Last updated

Drug class
Estradiol, the major estrogen sex hormone in humans and a widely used medication.
Class identifiers
Use Contraception, menopause, hypogonadism, transgender women, prostate cancer, breast cancer, others
ATC code G03C
Biological target Estrogen receptors (ERα, ERβ, mERs (e.g., GPER, others))
External links
MeSH D004967
In Wikidata

Estrogen or oestrogen is a category of sex hormone responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system and secondary sex characteristics. [1] [2] There are three major endogenous estrogens that have estrogenic hormonal activity: estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), and estriol (E3). [1] [3] Estradiol, an estrane, is the most potent and prevalent. [1] Another estrogen called estetrol (E4) is produced only during pregnancy.


Estrogens are synthesized in all vertebrates [4] and some insects. [5] Their presence in both vertebrates and insects suggests that estrogenic sex hormones have an ancient evolutionary history. Quantitatively, estrogens circulate at lower levels than androgens in both men and women. [6] While estrogen levels are significantly lower in males than in females, estrogens nevertheless have important physiological roles in males. [7]

Like all steroid hormones, estrogens readily diffuse across the cell membrane. Once inside the cell, they bind to and activate estrogen receptors (ERs) which in turn modulate the expression of many genes. [8] Additionally, estrogens bind to and activate rapid-signaling membrane estrogen receptors (mERs), [9] [10] such as GPER (GPR30). [11]

In addition to their role as natural hormones, estrogens are used as medications, for instance in menopausal hormone therapy, hormonal birth control and feminizing hormone therapy for transgender women and nonbinary people.

Synthetic and natural estrogens have been found in the environment and are referred to as xenoestrogens. Estrogens are among the wide range of endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) and can cause health issues and reproductive disfunction in both wildlife and humans. [12] [13]

Types and examples

The four major naturally occurring estrogens in women are estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), estriol (E3), and estetrol (E4). Estradiol(E2) is the predominant estrogen during reproductive years both in terms of absolute serum levels as well as in terms of estrogenic activity. During menopause, estrone is the predominant circulating estrogen and during pregnancy estriol is the predominant circulating estrogen in terms of serum levels. Given by subcutaneous injection in mice, estradiol is about 10-fold more potent than estrone and about 100-fold more potent than estriol. [14] Thus, estradiol is the most important estrogen in non-pregnant females who are between the menarche and menopause stages of life. However, during pregnancy this role shifts to estriol, and in postmenopausal women estrone becomes the primary form of estrogen in the body. Another type of estrogen called estetrol (E4) is produced only during pregnancy. All of the different forms of estrogen are synthesized from androgens, specifically testosterone and androstenedione, by the enzyme aromatase.

Minor endogenous estrogens, the biosyntheses of which do not involve aromatase, include 27-hydroxycholesterol, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), 7-oxo-DHEA, 7α-hydroxy-DHEA, 16α-hydroxy-DHEA, 7β-hydroxyepiandrosterone, androstenedione (A4), androstenediol (A5), 3α-androstanediol, and 3β-androstanediol. [15] [16] Some estrogen metabolites, such as the catechol estrogens 2-hydroxyestradiol, 2-hydroxyestrone, 4-hydroxyestradiol, and 4-hydroxyestrone, as well as 16α-hydroxyestrone, are also estrogens with varying degrees of activity. [17] The biological importance of these minor estrogens is not entirely clear.

Biological function

Reference ranges for the blood content of estradiol, the primary type of estrogen, during the menstrual cycle. Estradiol during menstrual cycle.png
Reference ranges for the blood content of estradiol, the primary type of estrogen, during the menstrual cycle.

