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lisa fournace winn, dnp, aprn

Meet the Estrogen Sisters: A Tale of Three Hormonal Siblings

The word “estrogen”  is so commonly associated with a woman and her reproductive system, that most are not aware there are different types and amounts of estrogen produced throughout a woman’s life. And while estrogen plays a significant role in fertility, it controls so much more. Depending on where you are in your life’s journey, your body is producing 3 different types of estrogen: estradiol, estrone, and estriol. We will get into the different types of estrogen, but first, let’s take a look at the various roles estrogen plays in women’s health. 

It’s helpful to think of estrogen like the city planner, making sure each hormone is completing their intended function to keep the body running smoothly. Once a woman hits puberty, count on estrogen to take control of the development of your reproductive system. It regulates the menstrual cycles and fortifies the lining of the uterus in anticipation of pregnancy. Of course if no pregnancy occurs, the ability to shed the lining of the uterus results in a period, which is controlled by estrogen. 

Bone development before menopause and bone loss afterwards is attributed to estrogen. As a woman ages, estrogen’s goal is to protect the bones against loss of bone mass. After menopause, estrogen production decreases, putting women at a greater risk of osteoporosis. 

Another major function of estrogen is the role it plays in your cardiovascular system. Estrogen has many jobs when it comes to heart health, including keeping blood vessels healthy and preventing inflammation. Again, as women age, estrogen levels drop, increasing your risk for heart disease. Because of this, many post-menopausal women are turning to hormone replacement therapy to safe-guard their cardiovascular health. 

Feeling down or blue? You can thank estrogen for that too. Estrogen helps boost serotonin production, which balances your mood. Again, post-menopausal women often suffer from depression due to a drop in estrogen.

Now that we’ve covered how important and powerful estrogen is, let’s take a look at different types of estrogen and when you can expect them to show up in your life. 

Estradiol

Think of estradiol as the most potent and prevalent form of estrogen. During the reproductive years, from puberty to menopause, estradiol orchestrates the menstrual cycle, promotes fertility and guides the development of secondary sexual characteristics and influences bone health. Estradiol has also been known to contribute to cognitive function and memory. Estradiol is produced mainly by the ovaries, but also in small amounts by the adrenal glands and fat cells.

Estrone

Estrone is primarily produced in the ovaries, but like estradiol, in fat tissues in small amounts. During childbearing years, estrone is the weakest of the three hormones, but becomes prominent during menopause, when ovarian estrogen production decreases. Estrone’s purpose is to contribute to overall skin health from moisture retention to maintaining bone density. 

Estriol

Pregnancy is when estriol shines. During pregnancy, estriol levels rise to support fetal development. Produced primarily by the placenta, it is considered a marker for fetal well-being and is often measured in maternal blood and urine tests during pregnancy. Outside of pregnancy, estriol is present in smaller amounts and has a weaker estrogenic effect.

As you can see, estrogen, in all its forms, plays a role throughout a woman’s lifetime. These three types of estrogen work together to regulate various physiological functions in the body, contributing to reproductive health, bone density, and overall well-being.

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