Estrogen--Not the Wicked Stepsister of Hormones
Estrogen has been given a bad rap by the media and by proponents of progesterone cream, many of whom claim the majority of a woman's hormonal problems can be alleviated by the use of bioidentical progesterone. Bioidentical progesterone IS beneficial and DOES alleviate many problems, However, just as being estrogen dominant is not conducive to good health, being progesterone dominant and/or estrogen deficient isn't going to make for a happy camper, either.
Perhaps estrogen has been vilified so much because few make the distinction between bioidentical estrogen and conjugated estrogen such as Premarin. The name Premarin is derived from PREgant MARe urINe. Premarin isn't good for anyone. It's a Frankenhormone and "kind of" fitting into one's estrogen receptor sites is like forcing a big tire onto a Mazda Miata. It'll run...but not well. Artificial hormones are much more likely to cause blood clots, high blood pressure, fluid retention, etc. than natural ones. The key is knowing how much of each to take and when.
There are 3 forms of estrogen--estradiol, estrone, and estriol. At day one of your menstrual cycle, estradiol should be about 80-90 pmol. Anything below that is not conducive to feeling well. Many women fear that estrogen supplementation--even with bioidentical estrogen--is setting the body up for increased risk of cancer. This is not necessarily the case, however, as estriol is breast protective and carries many of the same benefits as estradiol, just to a weaker extent.
Necessity of Estrogen
Having optimal levels of estrogen means several areas of your body will benefit. Estrogen maintains skin elasticity and plumpness, creating a more youthful appearance. Many oral surgeons will tell you that you should NOT have surgery done in the last week of your menstrual cycle due to falling estrogen levels. Estrogen increases blood circulation and facilitates clotting. Tooth extraction healing, for example, is reliant upon good clotting lest you wind up with a painful condition called "dry socket." Estrogen given to men mitigates the effects of DHT and helps with acne and male pattern baldness.
Premenopausal and menopausal women often experience vaginal dryness, hot flashes, and in somnia. Estrogen can help with these. Even in young women with low ovarian estradiol output, supplementation can be a boon. Vaginal health in general is aided by estrogen. If you've read my hub on vulvodynia and its devastating effects, you know that estrogen is vital to treating thinning, irritated, inflamed vulvar tissue.
Estrogen helps digestion. Tipping the scales in favor of progesterone (see my hub on Heartburn and GERD) loosens the LES (lower esophageal sphincter) causing stomach acid to flow backwards from the stomach into the esophagus. A more balanced hormonal picture can correct this. Likewise, estrogen helps the body absorb nutrients, most notably calcium. This is why women after menopause may develop osteoporosis. Without adequate estrogen to increase bone density, bones may become brittle and weak.
Estrogen improves insulin sensitivity. Progesterone causes blood sugar levels to rise, creating slight insulin resistance. It is important for these two hormones to be in balance to ensure proper glucose metabolism. If you've ever experienced PMS and felt ravenous hunger, this is because progesterone dominates in the second half of the menstrual cycle, causing your body to become slightly more insulin resistant. Your pancreas responds by pumping out more insulin to usher glucose into your cells. Higher than normal levels of insulin cause hunger and weight gain. A better overall hormonal cascade and balanced levels of estrogen and progesterone can combat this.
My hub on OCD also mentions estrogen as a powerful antidepressant. Estrogen inhibits MAO (monoamine oxidase) which breaks down serotonin and norepinephrine. Without these neurotransmitters, one is predisposed to anxiety, depression, and a host of other mental illnesses.Low estrogen means low serotonin and low serotonin can lead to depression, anxiety, paranoia, etc. Low estrogen also means more body aches and pains, as serotonin not only influences mood, but also joint health.
While estradiol is the most potent form of the 3 estrogens, it seems to be the most beneficial. One can also supplement with the weaker estriol, but the effects will be milder and perhaps not as quickly noticed. Reports of estrogen causing breast cancer cell proliferation are a very real concern, however, the benefits often outweigh the risks, and they may in yours as well. If you're feeling subpar and think you might benefit from bioidentical hormone supplementation, ask your doctor for a hormone panel of bloodwork. You might be surprised at the results, and what a little estrogen can do for you.
I wish you good luck and good health.