The actions of estrogen are mediated by the estrogen receptor (ER), a dimeric nuclear protein that binds to DNA and controls gene expression. Like other steroid hormones, estrogen enters passively into the cell where it binds to and activates the estrogen receptor. The estrogen:ER complex binds to specific DNA sequences called a hormone response element to activate the transcription of target genes (in a study using an estrogen-dependent breast cancer cell line as model, 89 such genes were identified). [19] Since estrogen enters all cells, its actions are dependent on the presence of the ER in the cell. The ER is expressed in specific tissues including the ovary, uterus and breast. The metabolic effects of estrogen in postmenopausal women have been linked to the genetic polymorphism of the ER. [20]

While estrogens are present in both men and women, they are usually present at significantly higher levels in women of reproductive age. They promote the development of female secondary sexual characteristics, such as breasts, and are also involved in the thickening of the endometrium and other aspects of regulating the menstrual cycle. In males, estrogen regulates certain functions of the reproductive system important to the maturation of sperm [21] [22] [23] and may be necessary for a healthy libido. [24]

Affinities of estrogen receptor ligands for the ERα and ERβ
Ligand Other names Relative binding affinities (RBA, %)a Absolute binding affinities (Ki, nM)aAction
Estradiol E2; 17β-Estradiol1001000.115 (0.04–0.24)0.15 (0.10–2.08)Estrogen
Estrone E1; 17-Ketoestradiol16.39 (0.7–60)6.5 (1.36–52)0.445 (0.3–1.01)1.75 (0.35–9.24)Estrogen
Estriol E3; 16α-OH-17β-E212.65 (4.03–56)26 (14.0–44.6)0.45 (0.35–1.4)0.7 (0.63–0.7)Estrogen
Estetrol E4; 15α,16α-Di-OH-17β-E24.03.04.919Estrogen
Alfatradiol 17α-Estradiol20.5 (7–80.1)8.195 (2–42)0.2–0.520.43–1.2Metabolite
16-Epiestriol 16β-Hydroxy-17β-estradiol7.795 (4.94–63)50 ? ?Metabolite
17-Epiestriol 16α-Hydroxy-17α-estradiol55.45 (29–103)79–80 ? ?Metabolite
16,17-Epiestriol 16β-Hydroxy-17α-estradiol1.013 ? ?Metabolite
2-Hydroxyestradiol 2-OH-E222 (7–81)11–352.51.3Metabolite
2-Methoxyestradiol 2-MeO-E20.0027–2.01.0 ? ?Metabolite
4-Hydroxyestradiol 4-OH-E213 (8–70)7–561.01.9Metabolite
4-Methoxyestradiol 4-MeO-E22.01.0 ? ?Metabolite
2-Hydroxyestrone 2-OH-E12.0–4.00.2–0.4 ? ?Metabolite
2-Methoxyestrone 2-MeO-E1<0.001–<1<1 ? ?Metabolite
4-Hydroxyestrone 4-OH-E11.0–2.01.0 ? ?Metabolite
4-Methoxyestrone 4-MeO-E1<1<1 ? ?Metabolite
16α-Hydroxyestrone 16α-OH-E1; 17-Ketoestriol2.0–6.535 ? ?Metabolite
2-Hydroxyestriol 2-OH-E32.01.0 ? ?Metabolite
