Estrogen is a steroid that naturally occurs in both men and women. It has been used to treat symptoms of post-menopausal women and in hormone replacement therapy in transwomen. It can be used alone or in combination with progesterone. There are pills, patches and creams that supply estrogen to the body. The most common form of oral estrogen used is called Premarin. While there can be benefits to taking estrogen, there can also be health concerns as well. It is always best to carefully weigh all of your options and get as much information as you can before making a decision.
Estrogens, also known as oestrogens, belong in the category of steroid compounds. They are the primary sex hormone in women. In general, hormones create changes in the body by carrying information and instructions from one group of cells to another. Hormones influence almost every part of the body. They control characteristics, growth, tissue functions, digestion, the reaction in emergencies and mood. Estrogen in particular is responsible for the development of the female sexual characteristics and reproduction. Since hormones can influence many of the functions of the body it is important to look at all options before deciding to participate in hormone replacement therapy.
Estrogen is present in both males and females, although it is significantly higher in females, especially during the reproductive years. In females, it is produced by the ovaries until a woman reaches menopause in which its production is reduced. Estrogen supports certain female characteristics such as developing breasts, lining the endometrium and in regulating the menstrual cycle. In males, it is produced in very small amounts as a by-product during testosterone conversion. In men, estrogen plays a part in regulating the maturation of sperm, maintaining a healthy libido and brain function as well as protecting the heart and keeping the bones strong.
Along with influencing sexual characteristics, estrogen also regulates other functions in the body. It is also involved in bone growth and cholesterol levels. In women, it not only affects the breast and uterus, but also the brain, bone, liver, heart and other tissues. Too little or too much estrogen can have adverse effects on the body and how you feel. While you may decide to take estrogen for its influence on menopausal symptoms or to encourage certain female characteristics, you also need to consider the changes it can cause to your heart, live, circulation and bones.
In post-menopausal women, taking estrogen can hep to manage symptoms of hot flashes, vaginal dryness, weakening bones (osteoporosis), decrease the incidence of urinary tract infections, manage mood swings and improve overall health. Estrogen can also be used in cases where the onset of puberty is delayed. Men may decide to take estrogen to create secondary sexual characteristics of women. It is used by transwomen to increase breast size, soften the skin, lighten facial hair and increase weight in the hips and thighs. It also causes a decrease in muscular development and makes the veins less prominent.
Studies compiled by the Womans Health Initiative/National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (see Resources) have found both the benefits of taking estrogen but also the possible serious dangers as well. In women, this included a slightly higher risk of some cancers such as breast and endometrial, heart disease, blood clots and stroke. In males, it also increases the risk of heart disease, phlebitis and blood clots especially in the lungs. It has also been shown to decrease sperm count and can cause infertility with long term use. In both males and females, in addition to the common side effects, there can be complications such as weight gain, dementia, swelling, nausea and abdominal cramps. Since the medication is taken orally, it must be processed by the liver and can cause liver and kidney disease. Due to these side effects, it is usually recommended that patients take the lowest dose for the shortest time frame as possible. You should have regular checkups and tests to catch any possible adverse health effects that may occur.