By Noelani Rodriguez, ND
Throughout various stages of a woman’s life her estrogen levels change. Between pre-puberty, going through puberty, monthly cycling, pregnancy, peri-menopuase, and post-menopause, our hormones are constantly fluctuating.
To start, let’s talk a little bit about the benefits of estrogen in the body. From heart health, to skin integrity and elasticity, to brain health and bone health, to maturing follicles for pregnancy, there are so many functions to estrogen. It’s a shame that it has been given a bad rap throughout its time and in society. According to the American Heart Association, “estrogen is believed to have a positive effect on the inner layer of [the] artery wall, helping to keep blood vessels flexible. That means they can relax and expand to accommodate blood flow,” and thus be a contributing factor in keeping blood pressure down. With bone health, estrogen helps to balance the activity of cells that breakdown bone tissue, known as osteoclast, and regulates parathyroid hormone activity which controls calcium levels in the blood. During menopause, as estrogen becomes deficient, we see bone loss accelerate leading to osteopenia or osteoporosis. While our body is still cycling estrogen is responsible for maturing a follicle (egg) to be released from the ovary for possible fertilization leading to pregnancy. With hair and skin, estrogen is responsible for modulating activity within our hair follicles, sebaceous glands (keep our skin from becoming dry), melanocytes (cells that produce the color of skin), and keratinocytes (cells that produce keratin in hair, skin, and nails), just to name a few. As we age, the lowered amount of estrogen in the body directly relates to the quality of our hair, skin, and nails as well as many other parts of health. Therefore, as we can see estrogen is very important to the woman’s physiology.
Stage 1: Puberty
During puberty the spike in estrogen (along with other hormones such as progesterone and testosterone) triggers puberty. These hormones are responsible for development of what is known as female secondary sex characteristics such as the development of breasts and pubic and armpit hair.
Stage 2: Menstrual Cycling
Once a female hits puberty, she will begin cycling in which each month she should experience menses (aka period, aunt flow, etc.) During the first half of the cycle aka the Follicular Phase (approximately the first 14 days after the beginning of a period) estrogen levels rise and help mature a follicle or egg to be released for fertilization. (More on Luteal Phase and progesterone levels in a later article).
Stage 3: Pregnancy
Hormones to be covered in another article … Stay tuned!
Stage 4: Peri-menopause
This is a transitional period that can start as early as age 35 and go for 15+ years. During this time the ovaries are still trying to produce regular amounts of estrogen but the signals from your brain (FSH and LH) are starting to send stronger signals to the ovaries to continue to produce those healthy levels of estrogen. Despite the brain and ovaries best efforts, these fluctuations in the production and signaling of estrogen can lead to symptoms such as irregular periods, hot flashes, night sweats, hair thinning, skin changes, brain fog and weight gain.
Stage 5: Post-Menopause
Once a woman has not had a period for 12 consecutive months, she is considered to be post-menopausal. From this time on, without hormone replacement therapy, her hormones will all be lower that what she has been used to for most of her life. The good part about this time is that some women who experienced symptoms from fibroids or cysts earlier in life that are often triggered by estrogen may find relief. Symptoms of peri-menopause may also subside by this time. Some women however continue to struggle with symptoms and find that they just don’t feel like themselves anymore. Speaking with your healthcare provider about your options for relieving symptoms and healthy aging is great to do before hitting this point.