4-Methoxyestriol 4-MeO-E31.01.0 ? ?Metabolite
Estradiol sulfate E2S; Estradiol 3-sulfate<1<1 ? ?Metabolite
Estradiol disulfate Estradiol 3,17β-disulfate0.0004 ? ? ?Metabolite
Estradiol 3-glucuronide E2-3G0.0079 ? ? ?Metabolite
Estradiol 17β-glucuronide E2-17G0.0015 ? ? ?Metabolite
Estradiol 3-gluc. 17β-sulfate E2-3G-17S0.0001 ? ? ?Metabolite
Estrone sulfate E1S; Estrone 3-sulfate<1<1>10>10Metabolite
Estradiol benzoate EB; Estradiol 3-benzoate10 ? ? ?Estrogen
Estradiol 17β-benzoate E2-17B11.332.6 ? ?Estrogen
Estrone methyl ether Estrone 3-methyl ether0.145 ? ? ?Estrogen
ent-Estradiol 1-Estradiol1.31–12.349.44–80.07 ? ?Estrogen
Equilin 7-Dehydroestrone13 (4.0–28.9)13.0–490.790.36Estrogen
Equilenin 6,8-Didehydroestrone2.0–157.0–200.640.62Estrogen
17β-Dihydroequilin 7-Dehydro-17β-estradiol7.9–1137.9–1080.090.17Estrogen
17α-Dihydroequilin 7-Dehydro-17α-estradiol18.6 (18–41)14–320.240.57Estrogen
17β-Dihydroequilenin 6,8-Didehydro-17β-estradiol35–6890–1000.150.20Estrogen
17α-Dihydroequilenin 6,8-Didehydro-17α-estradiol20490.500.37Estrogen
Δ8-Estradiol 8,9-Dehydro-17β-estradiol68720.150.25Estrogen
Δ8-Estrone 8,9-Dehydroestrone19320.520.57Estrogen
Ethinylestradiol EE; 17α-Ethynyl-17β-E2120.9 (68.8–480)44.4 (2.0–144)0.02–0.050.29–0.81Estrogen
Mestranol EE 3-methyl ether ?2.5 ? ?Estrogen
Moxestrol RU-2858; 11β-Methoxy-EE35–435–200.52.6Estrogen
Methylestradiol 17α-Methyl-17β-estradiol7044 ? ?Estrogen
Diethylstilbestrol DES; Stilbestrol129.5 (89.1–468)219.63 (61.2–295)0.040.05Estrogen
Hexestrol Dihydrodiethylstilbestrol153.6 (31–302)60–2340.060.06Estrogen
Dienestrol Dehydrostilbestrol37 (20.4–223)56–4040.050.03Estrogen
Benzestrol (B2) 114 ? ? ?Estrogen
Chlorotrianisene TACE1.74 ?15.30 ?Estrogen
Triphenylethylene TPE0.074 ? ? ?Estrogen
Triphenylbromoethylene TPBE2.69 ? ? ?Estrogen
Tamoxifen ICI-46,4743 (0.1–47)3.33 (0.28–6)3.4–9.692.5SERM
Afimoxifene 4-Hydroxytamoxifen; 4-OHT100.1 (1.7–257)10 (0.98–339)2.3 (0.1–3.61)0.04–4.8SERM
Toremifene 4-Chlorotamoxifen; 4-CT ? ?7.14–20.315.4SERM
Clomifene MRL-4125 (19.2–37.2)120.91.2SERM
Cyclofenil F-6066; Sexovid151–152243 ? ?SERM
Nafoxidine U-11,000A30.9–44160.30.8SERM
Raloxifene 41.2 (7.8–69)5.34 (0.54–16)0.188–0.5220.2SERM
Arzoxifene LY-353,381 ? ?0.179 ?SERM
Lasofoxifene CP-336,15610.2–16619.00.229 ?SERM
Ormeloxifene Centchroman ? ?0.313 ?SERM
Levormeloxifene 6720-CDRI; NNC-460,0201.551.88 ? ?SERM
Ospemifene Deaminohydroxytoremifene0.82–2.630.59–1.22 ? ?SERM
Bazedoxifene  ? ?0.053 ?SERM
Etacstil GW-56384.3011.5 ? ?SERM
ICI-164,384 63.5 (3.70–97.7)1660.20.08Antiestrogen
Fulvestrant ICI-182,78043.5 (9.4–325)21.65 (2.05–40.5)0.421.3Antiestrogen
Propylpyrazoletriol PPT49 (10.0–89.1)0.120.4092.8ERα agonist
