Estrogens: definition, role, normal level, supplementation?

Estrogens, essential hormones in women, are mainly produced by the ovaries.. What is their role exactly? Where do they come from? Until when are they secreted? Do men also produce it? What happens in the event of a disruption? Answers from Professor Philippe Touraine, endocrinologist in the Endocrinology and Reproductive Medicine department at Pitié Salpêtrière hospital (Paris).

Estrogen: what is it?

Estrogens are primary sex hormones belonging to the group of steroids.

They are mainly produced by the ovaries (but also in small quantities by the testicles in men), by the adrenal glands, by the mammary glands or even by fatty tissues.

THE three groups of natural estrogens are:

  • estradiol,
  • estriol
  • and estrone

Just like progesterone, they have an essential role in the hormonal life of women – and to a lesser extent in that of men.

How are they secreted?

As noted above, estrogen is mainly secreted by the ovaries during the menstrual cycle. “Estrogen levels increase after menstruation and until ovulation (14th day of the cycle”), indicates the endocrinologist. This allows the thickening of the uterine mucosa, but also the formation of cervical mucus.”

Concretely, estrogens are secreted by each follicle which contains an oocyte. When this oocyte is mature (at the time of ovulation), it secretes more estrogen, which allows the oocyte to be released, which will then be collected by the tube. Once this oocyte is expelled (in the second part of the cycle), it transforms into the corpus luteum and secretes progesterone.

Estrogen levels drop drastically after menopause : the ovaries stop producing them. Thus, the organs and tissues that were sensitive to it undergo several changes, including atrophy. Therefore ? The skin becomes distended, the mucous membranes dry out, the skeleton decalcifies, etc. Fat tissue and the mammary gland can produce a small amount of estrogen after menopause.

What is the role of estrogen?

Estrogens act in particular on the urogenital system, the mammary gland, the skeleton, the skin and mucous membranes, the cardiovascular system, the brain, and the digestive system. They are often referred to as “feminizing” hormones.. For good reason, they have a primordial role in the development and maintenance of secondary sexual characteristics in young women.

What is the role of estrogen in women?

  • Estrogen is a determining factor in the occurrence of secondary female sexual characteristics at puberty : breast growth, arrival of the first period, development of pubic hair, etc.
  • During pregnancy, estrogen will work alongside progesterone to ensure the proper development of the baby. They are also involved in the activation of production of breast milk.
  • They improve vaginal comfort by preventing vaginal dryness and by allowing a good trophicity of the vagina.
  • During the menstrual cycle, during the ovulatory period, they ensure the secretion and good quality of cervical mucuswhich allows sperm to reach the egg to fertilize it.
  • Sexually, estrogens are also linked to libido and vaginal lubrication.
  • These hormones also allow binding of calcium to the bones And improve joint comfort.
  • They also have a beneficial effect on blood vessels, and reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, heart attacks and cardiovascular accidents.
  • They are often prescribed at menopause, for hot flashes, because they are involved in thermal regulation.
  • Finally, certain studies demonstrate their beneficial effects on cognitive functions and indicate a possible reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

What is the role of estrogens in men?

Estrogens do not no special role in humans : men have a high level of testosterone in the blood and a low level of estrogen (in women, it is the opposite). But certain drinks, like beer, can have an estrogenic effect and cause a hormonal imbalance. Excess estrogen (and therefore lack of testosterone) can have deleterious effects for the body, emphasizes the endocrinologist.

Dosage: when and how to determine your estrogen level?

It is not necessary to measure your estrogen levels regularly. Dosing is only useful in certain circumstances, such as:

  • a amenorrhea in the context of anorexia nervosa,
  • THE followed by a woman who shows signs of hypoestrogenism,
  • there monitoring of hormonal treatment against menopause,
  • if infertility is suspected or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

The blood test requires fasting and the sample is taken from the crook of the elbow.

What is the “normal” level of estrogen?

There is no real “normal level” of estrogen, since this level is constantly changing. LReference values ​​vary depending on gender, age and possible pregnancy. They also depend on the laboratories and analysis techniques used.

Any abnormality in the production of estrogens can have clinical implications, indicates Professor Touraine.

Does estrogen make you fat?

The answer is not so clear cut. Estrogen, by itself, does not make you gain weight. It is their variations that can have an impact on our weight. During menopause, in particular, women often find it more difficult to maintain their healthy weight. This is because estrogens decrease sharply, particularly estradiol, which helps maintain our metabolism (it influences the way in which our body stores nutrients). fats and decides on the elimination – or not – of certain fatty areas). In fact, when estrogen balance is not optimal, the pounds can start to pile on. And that’s not the only inconvenience you have to face!

Excess estrogen (hyperestrogenia): what are the symptoms? What consequences?

Too high a level of estrogens (estrogen dominance or hyperestrogenism) causes its share of inconveniences:

  • a unexplained weight gain (excess estrogen can cause a slowdown in metabolism leading to fat accumulation in the stomach, hips and buttocks);
  • of the chest pain (not only at the beginning of the menstrual cycle);
  • vaginal discomfort and drynesse related to hormonal imbalance;
  • of the headache (more common in women than in men);
  • of the fatigue,
  • etc.

Estrogen dominance is also present in men: an excess of estrogen can then lead to a drop in libido, a reduction in the quality and number of sperm, and a drop in testosterone production. This overflow of “female” hormones can also explain abnormal breast development (gynecomastia) or a benign or even cancerous enlargement of the prostate.

“In case of hyperestrogenia, we balance the hormonal balance by prescribing progesterone (estrogen-progestogen balance)”, explains Professor Touraine. In men, we can possibly prescribe androgen intake.

Lack of estrogen: what symptoms? What consequences?

The lack of estrogen can be explained by many reasons, including menopause, too restrictive diets, too intense physical activity, etc.

Several disorders can then alert:

  • of the hot flashes,
  • a vaginal dryness,
  • of the mood swings
  • or even a loss of bone density.
  • Perimenopause can also be accompanied by libido disorders or of sleeping troubles.

Treatment: What can increase estrogen levels?

  • A hormone treatment for menopause (THM) generally compensates for this deficiency via the administration of estrogens orally or percutaneously.
  • If it is a young anorexic girl for example, she can be prescribed the piread the Or THM.


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