Estrogen in the female cycle
The hormone estrogen plays an important role in the first half of the cycle, because under its influence the body prepares itself for a possible pregnancy. If ovulation has taken place, there is initially a drop in estrogen. However, together with progesterone, it then slowly rises again and remains elevated throughout the second half of the cycle, ensuring that the lining of the uterus continues to thicken. This creates optimal conditions for a possible implantation of the egg. If a fertilized egg actually implants, estrogen remains elevated. However, if pregnancy does not occur, estrogen levels drop again shortly before menstruation.
What effect does estrogen have?
Among other things, estrogen is involved in controlling the female cycle. The effect of estrogen in women includes, for example, the maturation of the follicle, the triggering of ovulation and the transport of the egg. Under the influence of estrogen, the lining of the uterus thickens, breast growth is stimulated and cervical mucus production increases.
What is estrogen good for?
Estrogen also affects metabolism, bone health and the immune system in many ways. High estrogen levels also ensure that the skin is better moisturised and less sebum is produced. Firm skin is also linked to estrogen, as the hormone promotes collagen production.
Natural estrogens found in the body are estradiol, estrone and estriol. In the group of natural estrogens, only estriol and estradiol (at high doses) have an effect when taken orally. Since they are metabolised relatively quickly, natural estrogens only have a mild effect.
Synthetic estrogen is mainly used in drug treatments. Synthetic estrogen is, for example, also a component of the contraceptive pill and is used in ‘hormone treatments’ that are intended to alleviate menopausal symptoms or fertility treatments.
Estrogens and their effect on the psyche
It’s not surprising: yes, the sex hormones naturally also have an effect on the psyche and our mental well-being. Estrogen has a rather activating effect, which makes sense when thinking about the fluctuating hormone levels and energy levels in the course of the cycle. Estrogen actually reduces the inhibiting, fatiguing and anxiety-relieving neurotransmitters (such as GABA), while the activating neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline and glutamic acid work more intensively under the influence of estrogen. This also explains the typical accompanying symptoms around ovulation: increased energy, a strong sense of self-confidence and an increased libido. But the effect of estrogen can also be felt in the follicular phase: The mood is usually particularly good, sometimes even euphoric. We increasingly seek social contact and closeness to our partner.
Depression due to estrogen?
Studies report above all an increased risk of depressive moods when hormone levels fluctuate strongly or drop very quickly from a high level. This is the case, for example, during the transition to the menopause, during puberty and also in the case of hormonal imbalances, there are often very strong fluctuations that can result in mood swings and depressive moods.
Estrogen and anxiety
Research from Harvard University has shown that low levels of estrogen may make women more prone to anxiety at certain points in their cycle.
Animal studies also suggest that the hormone estrogen may calm anxiety in healthy women through how it affects the brain. Of course, for cases of acute anxiety, we always recommend seeking specialist advice.
Estrogen and its side effects
If the hormones are in balance, there should not be any unpleasant symptoms or side effects. However, side effects very often occur when there is an excess of the hormone estrogen. This is called estrogen dominance. In this case we are not talking about the side effects of a drug treatment but about the effects of natural estrogen in the body.
Water retention due to estrogen?
A rather unpopular side effect of estrogen can be water retention, which is promoted by the hormone. Many women report noticing increased water retention during the fertile phase of their cycle when estrogen levels are high, and it is also a commonly cited symptom of estrogen dominance.
What does estrogen have to do with our fat tissue?
Estrogens not only promote water retention but also fat storage in the body. Many women particularly complain about the areas around the belly and hips, where stubborn fat tends to accumulate. These areas of the body are actually particularly rich in estrogen receptors. If there is a hormonal imbalance, this is usually in favour of estrogen and there is often an excess of the hormone. This is due, among other things, to an increased estrogen load from food and environmental toxins. Chronic stress also plays a major role in these cases. If stress hormones in the body are elevated, less progesterone is produced, because progesterone is one of the precursors for the stress hormone cortisol.
Good to know: When stressed, the body considers reproduction and its functions to be subordinate and will therefore always prefer the production of stress hormones to ensure survival.
Does estrogen cause muscle pain?
Muscle pain is a familiar companion of menstruation for most women. This muscle pain can be varied: Tension headaches, tension in the neck or back muscles, or lower back pain are not uncommon. Researchers assume that our muscles contain estrogen receptors and therefore interact with our hormones. The muscles of our digestive system, the muscles in the bladder and uterus and the muscles surrounding the blood vessels are also influenced by our hormones. During menstruation, these muscles are more active, which many women notice by suffering from diarrhoea during this time.
Estrogen production in women
In fact, the hormone estrogen cannot really be called a ‘female sex hormone’, because men also produce estrogen in small amounts. In women, estrogen is mainly produced in the ovaries. In small amounts it is also produced in the adrenal glands and, in pregnant women, in the placenta.