16α-LE2 16α-Lactone-17β-estradiol14.6–570.0890.27131ERα agonist
16α-Iodo-E2 16α-Iodo-17β-estradiol30.22.30 ? ?ERα agonist
Methylpiperidinopyrazole MPP110.05 ? ?ERα antagonist
Diarylpropionitrile DPN0.12–0.256.6–1832.41.7ERβ agonist
8β-VE2 8β-Vinyl-17β-estradiol0.3522.0–8312.90.50ERβ agonist
Prinaberel ERB-041; WAY-202,0410.2767–72 ? ?ERβ agonist
ERB-196 WAY-202,196 ?180 ? ?ERβ agonist
Erteberel SERBA-1; LY-500,307 ? ?2.680.19ERβ agonist
SERBA-2  ? ?14.51.54ERβ agonist
Coumestrol 9.225 (0.0117–94)64.125 (0.41–185)0.14–80.00.07–27.0Xenoestrogen
Genistein 0.445 (0.0012–16)33.42 (0.86–87)2.6–1260.3–12.8Xenoestrogen
Equol 0.2–0.2870.85 (0.10–2.85) ? ?Xenoestrogen
Daidzein 0.07 (0.0018–9.3)0.7865 (0.04–17.1)2.085.3Xenoestrogen
Biochanin A 0.04 (0.022–0.15)0.6225 (0.010–1.2)1748.9Xenoestrogen
Kaempferol 0.07 (0.029–0.10)2.2 (0.002–3.00) ? ?Xenoestrogen
Naringenin 0.0054 (<0.001–0.01)0.15 (0.11–0.33) ? ?Xenoestrogen
8-Prenylnaringenin 8-PN4.4 ? ? ?Xenoestrogen
Quercetin <0.001–0.010.002–0.040 ? ?Xenoestrogen
Ipriflavone <0.01<0.01 ? ?Xenoestrogen
Miroestrol 0.39 ? ? ?Xenoestrogen
Deoxymiroestrol 2.0 ? ? ?Xenoestrogen
β-Sitosterol <0.001–0.0875<0.001–0.016 ? ?Xenoestrogen
Resveratrol <0.001–0.0032 ? ? ?Xenoestrogen
α-Zearalenol 48 (13–52.5) ? ? ?Xenoestrogen
β-Zearalenol 0.6 (0.032–13) ? ? ?Xenoestrogen
Zeranol α-Zearalanol48–111 ? ? ?Xenoestrogen
Taleranol β-Zearalanol16 (13–17.8)140.80.9Xenoestrogen
Zearalenone ZEN7.68 (2.04–28)9.45 (2.43–31.5) ? ?Xenoestrogen
Zearalanone ZAN0.51 ? ? ?Xenoestrogen
Bisphenol A BPA0.0315 (0.008–1.0)0.135 (0.002–4.23)19535Xenoestrogen
Endosulfan EDS<0.001–<0.01<0.01 ? ?Xenoestrogen
Kepone Chlordecone0.0069–0.2 ? ? ?Xenoestrogen
o,p'-DDT 0.0073–0.4 ? ? ?Xenoestrogen
p,p'-DDT 0.03 ? ? ?Xenoestrogen
Methoxychlor p,p'-Dimethoxy-DDT0.01 (<0.001–0.02)0.01–0.13 ? ?Xenoestrogen
HPTE Hydroxychlor; p,p'-OH-DDT1.2–1.7 ? ? ?Xenoestrogen
Testosterone T; 4-Androstenolone<0.0001–<0.01<0.002–0.040>5000>5000Androgen
Dihydrotestosterone DHT; 5α-Androstanolone0.01 (<0.001–0.05)0.0059–0.17221–>500073–1688Androgen
Nandrolone 19-Nortestosterone; 19-NT0.010.2376553Androgen
Dehydroepiandrosterone DHEA; Prasterone0.038 (<0.001–0.04)0.019–0.07245–1053163–515Androgen
5-Androstenediol A5; Androstenediol6173.60.9Androgen
4-Androstenediol 0.50.62319Androgen
4-Androstenedione A4; Androstenedione<0.01<0.01>10000>10000Androgen
3α-Androstanediol 3α-Adiol0.070.326048Androgen
3β-Androstanediol 3β-Adiol3762Androgen
Androstanedione 5α-Androstanedione<0.01<0.01>10000>10000Androgen
Etiocholanedione 5β-Androstanedione<0.01<0.01>10000>10000Androgen
Methyltestosterone 17α-Methyltestosterone<0.0001 ? ? ?Androgen
