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Estrogen replacement was the go-to for menopausal women in the 1990′s. Many women tried it, and many women liked it. They found it a great panacea for a multitude of discomforts, including hot flashes, bone density issues, dry skin, thinning hair. In fact, it relieved just about all the stuff about menopause that doctors called ‘normal’……..REALLY?!

The estrogenic hormones are uniquely responsible for the growth and development of female sexual characteristics and reproduction in both humans and animals. The term “estrogen” includes a group of chemically similar hormones: estrone, estradiol (the most abundant in women of reproductive age) and estriol. Overall, estrogen is produced in the ovaries, adrenal glands and fat tissues.

This is why, often, fatter women have an easier, smoother menopausal transition. So you’ve got it goin’ on, there.  More specifically, the estradiol and estrone forms of estrogen are produced primarily in the ovaries in pre-menopausal women, while estriol is produced by the placenta during pregnancy. Estrogen is a hormone of many facets, granting  a complex cornucopia of effects for the human body. In addition to regulating the menstrual cycle, estrogen affects the reproductive tract, the urinary tract, the heart and blood vessels, bones, breasts, skin, hair, mucous membranes, pelvic muscles, and the brain.

And the brain! Imagine that. We have all moved on from the concept that men and women think differently because they are raised in a sexist society, right? Right. Estrogen has profound effects on the brain and its development, resulting in what we recognize as feminine ways of thinking and acting.

An interesting twist to all this is that many women who have utilized estrogen-replacement therapy for menopausal symptoms still feel, with all the benefits aforementioned, an important lack. These women would rather crochet an afghan than jump into the sheets with their man! What’s up with that?!

The answer is simple. Testosterone is responsible for sexual desire, not estrogen. Estrogen just smooths the way, you could say.  Women’s Health reports:

‘It may surprise you to know that men don’t have a monopoly on testosterone. Testosterone belongs to a class of male hormones called androgens. But women also have testosterone.

The ovaries produce both testosterone and estrogen. Relatively small quantities of testosterone are released into your bloodstream by the ovaries and adrenal glands. In addition to being produced by the ovaries, estrogen is also produced by the body’s fat tissue. These sex hormones are involved in the growth, maintenance, and repair of reproductive tissues. But that’s not all. They also influence other body tissues and bone mass.’

In fact, testosterone is the reason that, not only are young women sexy, but they are often firm and muscular, and their bone structure is erect and strong.

This said, there are strong implications here for the well-being of post-menopausal women.  Magaziner Center for Wellness posits thus:

“Aging is, often, accompanied by a decrease in free testosterone levels, a concomitant reduction in muscle mass and an increase in fat mass. Furthermore, numerous studies showed that total serum testosterone levels were inversely related to the atherosclerosis disease incidence in postmenopausal women. New therapeutic targets may, therefore, arise understanding how androgen could influence the fat distribution, the metabolic disease onset, the vascular reactivity and cardiovascular risk, in (men and women).” 

The decrease in free testosterone levels becomes obvious with the decreased muscle mass, fat bodies and low sexual desire that a lot of us older women simply accept as par for the course!

In fact, here you have the findings, brought to you by the same Magaziner Center for Wellness:

There has been emerging interest in supplemental hormonal treatment with testosterone for disrupted sexual functioning, loss of muscle mass, physical limitations and osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. In this study, researchers sought to determine the dose-dependent effects of testosterone on sexual function, body composition, muscle performance and physical function in women with low testosterone levels who had undergone hysterectomy with or without oophorectomy. They studied 71 women over the course of 24 weeks. Participants were randomly assigned either to placebo or one of four testosterone doses given weekly. They found that the higher dose, 25mg, of testosterone tested in this trial after 24 weeks was associated with gains in sexual function, muscle mass and measures of physical performance.

If this be the case, supplementation of estrogen for women, with the addition of trace testosterone, might be of great value.

These are important findings, and next time we will discuss the pros and cons and safety of various replacement methods.

Stay tuned to improve your well-being!