The ‘Female’ Hormone Estrogen

Although estrogen is known as the primary ‘female’ hormone, estrogen is also produced by and essential for males. Estrogens, per definition are a group of steroid hormones promoting and maintaining female characteristics and the female reproductive system and processes. What makes estrogens even more essential is their role in the growth, differentiation and functions of bone formation and maintenance, cardio-protective effects and their influence on mood and behaviour. It has also been shown that estrogens have a positive protective influence on skin health. However, an estrogen imbalance could potentially lead to several health problems.

Estrogens are mainly produced in the ovaries and are the biological cause for structural and physical differences between females and males. 

As the female body matures into adulthood, hormones start to develop and act as chemical messengers through the bloodstream towards different parts of the body, “instructing” them on how to differentiate and behave. Together with progesterone, estrogen is one of the most important hormones for women to maintain their overall and reproductive health. From the onset of puberty, estrogen production is a natural change during a female’s life with peak hormone levels around the age of mid to late 20’s, decreasing levels during middle age until menopause.

Estrogen and Female Characteristics

The hormone estrogen plays an important role in distinguishing the female body from that of a male’s.  This hormone influences many of our physical female traits.  

These differences are:

  • A smaller, more petite bone structure with a broader pelvis and narrower shoulders
  • A curvier and more contoured body
  • Finer and less pronounced body hair with more permanent scalp hair
  • Smaller voice box with shorter vocal cords with a softer and higher pitched voice than males
  • Suppressed activity in skin glands that produce oily substances that may lower the likelihood of developing acne

Estrogen and Other Organs

Estrogen impacts on the function of other organs and parts of the female body too. Some of these roles include:

  • Maintaining body temperature and sending chemical messages to the brain that enhances the effect of the brain’s “feel good” biochemistry
  • Sustaining good levels of collagen that aid in skin quality and aging
  • Maintenance of bone density and strength
  • Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels in the liver which in turn support heart and arterial health

Maintaining Healthy Estrogen Metabolism

Healthy estrogen metabolism starts in the liver, and it is essential to supply your liver cells with the nutrients its needs to maintain estrogen in the correct, healthy forms. When estrogen is present in a harmful form (4-OHE), it can increase the risk of auto-immune disease, breast and uterine cancers. We know that most breast cancers are estrogen based – meaning cancer growth is dependent on certain types of estrogen in the bloodstream. One of the most beneficial biological pathways in our cells is that of methylation. Methylation aids in detoxification and reducing the risk of harmful and highly reactive estrogen metabolites. 

These harmful estrogen metabolites can cause DNA damage and increase our risk of developing cancer if these pathways are not performing optimally. In order to maintain healthy levels of the “good” estrogens that are beneficial to our bodies, it is essential to support your body’s methylation pathway to promote detoxification of the “bad” estrogens.

Healthy estrogen levels are extremely important for proper cellular communication and the hormonal regulatory system. Estrogen plays a role in thyroid signalling and healthy body fat distribution. For post-menopausal women, levels of estrogens must be tightly regulated, and it's important to have rapid disposal of used and unnecessary estrogen metabolites.

The basic form of estrogen in the body is called estrone. Estrone gets readily converted back and forth into estradiol. Estrone and estradiol can be present at the same time, and each form acts on different tissues. Estradiol is the most common form of estrogen that physicians use for hormone replacement therapy. In your body, estrone is converted into many other forms that have different functions. One of them, is called estrone–4 (4-OHE). Estrone–4 is a known pro-carcinogen and encourages the growth of certain cancers. Estrone-4 can be easily converted into compounds that damage your DNA. Your liver can neutralise this type of damaging estrogen with certain enzymes, but it requires the right balance of nutrients to support it. Various genes play a key role in the metabolism and breakdown of estrone. Mutations that occur can alter the functioning of these genes, which could put you at risk of the above-mentioned aliments, should they not be supported.

There are several genes involved in the synthesis and metabolism of estrogen and testosterone.
 
The figure below shows an overview of the metabolism process.
Mutations in the below-mentioned genes can alter the activity of the enzyme.
 
However, these germline mutations can be assisted by supplemental and nutritional support.
 
 

Gene / SNP

Function

Effect of a gene mutation

Recommendation

CYP1B1

Detoxify environmental carcinogens e.g. smoke

↑ Activity

GeneWay™ DIM

GeneWay™ Antioxidant

Chrysin, Ginseng, Grapefruit, St John’s wort

COMT

Estradiol & estrone metabolites' degradation

↓ Activity

GeneWay™ Methylation Support

GeneWay™ Magnesium

GeneWay™ DIM

Vitamin D3, Choline, Trimethylglycine, Green/Black tea

CYP1A1

Estrogen metabolism and effect of estrogen related cancer

 

↓Activity

GeneWay™ DIM

Ellagic acid (Berries, pomegranate, grapes, walnuts & blackcurrants)

NQO1

Detoxification of harmful estrogen metabolites that are metabolized to form quinones and semiquinones

↓ Activity

GeneWay™ DIM

GeneWay™ Antioxidant

GSTs

Glutathione conjugation

Non Functional

GeneWay™ DIM

GeneWay™ Antioxidant

GeneWay™ Magnesium

N-acetylcysteine (NAC), Whey protein, Milk Thistle, Citrus Fruit

CYP17A1

Estrogen precursors

↑ Activity

GeneWay™ DIM

GeneWay™ Magnesium

Calcium-D-glucarate, D-limonene, Vitamin E

Cruciferous vegetables & Isoflavones (legumes, alfalfa, licorice, kudzu root, genistein)

SULT1A1

Estrogen detoxification

↓ Activity

Caffeine

Sulfur rich foods (e.g. eggs & broccoli)

Or Sulfur supplementation