Ethinyl-3α-androstanediol 17α-Ethynyl-3α-adiol4.0<0.07 ? ?Estrogen
Ethinyl-3β-androstanediol 17α-Ethynyl-3β-adiol505.6 ? ?Estrogen
Progesterone P4; 4-Pregnenedione<0.001–0.6<0.001–0.010 ? ?Progestogen
Norethisterone NET; 17α-Ethynyl-19-NT0.085 (0.0015–<0.1)0.1 (0.01–0.3)1521084Progestogen
Norethynodrel 5(10)-Norethisterone0.5 (0.3–0.7)<0.1–0.221453Progestogen
Tibolone 7α-Methylnorethynodrel0.5 (0.45–2.0)0.2–0.076 ? ?Progestogen
Δ4-Tibolone 7α-Methylnorethisterone0.069–<0.10.027–<0.1 ? ?Progestogen
3α-Hydroxytibolone 2.5 (1.06–5.0)0.6–0.8 ? ?Progestogen
3β-Hydroxytibolone 1.6 (0.75–1.9)0.070–0.1 ? ?Progestogen
Footnotes:a = (1) Binding affinity values are of the format "median (range)" (# (#–#)), "range" (#–#), or "value" (#) depending on the values available. The full sets of values within the ranges can be found in the Wiki code. (2) Binding affinities were determined via displacement studies in a variety of in-vitro systems with labeled estradiol and human ERα and ERβ proteins (except the ERβ values from Kuiper et al. (1997), which are rat ERβ). Sources: See template page.
Relative affinities of estrogens for steroid hormone receptors and blood proteins
Estrogen Relative binding affinities (%)
Estradiol 1007.–12<0.1
Estradiol benzoate  ? ? ? ? ?<0.1–0.16<0.1
Estradiol valerate 2 ? ? ? ? ? ?
Estrone 11–35<1<1<1<12.7<0.1
Estrone sulfate 22 ? ? ? ? ?
Estriol 10–15<1<1<1<1<0.1<0.1
Equilin 40 ? ? ? ? ?0
Alfatradiol 15<1<1<1<1 ? ?
Epiestriol 20<1<1<1<1 ? ?
Ethinylestradiol 100–1121–315–251–3<10.18<0.1
Mestranol 1 ? ? ? ?<0.1<0.1
Methylestradiol 671–33–251–3<1 ? ?
Moxestrol 12<<0.1<0.2<0.1
Diethylstilbestrol  ? ? ? ? ?<0.1<0.1
Notes: Reference ligands (100%) were progesterone for the PR, testosterone for the AR, estradiol for the ER, dexamethasone for the GR, aldosterone for the MR, dihydrotestosterone for SHBG, and cortisol for CBG. Sources: See template.
Affinities and estrogenic potencies of estrogen esters and ethers at the estrogen receptors
Estrogen Other names RBA (%)a REP (%)b
Estradiol E2100100100
Estradiol 3-sulfate E2S; E2-3S ?0.020.04
Estradiol 3-glucuronide E2-3G ?0.020.09
Estradiol 17β-glucuronide E2-17G ?0.0020.0002
Estradiol benzoate EB; Estradiol 3-benzoate101.10.52
Estradiol 17β-acetate E2-17A31–4524 ?
Estradiol diacetate EDA; Estradiol 3,17β-diacetate ?0.79 ?
Estradiol propionate EP; Estradiol 17β-propionate19–262.6 ?
Estradiol valerate EV; Estradiol 17β-valerate2–110.04–21 ?
Estradiol cypionate EC; Estradiol 17β-cypionate ?c4.0 ?
Estradiol palmitate Estradiol 17β-palmitate0 ? ?
Estradiol stearate Estradiol 17β-stearate0 ? ?
Estrone E1; 17-Ketoestradiol115.3–3814
