Estrogen is actually a collective term that refers to three main hormones called estradiol, estrone and estriol. While it is largely considered a female hormone, estrogen is also produced in males, though in smaller quantities. In women, estrogen is synthesized primarily by the ovaries, but can also be produced by the adrenal glands and fat tissue. In men, estrogen is mainly produced by the testes and adrenal gland but can be converted from testosterone in the fat cells by an enzyme called aromatase.
What does Estrogen do?
The main role of estrogenic hormones in the female body is to stimulate the growth and development of sexual characteristics and reproduction. Essentially, natural estrogen is responsible for the changes in breasts during adolescence and pregnancy including the development of milk ducts for lactation, and for the growth of the uterine lining in the first part of the menstrual cycle. It also serves to regulate several metabolic processes including cholesterol levels and bone growth.
Estrogen improves bone density and reduces the risk of osteoporosis for both women and men. Estrogen helps prepare a woman's body for pregnancy and in males, estrogen assists in the growth and maturity of sperm. In addition to reproductive function, estrogen also boosts libido and sexual desire.
Estrogens are believed to be protective against heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and memory disorders. Estrogens also protect against hot flashes, vaginal atrophy, urinary incontinence, skin wrinkling, fatigue, depression, moods swings, and decreased libido.
It's important for women and men alike to balance estrogen levels to avoid multiple health challenges including heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, osteoporosis, obesity and diabetes.