16 Signs Your Estrogen Is Low — And What You Can Do About It
We at Bustle love giving you tips for how to tap into your sexual potential and troubleshoot when things aren’t going your way in the bedroom. But what about finding solutions to those stressful women's health situations that inevitably crop up when you’re getting down? Emma Kaywin, a Brooklyn-based sexual health writer and activist, is here to calm your nerves and answer your questions. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions will remain anonymous. This week’s topic: signs you have low estrogen levels.
Q: I’m 24, and something really weird is going on with me. I swear to you I am getting hot flashes and night chills. My mom is going through menopause right now and my symptoms seem pretty much identical to hers — except that I’m not even 30 yet! Is it possible to get menopause early? What is going on with me! I really want to have kids and, you know, not be menopausal yet.
A: There is actually a condition called premature menopause, where you go through menopause early. However, this happens mostly to people in their later 30s, not when they’re 24! Most likely what you’re dealing with is low estrogen levels, which can look a lot like menopause, since the levels of this hormone also drop during menopause.
For some people, having low estrogen is genetic. Other people end up with low levels of this hormone because they have a thyroid disorder, ovarian cysts, or because they’ve undergone chemo or radiation. If you have very low body fat (due to too much exercise or not eating enough), you might also be causing your body to have low estrogen. If your weight was really low when you were going through puberty (for instance, if you were a gymnast or you were struggling with an eating disorder), that may have caused delays in development of your secondary sex characteristics.
Having low estrogen means that your levels of this hormone are low compared to the other hormones in your system. Estrogen levels vary widely from person to person, so it’s more important to know how the levels of this hormone changes in your body over time, as opposed to the actual measurable amount. Your estrogen levels decline naturally as you get closer to menopause, so many of the signs of low estrogen are what you’ve heard of as menopause symptoms — but low estrogen can actually cause a lot of other changes. It's important to note that these symptoms can vary from person to person, and some of them are dependent on how low your estrogen actually dips.
1. Your Period Disappeared
This is actually the most common symptom of low estrogen levels. Estrogen is one of the primary drivers of your menstrual cycle. Low estrogen can make your period super light, or even cause it to go away altogether. This happens because estrogen is the hormone that causes your uterine lining to thicken every month, which is the precursor to it shedding. If you have low estrogen, your lining might not thicken enough for your body to have a full period.
2. You’re Getting Mood Swings
Since estrogen levels are so critical in orchestrating your period, it makes sense that estrogen would also impact your mood — just consider the monthly mood rollercoaster that is your menstrual cycle. All those changes and swings are totally due to dips and spikes in your hormone levels. If you have low estrogen, the delicate, ever-moving balance that is your hormone levels is thrown out of whack. And when that happens, mood swings ensue.
3. You’re Having Trouble Sleeping And Feel Fatigued
Low estrogen can mess with your sleep because estrogen is connected to another chemical your brain makes, serotonin. Serotonin is what makes melatonin, which is a sleep hormone. If you have low estrogen, you have low serotonin, which then leads to trouble sleeping. This might also explain why you’re super-fatigued.
4. You’re Feeling Depressed
Estrogen’s connection to serotonin also explains why you might be experiencing depression. Estrogen boosts serotonin, which helps your body combat depression. So if you have low estrogen, your low serotonin levels can’t stave off sad feelings.
5. Your Libido Is Low
There are tons of reasons why you might be feeling less sexual lately. Low estrogen is one of them, and it also has to do with estrogen’s ties with serotonin. Specifically, the amount of serotonin in your blood is connected to how excited you are about sex and how much you want it — so less estrogen = less serotonin = less desire.
6. Sex Is Suddenly Painful
Low estrogen can also make sex itself feel painful. If you don’t have enough estrogen, your vagina can dry out, making sex painful. Estrogen also can thin your vaginal walls, another thing that contributes to pain during penetration.
7. Your Eyes Are Dry
Your pussy is not the only body part that can dry up from lack of estrogen. Estrogen is actually linked to how much tears your body can produce. So if you have low estrogen, you might notice your eyes getting parched.
8. Your Skin Is Dry
Low estrogen can also impact the dryness of your skin. Estrogen specifically helps your skin retain its moisture, which it does by increasing the natural acids in your skin. Without it, your skin might be feeling parched.