Estrone sulfate E1S; Estrone 3-sulfate20.0040.002
Estrone glucuronide E1G; Estrone 3-glucuronide ?<0.0010.0006
Ethinylestradiol EE; 17α-Ethynylestradiol10017–150129
Mestranol EE 3-methyl ether11.3–8.20.16
Quinestrol EE 3-cyclopentyl ether ?0.37 ?
Footnotes:a = Relative binding affinities (RBAs) were determined via in-vitro displacement of labeled estradiol from estrogen receptors (ERs) generally of rodent uterine cytosol. Estrogen esters are variably hydrolyzed into estrogens in these systems (shorter ester chain length -> greater rate of hydrolysis) and the ER RBAs of the esters decrease strongly when hydrolysis is prevented. b = Relative estrogenic potencies (REPs) were calculated from half-maximal effective concentrations (EC50) that were determined via in-vitro β‐galactosidase (β-gal) and green fluorescent protein (GFP) production assays in yeast expressing human ERα and human ERβ. Both mammalian cells and yeast have the capacity to hydrolyze estrogen esters. c = The affinities of estradiol cypionate for the ERs are similar to those of estradiol valerate and estradiol benzoate (figure). Sources: See template page.
Selected biological properties of endogenous estrogens in rats
Estrogen ER RBA (%) Uterine weight (%) Uterotrophy LH levels (%) SHBG RBA (%)
Estradiol (E2) 100506 ± 20+++12–19100
Estrone (E1) 11 ± 8490 ± 22+++ ?20
Estriol (E3) 10 ± 4468 ± 30+++8–183
Estetrol (E4) 0.5 ± 0.2 ?Inactive ?1
17α-Estradiol 4.2 ± 0.8 ? ? ? ?
2-Hydroxyestradiol 24 ± 7285 ± 8+b31–6128
2-Methoxyestradiol 0.05 ± 0.04101Inactive ?130
4-Hydroxyestradiol 45 ± 12 ? ? ? ?
4-Methoxyestradiol 1.3 ± 0.2260++ ?9
4-Fluoroestradiol a180 ± 43 ?+++ ? ?
2-Hydroxyestrone 1.9 ± 0.8130 ± 9Inactive110–1428
2-Methoxyestrone 0.01 ± 0.00103 ± 7Inactive95–100120
4-Hydroxyestrone 11 ± 4351++21–5035
4-Methoxyestrone 0.13 ± 0.04338++65–9212
16α-Hydroxyestrone 2.8 ± 1.0552 ± 42+++7–24<0.5
2-Hydroxyestriol 0.9 ± 0.3302+b ? ?
2-Methoxyestriol 0.01 ± 0.00 ?Inactive ?4
Notes: Values are mean ± SD or range. ERRBA = Relative binding affinity to estrogen receptors of rat uterine cytosol. Uterine weight = Percentage change in uterine wet weight of ovariectomized rats after 72 hours with continuous administration of 1 μg/hour via subcutaneously implanted osmotic pumps. LH levels = Luteinizing hormone levels relative to baseline of ovariectomized rats after 24 to 72 hours of continuous administration via subcutaneous implant. Footnotes:a = Synthetic (i.e., not endogenous). b = Atypical uterotrophic effect which plateaus within 48 hours (estradiol's uterotrophy continues linearly up to 72 hours). Sources: See template.

