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How Does Estrogen Affect PCOS?

Estrogen levels normally fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle and throughout a lifetime. However in PCOS, women produce excess amounts of estrogen, also known as estrogen dominance. Not just estrogen, PCOS is also characterized by high levels of testosterone and insulin levels which is responsible for all the symptoms. Long term, unoppsed exposure to high levels of estrogen may cause the endometrium to become excessively thickened, which increases the risk for endometrial cancer.

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What Is Estrogen?

Estrogens are a group of hormones that play an important role in the normal sexual and reproductive development in women. They are also sex hormones. The woman's ovaries make most estrogen hormones, although the adrenal glands and fat cells also make small amounts of the hormones. The development of secondary sex characteristics (breasts, hips, etc.), menstruation, pregnancy and menopause are all possible, in part, because of estrogen.

What are the types?

There are three major forms of estrogen:

  • Estrone (E1) is the primary form of estrogen that your body makes after menopause.
  • Estradiol (E2) is the primary form of estrogen in your body during your reproductive years. It’s the most potent form of estrogen.
  • Estriol (E3) is the primary form of estrogen during pregnancy.

Is it a steroid?

Yes. Estrogens are a group of steroid hormones that regulate reproductive function and secondary sex characteristics in the female, including breast development.

What does it do in the body?

Estrogen is an important hormone produced by the ovaries and in small quantities by the adrenal glands. It's responsible for the development of female sex characteristics. Estrogen is required for the development of female sexual organs, maintenance of the skeletal system, regulation of the menstrual cycle, and maintenance of pregnancy.

What Are Normal Levels?

Estrogen levels rise and fall throughout life. The fluctuation is normal. For instance, it’s normal for estrogen levels to rise during puberty and decline as you approach menopause. It’s normal for estrogen levels to rise during ovulation so that your body can prepare itself for pregnancy. It’s normal for levels to dip during your period when the pregnancy changes aren’t needed.

Levels that are consistently low or high may signal an underlying condition that requires your provider’s attention.

What Causes High or Low Levels?

Causes of high levels of estrogen

Estrogen and progesterone work well together to prevent the lining of your uterus from getting too thick. Some people’s bodies don’t make enough progesterone, leading to what’s called unopposed estrogen.

Its rare for your estrogen levels to be high on its own. Your body can produce high levels of estrogen if you have higher body fat percentage or have chronic stress. Usually it can be an effect of the medications you are taking which can cause estrogen dominance. Elevated estrogen unrelated to medication is most likely caused by PCOS prior to menopause. After menopause, high levels are more common if you have overweight/obesity.

Low levels of estrogen:

Consistently low estrogen may mean that you’re going through a natural change, like menopause. Sometimes, low estrogen is a sign of a condition that slows your sexual development, which can make it harder to become pregnant.

Alternatively, if you’ve had your ovaries removed, or have undergone radiation therapy, that can affect estrogen production too.

What Are the Symptoms of Low Estrogen?

The symptoms associated with low estrogen in your reproductive years overlap with common symptoms associated with menopause and postmenopause. Your symptoms will depend on what’s causing your low estrogen levels.

Signs of low estrogen include:

  • Dry skin
  • Tender breasts
  • Weak bones
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Hot flashes
  • Irregular periods or no periods
  • Weight gain, especially in your belly
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Insomnia

How To Naturally Increase Estrogen in Women

If you are experiencing low levels of estrogen, you can naturally increase your levels of estrogen by eating a well balanced diet that is rich in nuts and seeds, soy, dried fruits, legumes. These foods are high in phytoestrogens which mimic natural estrogen produced in the body.

What Are the Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance?

Symptoms of estrogen dominance include:

  • Irregular periods
  • Heavy periods
  • Bloating
  • Low sex drive
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Mood disorders

How To Measure Your Hormone Levels

An estradiol test measures the amount of a hormone called estradiol in the blood. Estradiol is one of the main types of estrogens.

Your health care provider may tell you to temporarily stop taking certain medicines that may affect test results. Inform your doctor if you are taking medications like birth control pills, estrogen, corticosteroids, among others. The test is done with a blood sample. A needle is used to draw blood from a vein in your arm or hand.

Diagnosis & Treatment

If you suspect having high or low levels of estrogen or are diagnosed with PCOS, you should speak to your doctor to explore what treatment options can help manage your hormone levels the best.


Estrogen injections help reduce the number and severity of hot flashes due to menopause. It may also help relieve the symptoms of menopause, such as vaginal irritation, dryness, or pain during sex. This injection is administered in a hospital or clinic setting and is given into a muscle.


Using or applying an estrogen relieves dryness or itching in the vaginal area, helps reduce pain during sex and increasing a normal clear discharge from the vagina and making the vulva and urethra healthy.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the common questions around estrogen

Does estrogen cause weight gain?

Very high or low levels of estrogen can cause weight gain in women. This is because when levels of estrogen increases, levels of progesterone drops down, and estrogen dominance can cause weight gain especially around belly area.

What foods have estrogen?

Phytoestrogens are a form of dietary estrogen we get from food. Research is ongoing into the effects of these plant-based nutrients. Studies indicate they can mimic or enhance the natural hormone’s health benefits, such as soy, dried fruits, flax seeds, sesame seeds, among others.

Does estrogen increase sex drive in women?

Estrogen is an important hormone in promoting vaginal lubrication and increases sexual desire. A dip in estrogen levels can affect sexual desire too.

Does estrogen cause cancer?

Constant, unopposed exposure to elevated levels of estrogen in the body can cause the inner lining of the uterus (endometrium) to become thick. This build up in the inner lining can give rise to abnormal cells and increase the risk of endometrial cancer.

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Estrogen is an important sex hormone in females, and its optimal levels are important for normal functioning of body processes. If you have more