Estrogen levels in the menstrual cycle
During menstruation, at the beginning of the cycle, estrogen levels are very low. It then rises sharply up to ovulation, only to drop again and slowly rise again. For a large part of the luteal phase, the estrogen is elevated and then decreases continuously. In women in the first half of the cycle, the estradiol blood serum concentration is usually 25 to 95 ng/l. During ovulation it is between 75 and 570 ng/l. In the second half of the cycle, it drops to 60 to 250 ng/l.
Can ‘Vitex Agnus Castus’ influence estrogen levels?
Researchers were able to show that Vitex Agnus Castus influences the release of the hormone prolactin. If prolactin levels are too high, this can upset the balance between estrogen and progesterone. Lowering the prolactin level can therefore effectively help to restore the hormonal balance between estrogen and progesterone. If in doubt, the use of Vitex Agnus Castus should be discussed in advance with a doctor or health practitioner.
The period and estrogen
During menstruation, estrogen is usually only present in very small amounts. It then rises sharply until ovulation, only to drop again sharply for a short time afterwards.
Estrogen and ovulation
The ovulation phase begins with a rise in LH and FSH. LH rises and thus stimulates ovulation. During this rise, estrogen decreases and progesterone levels slowly begin to rise.
Estrogen in the second half of the cycle
In the luteal phase, LH and FSH decrease. The corpus luteum is responsible for the production of progesterone. For a large part of the luteal phase, estrogen is elevated and the lining of the uterus continues to thicken. If pregnancy does not occur, progesterone is no longer produced and estrogen decreases. The functional layer of the uterine lining is shed and expelled with the period.
The role of estrogen in the female cycle
In the female cycle, a finely regulated interplay of hormones results in highs and lows occurring in a cyclical pattern. In the female cycle, estrogen is responsible, among other things, for the maturation of the follicle, the triggering of ovulation and the transport of the egg via the fallopian tube into the uterus. Estrogen also causes the lining of the uterus to thicken and increases the production of cervical mucus. Estrogen is responsible for the highly fertile cervical mucus. If estrogen is low in the cycle, FSH and LH are released more and the resulting follicle maturation causes estrogen to rise and the uterine lining to thicken.
The estrogen curve during the cycle
Good to know: The female cycle begins on the first day of menstruation. This is the first day of the cycle.
Estrogen during menopause
During menopause, most women complain about a lack of estrogen. Because the body no longer considers reproduction necessary during this time, estrogen production, among other things, gradually stops.
Estrogen during pregnancy
During pregnancy, hormones rise slowly and steadily. Many women report experiencing a “rollercoaster of emotions”. This is due to hormonal fluctuations. However, just as many women feel happier and more balanced during pregnancy than before. This is most likely due to the activating effect of estrogen in combination with the more relaxing effect of progesterone.
Estrogens in food
When we talk about foods with estrogen, we usually mean the so-called phyto-estrogens. These are secondary plant substances that can be divided into three groups: isoflavones, lignans and coumestans. These plant substances are similar in structure and function to an effective natural form of estrogen. You can think of them as a plant-based estrogen substitute. Lignans and isoflavones are the more important phyto-estrogens. Soybeans and products made from them, such as tofu, tempeh and miso, are particularly rich in isoflavones. Lignans are found mainly in flaxseed and in smaller amounts in other seeds such as pumpkin seeds.
Foods that contain natural estrogen
Foods that contain phyto-estrogens are also commonly considered ‘natural estrogen substitutes’. Phyto-estrogens are found in abundance in the following foods:
Soybeans and soy products
These include edamame (soybeans), tofu, tempeh and also miso paste. Fermentation (miso and tempeh) can increase the concentration of phyto-estrogens and improve their bioavailability.
Seeds & Kernels: Linseeds, Pumpkin Seeds
Flax seeds in particular are highly recommended, as they also have a positive effect on the digestive system. Freshly ground, they can easily be stored in the refrigerator and 1-2 teaspoons should be consumed daily.
Dried apricots, dates and plums. Apart from phyto-estrogens and fibre, these dried fruits also contain a variety of vitamins and minerals.
Cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli and brussel sprouts are also among the foods that contain phyto-estrogens.
Berries not only contain many antioxidants, vitamins and fibre, but also natural (phyto-)estrogen.
Beans & Peas
Phyto-estrogens are also found in beans and peas.
Onion & Garlic
Onion and garlic contain phyto-estrogens, but also prebiotics that serve as food for our gut bacteria and can thus promote good gut health.
Herbs and medicinal plants
Sage is said to contain substances that have an estrogen-like effect. The herb is believed to be able to effectively balance female hormones.
Red clover is known for its high phyto-estrogen content and is said to be effective in relieving not only menstrual-related problems, but also menopausal-related discomfort.
St. John's wort
This medicinal plant is said to have a mood-lifting effect and a balancing effect on the psyche. St. John’s wort is said to be particularly helpful in cases of estrogen deficiency.
Compensating for deficiencies with estrogen-boosting foods
As the plant equivalent of the body’s own estrogens, phyto-estrogens can bind to the estrogen receptors in the body and thus compensate for a hormone deficiency.