Overview of actions

Female pubertal development

Estrogens are responsible for the development of female secondary sexual characteristics during puberty, including breast development, widening of the hips, and female fat distribution. Conversely, androgens are responsible for pubic and body hair growth, as well as acne and axillary odor.

Breast development

Estrogen, in conjunction with growth hormone (GH) and its secretory product insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), is critical in mediating breast development during puberty, as well as breast maturation during pregnancy in preparation of lactation and breastfeeding. [41] [42] Estrogen is primarily and directly responsible for inducing the ductal component of breast development, [43] [44] [45] as well as for causing fat deposition and connective tissue growth. [43] [44] It is also indirectly involved in the lobuloalveolar component, by increasing progesterone receptor expression in the breasts [43] [45] [46] and by inducing the secretion of prolactin. [47] [48] Allowed for by estrogen, progesterone and prolactin work together to complete lobuloalveolar development during pregnancy. [44] [49]

Androgens such as testosterone powerfully oppose estrogen action in the breasts, such as by reducing estrogen receptor expression in them. [50] [51]

Female reproductive system

Estrogens are responsible for maturation and maintenance of the vagina and uterus, and are also involved in ovarian function, such as maturation of ovarian follicles. In addition, estrogens play an important role in regulation of gonadotropin secretion. For these reasons, estrogens are required for female fertility.

Neuroprotection and DNA repair

Estrogen regulated DNA repair mechanisms in the brain have neuroprotective effects. [52] Estrogen regulates the transcription of DNA base excision repair genes as well as the translocation of the base excision repair enzymes between different subcellular compartments.

Brain and behavior

Sex drive

Estrogens are involved in libido (sex drive) in both women and men.


Verbal memory scores are frequently used as one measure of higher level cognition. These scores vary in direct proportion to estrogen levels throughout the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause. Furthermore, estrogens when administered shortly after natural or surgical menopause prevents decreases in verbal memory. In contrast, estrogens have little effect on verbal memory if first administered years after menopause. [53] Estrogens also have positive influences on other measures of cognitive function. [54] However the effect of estrogens on cognition is not uniformly favorable and is dependent on the timing of the dose and the type of cognitive skill being measured. [55]

The protective effects of estrogens on cognition may be mediated by estrogen's anti-inflammatory effects in the brain. [56] Studies have also shown that the Met allele gene and level of estrogen mediates the efficiency of prefrontal cortex dependent working memory tasks. [57] [58] Researchers have urged for further research to illuminate the role of estrogen and its potential for improvement on cognitive function. [59]

Mental health

Estrogen is considered to play a significant role in women's mental health. Sudden estrogen withdrawal, fluctuating estrogen, and periods of sustained low estrogen levels correlate with a significant lowering of mood. Clinical recovery from postpartum, perimenopause, and postmenopause depression has been shown to be effective after levels of estrogen were stabilized and/or restored. [60] [61] [62] Menstrual exacerbation (including menstrual psychosis) is typically triggered by low estrogen levels, [63] and is often mistaken for premenstrual dysphoric disorder. [64]

Compulsions in male lab mice, such as those in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), may be caused by low estrogen levels. When estrogen levels were raised through the increased activity of the enzyme aromatase in male lab mice, OCD rituals were dramatically decreased. Hypothalamic protein levels in the gene COMT are enhanced by increasing estrogen levels which are believed to return mice that displayed OCD rituals to normal activity. Aromatase deficiency is ultimately suspected which is involved in the synthesis of estrogen in humans and has therapeutic implications in humans having obsessive-compulsive disorder. [65]

Local application of estrogen in the rat hippocampus has been shown to inhibit the re-uptake of serotonin. Contrarily, local application of estrogen has been shown to block the ability of fluvoxamine to slow serotonin clearance, suggesting that the same pathways which are involved in SSRI efficacy may also be affected by components of local estrogen signaling pathways. [66]


Studies have also found that fathers had lower levels of cortisol and testosterone but higher levels of estrogen (estradiol) than did non-fathers. [67]

Binge eating

Estrogen may play a role in suppressing binge eating. Hormone replacement therapy using estrogen may be a possible treatment for binge eating behaviors in females. Estrogen replacement has been shown to suppress binge eating behaviors in female mice. [68] The mechanism by which estrogen replacement inhibits binge-like eating involves the replacement of serotonin (5-HT) neurons. Women exhibiting binge eating behaviors are found to have increased brain uptake of neuron 5-HT, and therefore less of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the cerebrospinal fluid. [69] Estrogen works to activate 5-HT neurons, leading to suppression of binge like eating behaviors. [68]

