Oestrogen. It’s commonly known as a female reproductive hormone, but it actually regulates important processes in three other systems – your skeletal system, your cardiovascular system and your central nervous system.
Oestrogen levels peak in your 20s and fall gradually from there on. According to menopause.org, by the time you reach menopause, you’ll only have 50% of the oestrogen you had during your peak - before 35. So, it’s no wonder that menopausal women experience such a wide range of symptoms.
Here, we’ll go through all the common symptoms of low oestrogen – a normal part of getting older. Let’s get started!
First of all, what actually is oestrogen?
If we’re being technical, oestrogen is the name given to a group of sex hormones primarily responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system. There are three different types – E1 , which is the main type of oestrogen made by the body after menopause, E2, which is the most potent form of oestrogen, present in your reproductive years, and E3, which is the form of oestrogen that’s present during pregnancy.
Oestrogen has several functions, including:
- Regulating the menstrual cycle
- Contributing to fertility
- Regulating cholesterol levels
- Regulating blood sugar levels
- Keeping bone and muscle mass in check
- Promoting good circulation
- Stimulating collagen production
- Boosting brain function
Given the wide range of functions oestrogen has, it’s not surprising that women experience a lot of different symptoms when levels start to fall.
Perimenopause is the period leading up to menopause – when menstruation ceases. It happens because of a gradual decline in oestrogen (and progesterone), and usually starts between the ages of 40 and 50. Let’s take a look at the most common perimenopause symptoms, and why they happen.
As we mentioned earlier, one of oestrogen’s key roles is to regulate the menstrual cycle. So, as levels start to drop as the ovaries drop production, it can wreak havoc on our periods. Some women notice the length of time between their periods getting longer or shorter, and others find that their flow is sometimes drastically heavier or lighter than usual.
A hot flash is a sudden, intense feeling of warmth in the upper body. It’s sometimes accompanied by sweating and, for some, an embarrassing redness in the face, which makes you look like you’re blushing. It is thought that the part of the brain which controls temperature in the body, the hypothalamus, goes a little haywire because its not getting the same levels of oestrogen. Many women get hot flashes at night known as night sweats, but they can come on at any point.
Have you ever noticed that you’re moody before you come on your period, only to feel back to your normal self again shortly afterwards? This pesky symptom is known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and is caused by a fall in progesterone levels, so it’s common during perimenopause, too. While some women experience mild mood swings, others suffer from bouts of depression and anxiety, which can severely impact work and home life. Oestrogen supports serotonin and endorphin production which can also add to mood swings when the supply to the brain declines.
Sleep is super important to health and wellbeing and crucial for brain health. Quality sleep helps to balance mood and the hormones which make you feel satisfied and hungry. If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, you might be wondering if it could be due to hormones.If you’re over 45… you’re probably right. Difficulty sleeping is a common symptom of low oestrogen levels and can carry on for years. Sleep problems can also be made worse by other menopause symptoms , like hot flashes, anxiety restless legs and depression.
Oestrogen plays a part in keeping our skin moisturised by helping the body produce oil. So, as levels fall, you may notice dryness, sometimes leading to itching. This can happen to almost any part of the body, including the scalp, arms, legs, face, chest, back and around your vagina.
Memory and concentration problems
Problems with memory loss and difficulty concentrating are common signs of low oestrogen. You might keep losing your keys, forget people’s names, or walk into a room and forget what you went in there for. Many women describe this as ‘brain fog’
One of oestrogen’s many functions is to regulate metabolism and appetite, so for many women, weight gain can be a part of perimenopause. Hormonal weight gain often involves fat accumulation around the waist, which increases serious health risks including Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease.
Menopause symptoms - Health Risks
Once 12 months have passed without you having a period, you have officially reached menopause. The average age for this to happen is 51. But, just because you no longer menstruate doesn’t mean that all of those pesky symptoms associated with low oestrogen suddenly go away – you’ll notice some getting better, but others can hang around for years. And, as your oestrogen levels continue to decline a new set of symptoms crop up. Let’s look at the key ones.
High blood sugar
Oestrogen regulates blood glucose levels, so after menopause, when levels are low, women are at a higher risk of developing diabetes as the way their bodies manage sugar changes. Some may develop insulin resistance which is when the body doesn’t respond properly to the hormone insulin. Insulin helps to convert glucose into energy or store it as body fat. If the repsonse to insulin doesnt happen there is more sugar in the blood.
Similarly, oestrogen plays a part in keeping our cholesterol levels in check, so this can creep up on us post-menopause, leading to serious problems like heart disease if left untreated.
As oestrogen contributes to bone density, our bones can become more brittle as we get older - bone breaks down faster than it renews when oestrogen declines. This is why women who have gone through menopause are more likely to develop osteoporosis - where bones have less density and are more likely to fracture and break. It’s common to experience muscle weakness, too.
What can we do to keep symptoms at bay?
Whether you’re perimenopausal or menopausal, you’ll be pleased to hear that you don’t have to suffer in silence – there are treatments available to help.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
HRT is the most popular treatment for the symptoms of perimenopause. It works by replacing the oestrogen and progesterone that are lost as we get older. Some women take oestrogen tablets, while others prefer to use oestrogen gels or creams. Vaginal oestrogen is also an option, which can be great if you’re suffering from problems like vaginal dryness.
Supplements can be a massive help to women suffering from low oestrogen. Take Eve Biology meal replacement shakes, for example. They’re specially formulated for women approaching menopause, and target a huge range of symptoms, from weight gain to anxiety and brain fog. What’s more, they’re packed with gut-friendly fibre which gives your overall health a big boost.
The bottom line
Perimenopause and menopause symptoms include weight gain, hot flashes, brain fog, dry skin and mood swings, to name just a few. They can be really difficult to deal with, but thankfully, there are treatments available to help you feel better. Many women swear by supplements and HRT designed to replace the body’s lost oestrogen and get you back on track.
Can I buy oestrogen gel over the counter?
Currently, you need a prescription from your doctor to buy oestrogen gel.
What are the main symptoms of low oestrogen?
Low oestrogen symptoms include weight gain, trouble sleeping, hot flashes, anxiety, mood swings, dry skin, memory problems and irregular or absent periods.
What do oestrogen pills do?
Oestrogen pills can help ease perimenopause symptoms by replacing the oestrogen that’s lost as we get older.
Menopause Symptoms and Weight Gain
Hormonal Insomnia in Menopause
Constipation and Menopause - How to deal with it