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Women's health

Weird Symptoms of Low Estrogen and What to Do About Them

Doctors explain the causes of low estrogen, symptoms you can experience and how to boost your levels.

By Courtney Leiva
Weird Symptoms of Low Estrogen and What to Do About Them

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Have you ever felt like something's off with your body, yet you can't quite put your finger on it? This sensation might be more than just a hunch — it could be your body signaling low estrogen levels.

Believe it or not, estrogen plays a crucial role in maintaining our overall health, and when its levels decrease, it can lead to some unexpected symptoms, such as weight gain, brain fog, and changes in the skin. So, let's take a closer look at estrogen's role in the human body and explore the weird symptoms of low estrogen and how they might affect your day-to-day life.

What is estrogen?

Estrogen is surprisingly important to our physical and mental health. Dr. Leann Poston, M.D., M.B.A., M.Ed, a licensed physician and medical writer, says it's in charge of giving women their secondary sex characteristics, keeping the menstrual cycle in check, and affecting fertility. But it doesn't stop there — other duties of estrogen include keeping our bones healthy by helping us absorb calcium, supporting our heart health by lowering blood pressure, and preventing cholesterol buildup in our blood vessels.

Additionally, according to Dr. Poston, "estrogen also plays a role in mood and wellbeing, promoting collagen production in the skin, regulating fat deposition and insulin sensitivity, and maintaining moisture and elasticity in the vaginal and urinary systems."

What causes low estrogen?

Estrogen levels go up and down throughout life. But when they get too high or too low, they can cause health issues for some people. One big reason for low estrogen is menopause, according to Dr. Poston. She tells Today's Parent, "Hormones (follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH)) that stimulate the ovary to produce estrogen decline throughout perimenopause."

Additionally, Dr. Alyssa Dweck, MS, MD, FACOG, a board-certified gynecologist and chief medical officer of Bonafide Health, mentions that other factors contributing to low estrogen levels include early ovarian failure and using certain medications, such as Aromatase inhibitors and Lipton, which are prescribed for treating breast cancer.

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Weird symptoms of low estrogen

Weight Gain

One of the most prevalent symptoms of low estrogen levels is weight gain, which Dr. Dweck claims is brought on by sleep deprivation. "Low estrogen causes hot flashes and night sweats, which interrupt sleep," she says. When awake for more hours, you're more likely to eat more and consume more calories. Dweck adds, "With age (and thus low estrogen of menopause) comes loss of muscle mass and resultant lower metabolism. This results in weight gain."

Itchy Skin

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Dr. Poston suggests decreased estrogen levels can lead to skin changes, including reduced collagen and elastin, increased wrinkling, and dryness.

Hot Flashes/Night Sweats

Hot flashes and night sweats are indicators of low estrogen levels. According to Dr. Dweck, these symptoms occur due to the effect on the brain's thermoregulatory zone in the hypothalamus, which acts as the body's thermostat. "When estrogen levels drop, the hypothalamus's estrogen receptors narrow the comfortable temperature range for women, leading to hot flashes and night sweats as the body attempts to cool down in response to altered body temperature," she explains.

Brain Fog

Dr. Cory Rice, D.O., licensed doctor of osteopathic medicine and chief clinical advisor for Biote, states that a decline in estrogen levels can also lead to brain fog. "Estrogen plays a role in memory and cognition, and as estrogen levels decrease, inflammation in the body can rise, resulting in cognitive issues that present as brain fog," he says.

However, it's essential to bear in mind that estrogen is not the sole contributor to brain fog. According to Dr. Dweck, brain fog may also be influenced by stress, alcohol, diet, exercise, and medical conditions or medications.

Vaginal Dryness

According to Dr. Rice, when estrogen levels drop, women can experience problems like vaginal dryness, dry eyes, and dry skin because of low hormone levels, and it's one of the most common menopause symptoms, as per the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). To address vaginal dryness, ACOG suggests using over-the-counter moisturizers and lubricants, estrogen creams, tablets, or vaginal rings.

