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Estrogen 101:
The Basics of Estrogen and Your Hormones

There's a lot of information out there in regards to menopause and estrogens - the hormones predominantly responsible for menopause in the first place. This series of articles is an in-depth look at Estrogen, exactly what it is, how your body makes it and how it influences, well, Everything.

Plus, I want you to see for yourself exactly why menopause weight gain happens along with how you can make this whole estrogen thing work to your benefit -- menopause or not.

I'll try and keep it simple - forgive me if it's gets a little "Science Geeky" here and there but sometimes it's hard to keep the science out. After all, we are talking about your body's biochemistry! My goal is that with this information you will be able to make better choices, which will lead to your improved health, appearance and life.

Estrogen is actually 3 separate hormones and they are part of a metabolic process that is devoted, specifically, to the production of your sex hormones. Estrogen is responsible for estrus as well as the development of female secondary sexual characteristics.

And as you know it is the group of hormones that are responsible for all your frustrations with menopause and all of the associated changes - like those pesky hot flashes, night sweats and your expanding waistline.

Estrogen actually refers to three different sex hormones, Estrone, Estriol, and Estradiol. And they are all steroids, as well as progesterone, testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and corticosteroids. All of these steroidal hormones are made from the same basic building block, Cholesterol.

Yes, your hormones are made from cholesterol - this is one reason why eating an extremely low fat or no fat diet can wreak havoc with your hormones. Now, I'm not suggesting an extremely high fat diet either - but a balanced diet with 20-30% of your total caloric intake derived from predominantly HEALTHY fat sources can prove very beneficial to your hormonal profile.

You may already know that your body metabolizes Estrogen predominantly in your ovaries and adrenal glands from cholesterol. Your adrenal glands are located above each kidney and the outer part of that gland is partly responsible the secretion of steroids.

But did you know that with the help of an aromatase enzyme estrogen is also produced in your fat and muscle cells both before and after menopause?

So your Estrogen levels are not totally dependent on your ovaries, there are a lot of other factors that come into play, like your diet and body composition.

There is so much variability in estrogen levels from woman to woman that in a study featured in the American Journal of Epidemiology on the Epidemiology of Serum Sex Hormones in Post Menopausal Women, it was demonstrated that the concentration of hormones in the blood had so much inconsistency that it was clear that neither age nor menopause had a clear cut correlation on hormone levels.

This study also revealed that the amount of body fat and lean muscle tone a woman has will affect the blood levels of estrogen, specifically estrone. And this makes sense since fat and muscle cells are key players in the production of estrogen - remember? There's that armoatase enzyme that helps convert the small amount of male sex hormones your body has to estrogens.

Now whether that conversion to estrogen happens in your fat cells or muscle cells may play a big role in the production of good or bad estrogen metabolites - more on this in the next part of this article, Estrogen 102.

The process of manufacturing Estrogens from cholesterol is a fairly complicated process, as you can imagine, and requires the use of enzymes to convert one hormone to another and back again.

In other words in order for you body to produce any of the estrogens there are several other hormones that need to be metabolized in order to make estrogens. Progesterone, aldosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and many more are all a necessary part of estrogen production and I've outlined some of the roles a few of these hormones play below.


Progesterone is produced in the corpus luteum, adrenal cortex, brain and in the placenta, during pregnancy. One of its functions is to prepare the uterus for implantation of a fertilized egg. The formation of Progesterone is a critical pre-cursor for the production of aldosterone, cortisol and the sex steroids -- testosterone and estrogens.

However, it also has many roles outside the reproductive system such as thermogenesis (increasing your core temperature). It reduces spasms by relaxing smooth muscle tissue, acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and helps to regulate the immune system.

Progesterone assists in thyroid function, bone building, skin resilience along with joint, tendon and ligament health. It also plays a role in regulating nerve function and provides protection against endometrial cancer (involving the uterine lining) by regulating the effects of estrogen.


Aldosterone is a hormone that is produced by the outer portion of the adrenal cortex in the adrenal gland and it regulates sodium and potassium balance in the blood.


Cortisol is a corticosteroid hormone produced by the adrenal cortex in response to stress; it increases blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and suppresses the immune system. Cortisol is part of the flight or fight response that used to be so critical to our survival.

Cortisol is also an underlying cause of that dreaded belly fat which starts to accumulate from midlife on as a result of the highly rushed and stressed lifestyles of today. When cortisol is secreted for an extended period of time it results in muscle wastage, hyperglycemia, and will suppress the body's immune and inflammatory systems.


Testosterone is primarily secreted in the ovaries but small amounts are released by the adrenal glands. It is the principal male sex hormone (androgen) and the female body produces about 20 times less than a male body. Testosterone is a key ingredient in estrogen metabolism.

The conversion of testosterone to estradiol is critical in both your bones and brain. In the bones this reaction helps to accelerate the maturation of cartilage into bone and in the brain, or nervous system, this conversion of testosterone to estradiol serves as a feed back signal to help regulate the release of hormones by the hypothalamus.

It plays a vital role in your health and well-being. Some examples of testosterones roles are enhanced libido, energy, immune function, and protection against osteoporosis.

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA):

DHEA is a natural steroid hormone produced from cholesterol by the adrenal glands, the gonads, adipose tissue and the brain. It is the dominant steroid hormone and precursor of all sex steroids. Regular exercise is known to increase DHEA production in the body.


During the reproductive years most of your estradiol is produced by your ovaries, while smaller amounts are produced by you adrenal cortex. Your fat and muscle cells also contribute to estradiol production by means of testosterone conversion and this continues even after menopause with proper encouragement by you.

Estradiol plays a critical role in your reproductive and sexual functioning, as well as other organs including bone structure.


Estrone is relevant to health and disease due to its conversion to estrone sulfate. It acts as a pool of estrone which can be converted to the more active estradiol.


Estriol is produced in significant amounts during pregnancy as it is made by the placenta. Levels of estriol in non-pregnant women do not change much after menopause, and levels are not significantly different from levels in men.

Are you starting to get the picture? Your hormones all tied together and your estrogens are not the only ones that are critical to your well-being. Every single hormone plays an ever important role all by itself and yet the production of each specific hormone is dependent on the other hormones!

You can't affect one without causing a chain reaction that affects all the others. And what you put into your body, as food (energy), and how you use your body has dramatic effect on this whole process.

In the next installment of this article you will be learning about the "good" and "bad" estrogens and how you can start to shift things in your favor!

Jenny May and Health Thru Fitness, LLC focus on researching, developing, and implementing fitness and health strategies that the menopausal woman, as well as women of all ages, can apply to their current physical status. To learn more about the Jenny May Principles check out and You are welcome to use this article for your website or newsletter provided that you include the above stated bio and website links. Copyright © Health Thru Fitness, LLC. All Rights Reserved

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