The primary symptoms of low estrogen are irregular or missed periods, as occurs in the years leading up to and during menopause. Estrogen’s primary role during a woman’s reproductive years is to prepare the uterus to receive a fertilized egg, but researchers have shown that estrogen has other effects on a woman’s body as well, which is why estrogen replacement therapy is sometimes recommended to relieve unwanted symptoms associated with menopause and aging.
According to the North American Menopause Society, hormones play an important role in skin health. The symptoms of low estrogen following menopause that relate to the skin include a decline in collagen and thickness, particularly in the years immediately following menopause. Some women notice that their skin is dryer; others develop acne, particularly if they had acne during adolescence. Estrogen replacement therapy may have beneficial effects on the skin, but is not recommended solely for this purpose, because of the numerous health risks with which it is associated.
Researchers at the University of Melina in Italy, investigating alternatives to estrogen replacement therapy that would counteract the effects of decreased estrogen production following menopause believe that isoflavones from red clover may be effective. Isoflavones are a type of plant estrogen and there is evidence supporting their use to treat other menopausal symptoms, so these scientists decided to investigate their effects on the skin. They concluded that supplements containing red clover isoflavones increased skin elasticity, collagen content and thickness, reducing the signs of skin aging associated with the symptoms of low estrogen following menopause.
One of the best known symptoms of low estrogen is bone loss or osteoporosis. Until studies linked estrogen replacement therapy to serious health risks such as blood clots and strokes, it was often recommended to reduce the risk of osteoporosis in post-menopausal women. Lack of estrogen inhibits the body’s ability to absorb calcium and vitamin D. Vitamin D is necessary for the body to effectively absorb calcium. Sun-screen which is necessary to protect the skin may also inhibit the body’s ability to activate vitamin D found in food. For this reason the North American Menopause Society advises that a vitamin D supplement may be necessary. The latest USRDA suggests that vitamin D supplements are probably necessary for anyone over the age of 50.
The body is able to absorb calcium most efficiently when iron, manganese, phosphorous, magnesium and vitamin C are present as well. Thus, a daily multi-vitamin containing adequate amounts of all of these nutrients, as well as vitamin D, provides the best insurance that a woman’s bones will continue to receive necessary amounts of calcium. Specialized health supplements designed for women containing plant estrogens, as well, may be even more effective, as the increase in dietary estrogenic compounds may counteract the symptoms of low estrogen caused when the ovaries stop functioning.
There is no evidence that estrogen replacement therapy alone can increase a woman’s sex drive or libido. Combination type hormone replacement therapies that include testosterone and other sex hormones appear to be more effective for this purpose. Vaginal dryness and thinness are believed to be symptoms of low estrogen levels following menopause, since the skin on other parts of the body loses elasticity and thickness. Since vaginal dryness and thinness can cause painful intercourse, women may experience a decreased sex drive as a result. This can create a kind of “vicious circle", because lack of *** stimulation may cause a decrease in vaginal health, once again decreasing desire.
Many women have found that they enjoy an increased sex drive following menopause. They feel an increased sense of freedom, because there is no longer a risk of pregnancy. For women who have the desire, but are bothered by dryness, any of the K-Y lubricants can help and there are some that are specifically designed to act on vaginal tissue to relieve dryness. Herbal *** stimulants including ginseng and tribulus terrestris can increase libido. Tribulus may also increase levels of circulating hormones, thus counteracting other symptoms of low estrogen, including vaginal dryness.
No one is sure if mood swings, depression, anxiety, memory problems, trouble concentrating and other symptoms noted during menopause are symptoms of low estrogen, another hormone, other brain chemicals or simply part of the aging process. At least one study has shown that estrogen improves the ability of the receptors in the hypothalamus to receive and transmit signals. The hypothalamus is a part of the brain in which memories are stored, is important in regulating mood, sleep and sexuality, among other functions. Autopsies have shown that the hypothalamus is smaller in people suffering from major depressive disorders, possibly inhibiting its ability to function properly.
Women who have experienced anxiety or depression prior to menopause seem to be more likely to suffer from depression during or following menopause. It is important to seek treatment for depression, particularly if suicidal thoughts are present. Studies have shown that low-dose estrogen therapy is fairly effective, as are the newer antidepressants, known as Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors.
If depression is mild or emotions seem to swing from one extreme to another a natural antidepressant like 5-HTP or St. John’s Wort. 5-HTP may be harder to find, but is not associated with the health risks that may accompany the use of St. John’s Wort. Gingko biloba may help problems with memory. Black cohosh has been shown in clinical studies to relieve not only hot flashes, but some of the emotional symptoms associated with menopause. If these are symptoms of low estrogen, then dietary supplementation with plant estrogens may be effective.
To learn more about dietary supplements, including vitamins, minerals, herbs and other plant components that can relieve the symptoms of low estrogen and may be effective alternatives to estrogen replacement therapy, please visit the Menopause and PMS Guide .
Patsy Hamilton was a health care professional for over twenty years before becoming a freelance writer. Currently she writes informational articles for the Menopause and PMS Guide. Read more at http://www.menopause-and-pms-guide.com .