How Estrogen is Affecting Your Health
Estrogen: It is the hormone most commonly linked to women and their reproductive system. As a woman moves through the various stages of life from childhood, through puberty, to her child-bearing years and then finally into menopause, estrogen changes significantly. These changes not only lead to changes in her ability to conceive, but can also have profound effects on her body composition.
Estrogen is a highly active hormone in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain with many regulatory functions. Because it is so closely linked to this, its effects go far beyond a woman’s menstrual cycles. Via research into the potential uses of exogenous (made outside of the body) estrogen to help with menopause symptoms, scientists have discovered that estrogen interacts with leptin, and insulin, both of which are important hormones for metabolism and body composition.
How extensive are the effects of estrogen on a woman’s overall body composition? If we understand this, will women be able to better train and feed their bodies for the different stages of life? Read more to find out.
What is Estrogen
Estrogen is a steroid hormone found in both men and women. In women, this group of hormones develops and maintains female characteristics. When science was able to identify and produce this hormone artificially, it became a main ingredient in oral contraceptives and to treat menopause and disorders related to a woman’s period.
When women reach puberty, estrogen helps to develop secondary female characteristics. These are the more visual aspects of a woman that make her look more like an adult woman – hips, breasts, and a little more body hair.
When women hit puberty, estrogen levels increase and decrease in a cyclical way to allow for the release of an egg, menstruation, and then preparation for the release of another egg. This cycle continues until either a woman becomes pregnant or she reaches menopause.
Estrogen has a variety of roles throughout the body. It directs deposits of fat around the hips and thighs, makes women’s bones smaller, pelvis’ wider, and shoulders more narrow. Body hair is more fine on a woman, and the hair on their heads is more permanent thanks to estrogen. Women’s voice boxes are smaller due to estrogen, and lowers the activity of glands in the skin that produce oily substances, making it less likely for woman to have acne.
Apart from the female characteristics, estrogen interacts with the chemicals and receptors in the brain to control temperature, and enhance the effects of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin. It thickens and improves the quality of skin, and it preserves bone strength. Lastly, estrogen helps to regulate good cholesterol in the liver to keep women’s hearts and arteries healthy.
Estrogen During Menopause
Now that we know what estrogen does when it is in abundance, it is much easier to understand how estrogen deficiency can affect women. Menopause is the end of a woman’s reproductive time. When women reach menopause, they no longer produce estrogen in the quantities they used to.
When the gonadal glands no longer produce estrogen, estrogens are produced in the adipocytes of the body, ie. the fat cells of the body. With less estrogen in the body, the insulin sensitivity also goes down, further promoting the risk of obesity and diabetes postmenopause.
There is a lot (1,2,3,4,5,6) of research looking into how hormone therapy can improve the common symptoms of menopause like weight gain, metabolism changes, and changes to specific female characteristics. This research also shows that there are hazardous side effects like cancer and clotting, and so it is controversial to recommend this as a solution to mitigate the effects of menopause. For the purpose of the Free Form Fitness blog, we want to highlight how exercise can actually prepare your body to handle the hormonal changes through life.
Estrogen and Exercise
In a study published in the Physiological Reports Journal in 2015, they observed that exercise was an adequate supplementation for hormone replacement therapy in postmenopausal women. This is due in part because exercise is a great way to control insulin.
Prior to menopause, regular exercise and a healthy diet are your safest bet to increase your chances of maintaining a healthy organs and body composition post menopause. Getting in shape is much easier prior to menopause because women are still producing normal amounts of estrogen and testosterone (yes women produce testosterone too).
WIth that said, getting in shape post-menopause is not impossible, it will just take a little longer than it would have in your earlier years. Exercising post menopause is a great idea not only because it will lead to a healthier body composition, but also because exercise has been shown to have a protective effect on the liver from fatty tissue accumulation.
No matter where you are in your life cycle as a woman, weight bearing exercises to strengthen your muscles and protect your bones and connective tissue is always a good thing. Make sure you do your research or work with a trained professional prior to lifting weights to learn proper lifting technique.
Women should also take care of the heart health with regular cardio-type activities. As stated previously, as we age and our estrogen levels begin to decline, the protective effect of estrogen on the arteries declines as well. Just 30 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity is a great way to strengthen the heart and arteries.
The cycling of female hormones means that energy levels, self-esteem, and cravings are always fluctuating. What most of the research shows is that exercise and a balanced, low-sugar diet are women’s best way to boost mental clarity, keep body composition healthy, and help them live a long, happy, and healthy life.
For a quick breakdown of how hormones change throughout the life of a woman, check out this great article from Marie Claire.