Every man has a small chunk of feminine traits and every woman has her share of male qualities within her that make themselves visible every now and then. Men and women are designed differently, each of them possesses a distinct physical anatomy and characteristics which make them special people on this Earth. What exactly defines masculine or feminine qualities and why do some people act more like the opposite sex?
Sex hormones are chemical substances produced by the sex glands and involved in the regulation of sexual functions and secondary sexual characteristics. Testosterone is a male sex hormone that is involved in the development of male sex organs and secondary sexual characteristics (voice deepening, facial and body hair, penis growth) and estrogen is a female sex hormone involved in bringing about secondary sexual characteristics during puberty such as breast enlargement, menstruation and body shape changes. Men and women have both, testosterone and estrogen in their body. The only difference is that the proportion varies-men have testosterone mostly with a little amount of estrogen whereas women have estrogen mostly with minimum testosterone. This blend of sex hormones in every human attributes for the opposite-sex characteristics peeping out of us every now and then! Any changes or imbalance of these hormones in an individual can lead to differences in their body structure and functioning too. For instance, too much of testosterone production in a female can lead to increased facial and body hair or too much estrogen in men can lead to breast enlargement that usually seen in a typical male.
Estrogen are female sex hormones that promote the development and maintenance of female characteristics and play an important role in sexual and reproductive development. They are chemical messengers that instruct specific tissues to behave in a certain way. Estrogen is mainly produced in the ovaries and hold responsibility for structural differences that differentiate women from men, such as wider pelvis, smaller voice box that makes a woman’s voice shriller than males, brings about curves and contours to the body and makes body hair finer and makes the hair on a woman’s head more permanent (Sad! That’s the reason maybe we see more bald men than women). Estrogen does not hold a monopoly of the sex hormones in a woman but is a general term used to refer all other hormones that are chemically similar such as estrone, estradiol and estriol. Estrone is the main hormone found in post-menopausal women and present in most tissues of the body, mainly fat and muscles. The body can convert estrone into estradiol and estradiol into estrone. Estradiol is the primary sex hormone present in women of reproductive age and childbearing women. Produced by the ovaries, it plays a vital role in a woman’s bone health and also contributes to many gynecologic problems such as endometriosis, fibroids and women-specific cancers such as endometrial cancer. Estriol is produced from the placenta during pregnancy and is kind of a waste product that is made after the body uses estradiol.
At the onset of puberty, estrogen levels rise and play a dominant role in regulating body growth. It helps in the development of female secondary sex characteristics such as breasts, wider hips, pubic hair and armpit hair. During puberty, ovaries release estrogen according to every monthly menstrual cycle and these levels rise halfway through the cycle initiating the release of an egg. When the egg is not fertilized, estrogen levels drop and menstruation starts. If the egg is fertilized, estrogen works along another hormone called progesterone (this helps to maintain pregnancies and implant an egg inside the uterus).
Estrogen level rise during pregnancy and placenta produces high levels of estriol. Changes after childbirth such as lactation and other changes to the breast (during and after pregnancy) are also controlled and monitored by estrogen. During childbirth, estrogen stimulates muscles in the uterus to develop and contract. Contractions lead to delivery of the baby.
Estrogen levels start falling after menopause and this is a natural process in every woman between the ages of 40 and 55. Actually, estrogen levels start falling during perimenopause, the transition stage before menopause. During this stage the woman experiences numerable symptoms such as weight gain, irregular menstruation, vaginal dryness, night sweats, decreased sex drive and hot flushes due to drop in estrogen and progesterone levels. Overcome menopause changes with the help of tips from the website www.firsteatright.com. As the estrogen level drops, rebuilding bones slows down and postmenopausal women break down more bones than they build. This might be the reason why women, especially postmenopausal women, suffer from greater risk of osteoporosis compared to men.
There are many other changes that the hormone is responsible for in our human body. Estrogen helps to stimulate the growth of an egg follicle, promotes the growth of a thick muscular wall in the fallopian tubes, helps the vagina to grow to its adult size and maintain lubrication, plays a major role in maintaining the mucous membrane that lines the uterus and has a special rapport with other hormones in the breast (this enables growth of breast during puberty, pigmentation of the nipple and stopping milk flow once the infants stops feeding).
Fluctuating Estrogen Levels
There are many situations during which estrogen levels fall including hypogonadism, PCOS, hypopituitarism, pregnancy failure, anorexia nervosa, extreme physical activity or training, menopause, breast-feeding and using certain medications. Some other situations such as puberty, overweight, healthy pregnancy, high BP, diabetes, tumors of ovaries or adrenal glands and certain medications can increase estrogen levels.
Estrogen finds its major use in birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Estrogen in the birth control pill prevents ovulation and avoids pregnancy. Some doctors prescribe these pills to regulate periods, ease cramps and severe bleeding and decrease perimenopausal symptoms. Consuming these pills have their own side effects including irregular bleeding, heart attack, breast tenderness and swelling, nausea, vomiting, stroke, blood clots and weight changes. Using them for a long time increases the risk of breast cancer.
HRT can relieve menopause symptoms to a certain extent. Estrogen HRT is used predominantly by transgender women to achieve breast growth, prevent body hair and undergo other changes required for changing from a male to female.
When the body does not have normal estrogen levels, one can experience mood swings, low sexual drive, depression, fatigue, dry skin, weight gain, hot flashes, night sweats, light/heavy bleeding during menstruation or dry skin.
Estrogen can also elevate the risk of many cancers, especially breast cancer, and health risks too. It is vital that one consults a doctor before taking estrogen supplements.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.