9. You’re Getting Hot Flashes And Night Sweats
You’ve probably heard of these symptoms through menopause. These really annoying symptoms occur during perimenopause (the phase where you’re getting toward menopause but haven’t gotten there yet), but they can also occur at other times when your estrogen is low.
Hot flashes and night sweats happen because low estrogen messes with your hypothalamus, the part of your brain that controls your body temperature, among other things. When you don’t have enough estrogen, your body is tricked by this part of your brain to think it’s too hot. In an attempt to get rid of the fake excess heat, your body expends heat in a hot flash — opening the blood vessels in your head and neck skin more than usual. These may be another reason why you’re having trouble sleeping — because it’s hard to sleep when your body is on a temperature rollercoaster.
10. You’re Forgetting Things
Estrogen is critical for your brain to function normally. When you have less of this hormone than your body wants, things can get a little wonky. Estrogen helps regulate your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that, among many other things, helps your neurotransmitters do their job of allowing the different parts of your brain communicate. If you don’t have enough estrogen in your system, this hormone can’t control the cortisol, which in turn causes your neurotransmitters to not do their job as well. The result? Memory lapses.
11. You're Having Trouble Focusing
12. You’re Getting Frequent Headaches
If you have a female reproductive system, you’re more likely to get headaches and migraines overall. Fluctuations in estrogen levels are one reason why you could be getting headaches. Specifically, you may have already noticed that you get headaches right before your period starts; this is due to your estrogen dropping. In fact, one of the treatments for headaches and migraines is actually using a low-dose estrogen patch.
13. You’re Having Trouble Getting Pregnant
If you’re trying to get pregnant and you have low estrogen, it could be a challenge to conceive. This is connected to symptom #1 — if you don’t have enough estrogen in your body for it to grow a nice, thick uterine lining, you won’t have enough nourishment to grow a baby.
14. You’re Gaining Weight — And It’s Hard To Lose It
Estrogen is connected to your fat cells, and is therefore relevant to how you gain or lose weight. If your estrogen levels are unbalanced, you might end up gaining weight or getting bloated. While most weight gain is actually associated with too much estrogen, not having enough also triggers the body to store more fat — particularly in your belly area. Low estrogen can also make it difficult for you to lose weight once you’ve gained it. Your estrogen levels actually need to be balanced for your body to be able to lose weight and keep it off over time.
15. You’re Getting More Urinary Tract Infections Than Usual
Some of us are more susceptible to urinary tract infections (UTIs) than others, and one of the reasons behind this may be low estrogen. If you don’t have enough estrogen, the lining of your urethra (the tube that you pee out of) can get thinner, making it easier for unwanted bacteria to get in and infect your vagina or bladder.
16. You’re Anxious
Not having the right balance of estrogen can also result in anxiety. This specifically occurs because of the drop in serotonin levels. Anxiety can also be provoked by having to deal with all the other symptoms associated with low estrogen. Research has also found that if you have low estrogen levels, you’re more likely to feel fear. Which makes sense, because if suddenly you’re having trouble sleeping, don’t want to have sex as much as you used to, and your eyes are dry all the time, it can be hard to feel chill about it all.
What You Can Do About It
If you think you might have low estrogen, the first thing to do is talk to your doctor. She will test your hormone levels to make sure this is the case. Then she will work with you to figure out why this might be happening — so you can get the correct treatment. This might include hormone replacement therapy for a short time to rebalance your body.
Luckily, there are also some things you can do at home to get your body back on hormonal track! These include eating foods that have naturally-occurring estrogens in them (like tofu, beans, fruits, and vegetables), looking into herbs that specifically nourish the glands in your body that make estrogen, making sure you’re not exercising too much and are eating enough to maintain a healthy body weight, cutting out tobacco, and finally, drinking caffeine, because apparently this helps boost your estrogen levels.
Having low estrogen isn’t dangerous, per se, but it definitely affects your body’s performance on a number of levels. If you’ve read the symptoms and think your estrogen might be low, definitely talk to your doctor about getting your levels tested. If you end up with not enough estrogen for your body to be happy, don’t worry. Your doctor will help you get back to your optimal body balance, so you can get on with your life.
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