ESTIMATED READING TIME 4 MINUTES
Are you confused about oestrogen? This hormone has received a lot of bad press over the years. This is because it’s implicated in female cancers like breast, ovarian and uterine cancers. In fact, if you’ve suffered from breast cancer, you’ll often be prescribed a drug to block the action of oestrogen.
But is oestrogen all bad? Read on to find out whether she deserves her bad-girl reputation.
Hormones affect you every second of every day of your life. They’re your body’s messengers, delivering instructions to your cells so they can function properly. It’s no exaggeration to say that without hormones your body would be in disarray. You’re designed to function as a harmonious whole, each part influenced by and affecting the others. The only way this is possible is with hormones.
Women and men have different levels of the three reproductive hormones. The two main female hormones are oestrogen and progesterone. Women make testosterone too, and it’s often forgotten about, but it’s still important even though it’s needed in far lower amounts than it’s produced by men.
During your reproductive years female hormone levels are different every day of the month meaning your cells receive slightly different instructions every day.
Oestrogen helps your cells to divide, explaining the connection with cancer, as fast-dividing cells can easily inherit an error in their DNA. One of oestrogen’s roles in premenopausal women is to build up the womb lining in preparation for pregnancy. However, if oestrogen climbs too high, the lining will become too thick, leading to heavy periods.
Usually, when oestrogen is too high, progesterone becomes relatively low, a common condition known as oestrogen dominance. This can lead you to develop fibroids, endometriosis, and ovarian cysts. Overly high oestrogen can make you feel terrible before a period, as it contributes to PMS, painful periods, irregular cycles, bloating and tender breasts.
But problems will occur if oestrogen drops too low. So, although too much of this hormone is not good for health, it’s crucial in the right amounts. Recently science has been discovering some of the negative effects of too little oestrogen. This is often the case after menopause when not as much oestrogen longer produced by your ovaries.
Poor bone health is a well-known side effect of low oestrogen levels because the cells building new bone depend on oestrogen.
Oestrogen helps brain cells communicate with one another and boosts blood flow around your brain, while women with low oestrogen have been found to have poorer memory.
Oestrogen appears to be protective against heart disease, as it can encourage healthy cholesterol levels, keep your arteries flexible, and prevent high blood pressure.
Many post-menopausal women notice their libido has left the room, and this is because drops in oestrogen are correlated with reduced sex drive.
When oestrogen nosedives, your body’s cells become less sensitive to the hormone insulin, crucial for regulating blood sugar. So your cells don’t receive the energy they need, your blood sugar will increase and you’ll tend to gain weight, especially around your middle. This type of fat is called visceral fat, and it releases inflammatory molecules. So, belly fat can contribute to ongoing chronic inflammation around your body, a precursor to many chronic diseases.
Low oestrogen slows down the production of collagen, the protein acting as your skin’s scaffolding. Sagging skin means more wrinkles, and your skin won’t be able to hold on to water as readily.
Oestrogen is very important for your vagina, keeping the cells in its wall moist and healthy. If oestrogen levels in your vagina decline, its lining will become thinner, dry and inflamed, and it may become itchy and less flexible.
To make things a little more complicated, when oestrogen is processed by your liver, various kinds of oestrogens are produced, called metabolites. These differ in their strength, and therefore how readily they affect your body’s cells.
Functional testing can reveal not only your total level of oestrogen but also the proportions of the different types of oestrogens you are producing, so you can understand your risk. Certain nutrients encourage the production of the more desirable types of oestrogen. These include B vitamins and a substance found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale and cauliflower.
Plant oestrogens are weak versions of oestrogens capable of gently increasing your body’s load of oestrogen if it drops too low. These can be especially beneficial after the menopause. They’re contained in flax and sesame seeds, legumes, beans, fermented soya and in herbs like red clover and dong quai.
Are you concerned about your oestrogen levels? Why not book a free 15-minute discovery call to see if Functional Medicine is for you.
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