What is estrogen?
Estrogen is the most important female sexual hormone that is comprised of a group of other compounds such as estradiol, estrone and estriol, each one of them being essential to the menstrual cycle. It exists in both males and females, but it can be found at greater amounts in mature women that are perfectly capable of reproduction.
Estrogen is produced mostly in the ovaries, by developing egg follicles. Also, it can be manufactured by the corpus luteum in the ovary and by the placenta. The liver, breasts and adrenal glands also slightly contribute to estrogen production.
What is the role of estrogen?
Estrogen is one of the most important compounds in a woman’s reproductive system and process. It is the hormone responsible with the menstrual cycle and uterus’s preparation for pregnancy (the thickening of the endometrium). The other hormones responsible for the estrogen production in healthy and ovulating women are LH (the luteinizing hormone) and FSH (the follicle stimulating hormone).
Furthermore, estrogen is essential in developing the secondary sex attributes that define differences between women and men, others than the ones of the reproductive systems. For example, in women, estrogen determines the development of breasts, the pelvis’s widening, and the raise of body fat in the essential areas such as thighs, buttock and hips. Also, estrogen makes the women’s skin smoother and causes them to have less – almost inexistent – facial hair.
How does the body produce estrogen?
As said before, estrogen breaks down into three distinct compounds: estriol, estrone and estradiol. During a woman’s reproductive life, which starts with the onset of menstruation and continues until menopause, the main type of estrogen produced is estradiol. This is produced from androgens, through enzymatic actions. Testosterone is another compound that contributes to the production of estradiol. The estrone type of estrogen is made from andostenedione.
Why is estrogen important for women’s health?
Estrogen not only relates to a woman’s reproductive system and cycle, it is also essential for a woman’s health. Even though it sometimes causes women to retain fluid, and can elevate a woman’s risk to develop breast cancer by an early exposure through early menses, estrogen has many health benefits. It contributes to increase HDL (high density lipoprotein considered the “good” cholesterol), and decrease the LDL (low density lipoprotein considered the “bad” cholesterol).
After and during menopause, women go throuh a massive decrease in estrogen production. This is the main cause of vaginal dryness, hot flashes, memory failures, unexplained fatigue, irritability and a decrease in bone density, which is probably one of the most devastating problems and may cause osteoporosis. Although estrogen replacement therapy has been discussed, with medical experts arguing about its safety and effectiveness, menopausal women need to see a doctor and discuss the safest and most effective method of coping with the estrogen decrease.
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