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What happens when your body is depleted of estrogen?

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While low estrogen levels can cause issues like vaginal dryness, hot flashes, and night sweats, they can also be linked to other major health concerns, including bone density loss. Dr. Dweck explains that "when estrogen levels drop, it can result in symptoms like joint pain, changes in sexual function, and bone density loss."

Additionally, research from the University of Rochester Medical Center suggests that the risk of developing heart disease increases when the body's estrogen levels decrease because estrogen has a protective effect against heart disease in women. So, when menopause occurs, the risk of heart disease rises sharply due to the loss of estrogen.

Can low estrogen make you feel ill?

According to Dr. Anna Fleytman-Pope, D.O., board-certified in emergency medicine and a fellow of integrative medicine from Opt Health, estrogen plays a crucial role in our body's immunity, growth, and repair processes. "When estrogen levels are low, it can weaken the immune function and potentially reduce the frequency of autoimmune issues," she says. "Moreover, low estrogen levels can also decrease sexual interest, lead to depression, cause painful intercourse, and make individuals more insulin-resistant."

In some cases, low estrogen can also lead to autoimmune diseases. A 2018 study published in Frontiers in Immunology found that hormonal imbalances can impact both innate and adaptive immune responses, including humoral and cell-mediated ones. The dysregulation of these mechanisms can contribute to immune-mediated diseases, such as autoimmune diseases.

How can I raise my estrogen levels quickly?

If you're concerned about your estrogen levels, there are ways to boost them. As per the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), one approach is to include foods in your diet known to increase estrogen, such as fruits, vegetables, and grains like apples, oats, and broccoli. UCLA also suggests improving vitamin and mineral intake and exploring natural estrogen supplements.

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According to The Cleveland Clinic, some medications can also help raise estrogen levels. These include hormone replacement therapy (HRT), estrogen therapy, and estrogen-progestin hormone therapy (EPT). However, The Cleveland Clinic cautions that HRT carries risks, as studies have indicated that prolonged use of combination therapy (5 years or more) may elevate the risk of breast cancer, blood clots, heart attacks, and stroke.

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FAQs

Are low estrogen levels linked to breast cancer and or blood clots?

Dr. Flyetman-Pope explains that there is no evidence linking low estrogen levels to breast cancer or blood clots. She points out that high levels of estrogen without the balance of progesterone may stimulate breast tissue growth without necessarily causing breast cancer. However, she does caution that taking oral estrogen supplements may heighten the risk of blood clots, which is why topical estrogens are preferred for hormone replacement therapy.

Can low estrogen levels lead to fatigue and sleep issues?

Yes, fatigue and sleep problems are caused by low estrogen levels, especially in women going through menopause. For instance, 40 to 60 percent of menopausal women reported having sleep problems during the menopausal transition period, with insomnia being the most common symptom, according to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Menopausal Medicine.

Can a hormone imbalance cause low estrogen levels?

"A decrease in or lack of estrogen production in the ovaries is the primary cause of low estrogen," says Dr. Dweck. Hormonal imbalances involving estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone can result from this, which can happen before and during menopause, as well as from certain medications, ovary removal, and lactation."

Does estrogen impact your menstrual cycle?

Because estrogen is crucial for your sexual health, The Cleveland Clinic notes that it affects your menstrual cycle. But if your estrogen levels aren't balanced —whether they're too high or too low —it can lead to irregular periods and or fertility issues.

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Experts

  • Dr. Anna Fleytman-Pope, D.O., a board-certified in emergency medicine and a fellow of integrative medicine from Opt Health
  • Dr. Cory Rice, D.O., licensed doctor of osteopathic medicine and chief clinical advisor for Biote
  • Dr. Alyssa Dweck, MS, MD, FACOG, a board-certified gynecologist
  • Dr. Leann Poston, M.D., M.B.A., M.Ed, licensed physician and medical writer

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