Oestrogen (or estrogen) is the ‘female hormone’ – the hormone that develops and regulates the reproductive system in women. This hormone is released by our ovaries during our menstrual cycle, and controls various sexual characteristics in us.
Oestrogen plays an important role in our bodies. During puberty, it helps in the growth of pubic and armpit hair as well as breasts. As we grow older, oestrogen helps regulate our menstrual periods, changes in our breasts, and the growth of our uterine lining every month. During the first half of our cycle, oestrogen levels rise to prepare our body for pregnancy. The mature egg attaches itself to the uterine lining, waiting to be fertilized by a sperm cell. In case fertilization doesn’t take place, then the oestrogen levels will drop in the second half of our cycle and we will get our period.
Here’s how oestrogen works in our body when we are trying to conceive:
- It ensures that only one egg matures during one menstrual cycle by stopping the production of the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH)
- It stimulates the luteinizing hormone (LH), which pushes the mature egg out of the ovaries and into the uterus.
Throughout our life, oestrogen works to keep our body healthy – it strengthens the vaginal wall and maintains vaginal lubrication, develops bones, helps in blood clotting, changes skin and hair, and also has an impact on our moods.
Oestrogen levels in our body don’t always remain the same – they keep fluctuating, especially during menarche, pregnancy and menopause. But other health issues may also lead to overproduction of this hormone. High oestrogen levels are an indication of a problem in the ovaries or the ovarian area. But what causes oestrogen levels to be high?
There are a number of hormonal, natural and other reasons why you may be producing too much oestrogen. By understanding the causes, you can take conscious measures to control them.
- Natural causes – Our body is unique and the amount of oestrogen it produces may differ from others. During our monthly cycle and near menopause, these levels are going to swell. The level of the progesterone hormone falls drastically as we approach menopause, leading to even higher levels of oestrogen. Diabetes and high blood pressure are other causes.
- Induced causes – It could be a side effect of medications like hormone replacement therapy, steroids, and ampicillin, or other drugs containing oestrogen. Even chemicals in the environment around us could be a contributing factor. For example, drinking from a plastic bottle can increase our oestrogen levels.
- Other causes – A diet rich in artificial ingredients, too much dairy, refined sugar and flour, or a stressful and inactive lifestyle are other reasons for oestrogen levels to surge.
But how will you know if your body is producing too much oestrogen? When your body has excess oestrogen, you will notice certain unpleasant symptoms like bloating, weight gain, swollen and tender breasts, nausea, decreased sex drive, irregular periods and leg cramps. If these persist, do consult a doctor.
You can also correct excess amounts of oestrogen by maintaining a healthier and active lifestyle.
- Increase fibre intake – eat more wheat bran, fruits and vegetables with skin on, nuts, dried beans, and whole-grain foods.
- Reduce alcohol intake
- Include probiotic food in your meals
- Avoid hormone-rich food, eat organic
- Take enough vitamins
- Avoid ‘xenoestrogen’ found in plastics, cosmetics and birth control pills
- Avoid soy products
- Relax – avoid stress
- Be active
- Sleep well
Excess oestrogen levels (‘oestrogen dominance’) can be the reason behind a host of health problems in women. The most common ones are: weight gain, thyroid dysfunction, low sex drive, fluid retention and increased risk of breast cancer.
Hormone imbalance also affects the fertility levels. Oestrogen dominance disrupts the ovulation process, and can also lower a man’s sperm count. It can prevent a woman from conceiving by creating the polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis – conditions that affect the health of your uterus and make it impossible to get pregnant. A balanced level of oestrogen is essential for a woman to conceive. If you are looking to get pregnant, follow a healthy diet, monitor your oestrogen levels, and lead an active lifestyle.