cruciferous vegetable such as kale and broccoli. Red grapes including the odd glass of red wine. Mushrooms such as shiitake and portobello. Flaxseeds and sesame seeds along with whole grains like oats and rice. Drink plenty of green tea and pomegranate juice. All of the above contain phytochemicals, resveratrol and polyphenols all of which are known to assist in estrogen levels within the body.
For women your diet should include various foods known to be rich in phytoestrogens such as tofu, flaxseeds, sesame seeds, soy beans, hummus, garlic, dried fruit and alfalfa sprouts.
Then obviously take part in some form of exercise at least three times a week. This doesn't mean you have to join a gym. A nightly walk with the dog will suffice.
Your lifestyle needs to focus on clean foods, plenty of quality sleep and everything in moderation including alcohol.
Now lets take a quick look at progesterone.
This is a steroid hormone belonging to a class of hormones called progestogens. It is secreted by the corpus luteum, a temporary endocrine gland that the female body produces after ovulation during the second half of the menstrual cycle. Progesterone prepares the endometrium for the potential of pregnancy after ovulation. It triggers the lining to thicken to accept a fertilized egg. It also prohibits the muscle contractions in the uterus that would cause the body to reject an egg. While the body is producing high levels of progesterone, the body will not ovulate.
If the woman does not become pregnant, the corpus luteum breaks down, lowering the progesterone levels in the body. This change sparks menstruation. If the body does conceive, progesterone continues to stimulate the body to provide the blood vessels in the endometrium that will feed the growing fetus. The hormone also prepares the limit of the uterus further so it can accept the fertilized egg. Once the placenta develops, it also begins to secrete progesterone, supporting the corpus luteum. This causes the levels to remain elevated throughout the pregnancy, so the body does not produce more eggs. It also helps prepare the breasts for milk production.
So as you can see in woman this hormone is vital for reproduction. Low levels of this hormone can show symptoms in premenopausal women such as irregular or missed periods and frequent miscarriages. For women in later life this can show similar symptoms as with low estrogen and it also contributes to the menopause.
In males progesterone is a precursor for the production of testosterone and it counteracts the effects of estrogen on the body. As mentioned above in later life males produce less testosterone hence their progesterone levels plummet and their estrogen levels increase causing the symptoms mentioned earlier for high estrogen.
Well I hope this has given you a basic insight into these two hormones. They are complex and any assessment should be done by your doctor. If you feel your doctor is not specialised in this field then seek referral to an endocrinologist.