Everything you need to know about low estrogen including symptoms such as weight gain & brain fog, how to test, the root cause and what you can do about it.
Let’s start with the basics: What is estrogen?
Estrogen is one of the two main female sex hormones (the other being progesterone). There are three main estrogens:
- Estrone (E1) – this is the main estrogen in menopausal years
- Estradiol (E2) – this is the main estrogen in reproductive years
- Estriol (E3) – this is the main estrogen that your body makes in pregnancy
Estrogen has many important roles to play in the body; primarily estrogen is responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive organs. It also plays many other roles including being responsible for the growth and maintenance of the skeleton and the normal function of the cardiovascular and nervous systems.
Estrogen and your cycle
Estrogen takes centre stage in the follicular phase of your cycle. This is the phase between your period and ovulation. Having balanced estrogen is extremely important in your cycle as it is responsible for growing and maintaining the uterine lining and also for maturing the egg prior to ovulation.
Estrogen levels act as a signalling system during your cycle; for example when they reach a certain level in the follicular phase, this send a message for the brain to release luteinising hormone which in turn causes estrogen levels to drop and ovulation to occur. Therefore balanced estrogen levels are vital for a healthy menstrual cycle.
Estrogen actually rises and falls twice in your cycle, once before ovulation and again rising in the mid-luteal phase (from ovulation to your period) before falling just before your period begins.
It’s also important to understand estrogen’s relationship to progesterone, which is produced after ovulation. If you have low estrogen, you are more likely to have low progesterone due to lack of ovulation.
This is due to the natural decline in ovarian function as we transition away from the reproductive years. Although this is a natural change, there are also many other reasons why women in their reproductive years may also be struggling with low estrogen levels.
Low estrogen can prevent ovulation from occurring, be a root cause of infertility, cause frustrating physical symptoms and affect mood, sleep and memory.
What causes low estrogen?
Perimenopause or menopause – this is the most common reason why you may be low in estrogen. During this time you stop ovulating every cycle and eventually stop ovulating at all as ovarian function declines, leading to lower levels of estrogen.
Thyroid imbalance – it is very common that having a thyroid imbalance can result in a hormone imbalance. For example, in hypothyroidism there are often lower estrogen levels due to lower estrogen production (and androgen production).
Stress – If you have been under a lot of stress then this can cause low estrogen as stress can impact the signalling system from the brain to the ovaries. Under-eating and over-exercise can also impact the communication pathway from the brain to the ovaries and cause low estrogen.
Other reasons why you may have low estrogen include PCOS, medication use, nutrient deficiencies, certain diets, elevated prolactin levels, thyroid imbalance and more.
What to do if you suspect you have low estrogen
You can look at the full picture of your hormones, including estrogen, through one of our FUTURE WOMAN hormone tests. They will provide insights into your overall estrogen and progesterone levels, as well as your estrogen metabolites, to understand why your symptoms are occurring.
Here are three key markers we would look at when testing for low estrogen in our FUTURE WOMAN hormone tests:
- Overall estrogen levels. Our tests look at three types of estrogen, including estriol, estradiol and estrone. This will give you a clear picture of what is happening with your overall estrogen, but also if you are low or high in any of the three main estrogens too.
- Phase 1 and phase 2 estrogen metabolites. It’s also important to look at how well your body is metabolising your estrogen. We look at three estrogen pathways in phase 1 detoxification – the 2-OH, 16-OH and 4-OH. It is important to understand how much of your estrogen is moving through each pathway as it can impact your symptoms (for example if your estrogen is primarily moving through the 4-OH pathway it is the most carcinogenic and damaging pathway, therefore we would need to support and re-direct your estrogen to the 2-OH pathway). One of the other markers we look at is called methylation or phase 2 estrogen detoxification. This looks at how well you are detoxifying estrogen from the body. This result will show if it is too slow or fast which can affect total estrogen levels in the body. For more information on estrogen metabolism, take a look at the basics of estrogen detoxification.
- Stress hormones. Finally, we would want to investigate both free and metabolised cortisol and cortisone (aka your stress hormones). When stress is high, it often means the body is prioritising the production and regulation of stress hormones rather than sex hormones, leading to an imbalance in hormones like progesterone and estrogen. Therefore testing cortisol in our Advanced Hormone Test and Advanced with Cycle Mapping Hormone Test can be helpful for understanding the root cause of your hormone imbalance.
It is also important to test your thyroid markers to ensure that this is not the root cause of imbalance. Read more about the importance of the signs and symptoms of thyroid imbalances.
Treatment and next steps
Your FUTURE WOMAN practitioner will make personalised supplement, dietary and lifestyle recommendations based on your individual test results and individual symptoms picture. But here are three diet and lifestyle recommendations that you can start today if you suspect you have high or unopposed estrogen.
- Increasing good fats in the diet. This is because good fats are important for hormone production. Healthy fats sources include chia seeds, nuts, seeds, fish, lean meats, avocados, eggs, olive oil.
- Balanced low intensity exercise. One of the main causes and contributors of low estrogen can be high intensity and excess exercise. Therefore it is important to switch up your exercise routine for low intensity choices like yoga, pilates and walking.
- Adequate nutrition. Ensure you are eating enough at each meal. This is very important for healthy hormone and estrogen levels. Under-eating, and even worrying too much about what we eat, has been shown to lower estrogen and leads to other hormone imbalances.