Estrogen deficiency is not only common around menopause, but also during 20s, 30s and 40s. Learn the top 5 causes of low estrogen.
Estrogen plays an important role in our physical vitality, mental clarity, and emotional stability, as well as our sexuality and fertility.
When estrogen is low, we tend to not feel quite like our normal selves.
For example, we may feel tired and blue during menstruation (and postpartum).
Or we may feel less sensual and attractive with a reduced interest and zest for life – among other signs and symptoms of estrogen deficiency.
Even though estrogen deficiency is often associated with perimenopause and menopause, it’s also quite common among women in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
This is because the aging of ovaries can begin 10-15 years before menopause, and there are other factors that can lower estrogen levels.
5 Common Causes of Estrogen Deficiency
In this post, I’ll discuss the five primary reasons that cause estrogen deficiency:
1. Decreasing Ovarian Reserve
Women are born with 1-2 million eggs. This number goes down to 300-500,000 during puberty.
With each ovulation and natural apoptosis (programmed cell death), by age 30 only 12% of those eggs remain. By age 40, only 3%. And of course, we run out of eggs entirely at menopause.
Estrogen is produced in the egg follicles to promote maturation of the egg and the thickening of the endometrial lining. When the number of eggs decreases with age, so does the amount of estrogen.
The decline typically begins in our early to mid-30s and accelerates in our late 40s right before menopause.
This is when the signs and symptoms of estrogen deficiency become more pronounced.
Note: Though the average age of menopause is currently 51 in the United States, some women enter menopause much earlier, while others a bit later. Check out the individual factors that can influence your unique estrogen profile.
2. Low Body Fat
Today’s beauty standards seem to favor a thin and slender feminine body. Many women strive to achieve and maintain this ideal, but unknowingly pay a hefty price for it.
When a woman’s body fat is less than 21% of her total body mass, the hormone control center in her brain keeps her from making enough estrogen to ovulate or build up her uterine wall.
This is quite understandable. If your body thinks you’re starving, it’s not going to strain you further by asking you to make a baby.
In my mid-to-late teens, I struggled with my growing feminine body and tried to do all I could to keep my body lean and flat – like a boy.
I starved myself, while engaging in intense exercise (swimming for 20 laps each morning and then 2 miles of running every afternoon).
I was successful in staying thin, but unfortunately, at the expense of losing my period for six months. In hindsight, this severe disruption in my early womanhood also set me up for the period pain and PMS I suffered from years later.
As women, it’s so important for us to maintain a healthy weight – not too heavy and not too thin. When our body is well nourished but not in excess, our hormones tend to function at their best.
We are what we eat. It’s no surprise that the foods we take into our body also impact our estrogen levels.
For instance, vegetarians tend to have lower estrogen levels than omnivores (people who eat both plants and animals).
As a result, lifelong vegetarians have a lower risk of breast cancer, but may also be more prone to experience signs of estrogen deficiency if they don’t obtain all the necessary nutrients from their diet.
Gluten intolerance has also been linked to lower estrogen levels – and accompanying amenorrhea, infertility, and diminished ovarian reserve.
It’s estimated that about 3 million Americans have celiac disease (a disorder that results in damage to the lining of the small intestine when foods with gluten are eaten), and another 18 million have gluten intolerance. Unfortunately, most remain undiagnosed.
So if you experience signs of estrogen deficiency, it’s worthwhile to look into your diet and see if this could be a contributing factor.
Pregnancy, whether successful or not, can also lower estrogen levels. After delivering a baby, the mother’s estrogen and progesterone take a steep dive until her period returns. This may be one of the reasons behind post-partum blues, but it’s also part of nature’s intelligent plan.
A low estrogen level is designed to suspend ovulation (and possible pregnancy) so the mother can take care of the baby at hand. And breastfeeding further prolongs the period of low estrogen and the return of normal menstruation.
Note that this also applies to pregnancy failure when the baby is not carried to term.
5. Poor Health
Poor health can also affect estrogen levels. In Western medicine, this includes diseases that affect the ovaries (e.g., hypogonadism), as well as the hormone-control center in the brain (e.g., hypopituitarism and hypothalamic defects).
In Chinese medicine, the signs of estrogen deficiency may be diagnosed as a part of yin deficiency (a more complex pattern of yin and yang imbalance).
In this post, I’ve discussed the five primary causes of low estrogen: a decreasing ovarian reserve, low body fat, diet, pregnancy, and poor health. Some factors are nature’s doing, which we have no control over. Some, however, are within our spear of influence and can be corrected and improved.
In either case, awareness is the key to regaining our balance – both hormonal and physical, as well as mental and emotional. For when we develop the right understanding, we can then take steps to correct the underlying imbalances, and create more harmony in our body and mind, as well as in our life.
Here’s a question for you: Do you have signs of estrogen deficiency? If so, which one of the above could be the primary contributing factor?
Six Flavor Teapills for yin deficiency in Chinese Medicine
Chasteberry (proven to help treat low progesterone and regulate menstrual cycles in more than 60 years of clinical research, including 5 randomized trials)
Vitamin B6 (one of the best vitamins to boost progesterone)
Progesterone Cream (bio-identical hormonal support)
Support Adrenal and Thyroid Functions
Adrenal Health Daily Support (promote overall hormone balance)
Thyroid Support Complex (support energy and metabolism)
Once Daily Organic Whole Food Vitamin Supplement (provide essential nutrients for health and hormone balance)
Liquid Iron (support healthy blood)
The Hormone Cure, by Dr. Sara Gottfried
Cooking for Hormone Balance, by Magdalena Wszelaki