It is also suggested that there is an interaction between hormone levels and eating at different points in the female menstrual cycle. Research has predicted increased emotional eating during hormonal flux, which is characterized by high progesterone and estradiol levels that occur during the mid-luteal phase. It is hypothesized that these changes occur due to brain changes across the menstrual cycle that are likely a genomic effect of hormones. These effects produce menstrual cycle changes, which result in hormone release leading to behavioral changes, notably binge and emotional eating. These occur especially prominently among women who are genetically vulnerable to binge eating phenotypes. [70]

Binge eating is associated with decreased estradiol and increased progesterone. [71] Klump et al. [72] Progesterone may moderate the effects of low estradiol (such as during dysregulated eating behavior), but that this may only be true in women who have had clinically diagnosed binge episodes (BEs). Dysregulated eating is more strongly associated with such ovarian hormones in women with BEs than in women without BEs. [72]

The implantation of 17β-estradiol pellets in ovariectomized mice significantly reduced binge eating behaviors and injections of GLP-1 in ovariectomized mice decreased binge-eating behaviors. [68]

The associations between binge eating, menstrual-cycle phase and ovarian hormones correlated. [71] [73] [74]

Masculinization in rodents

In rodents, estrogens (which are locally aromatized from androgens in the brain) play an important role in psychosexual differentiation, for example, by masculinizing territorial behavior; [75] the same is not true in humans. [76] In humans, the masculinizing effects of prenatal androgens on behavior (and other tissues, with the possible exception of effects on bone) appear to act exclusively through the androgen receptor. [77] Consequently, the utility of rodent models for studying human psychosexual differentiation has been questioned. [78]

Skeletal system

Estrogens are responsible for both the pubertal growth spurt, which causes an acceleration in linear growth, and epiphyseal closure, which limits height and limb length, in both females and males. In addition, estrogens are responsible for bone maturation and maintenance of bone mineral density throughout life. Due to hypoestrogenism, the risk of osteoporosis increases during menopause.

Cardiovascular system

Women are less impacted by heart disease due to vasculo-protective action of estrogen which helps in preventing atherosclerosis. [79] It also helps in maintaining the delicate balance between fighting infections and protecting arteries from damage thus lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. [80] During pregnancy, high levels of estrogens increase coagulation and the risk of venous thromboembolism. Estrogen has been shown to upregulate the peptide hormone adropin. [81]

Absolute and relative incidence of venous thromboembolism (VTE) during pregnancy and the postpartum period
Absolute incidence of first VTE per 10,000 person–years during pregnancy and the postpartum period
Swedish data ASwedish data BEnglish dataDanish data
Time periodNRate (95% CI)NRate (95% CI)NRate (95% CI)NRate (95% CI)
Outside pregnancy11054.2 (4.0–4.4)10153.8 (?)14803.2 (3.0–3.3)28953.6 (3.4–3.7)
Antepartum99520.5 (19.2–21.8)69014.2 (13.2–15.3)1569.9 (8.5–11.6)49110.7 (9.7–11.6)
  Trimester 120713.6 (11.8–15.5)17211.3 (9.7–13.1)234.6 (3.1–7.0)614.1 (3.2–5.2)
  Trimester 227517.4 (15.4–19.6)17811.2 (9.7–13.0)305.8 (4.1–8.3)755.7 (4.6–7.2)
  Trimester 351329.2 (26.8–31.9)34019.4 (17.4–21.6)10318.2 (15.0–22.1)35519.7 (17.7–21.9)
Around delivery115154.6 (128.8–185.6)79106.1 (85.1–132.3)34142.8 (102.0–199.8)
Postpartum64942.3 (39.2–45.7)50933.1 (30.4–36.1)13527.4 (23.1–32.4)21817.5 (15.3–20.0)
  Early postpartum58475.4 (69.6–81.8)46059.3 (54.1–65.0)17746.8 (39.1–56.1)19930.4 (26.4–35.0)
  Late postpartum658.5 (7.0–10.9)496.4 (4.9–8.5)187.3 (4.6–11.6)3193.2 (1.9–5.0)
Incidence rate ratios (IRRs) of first VTE during pregnancy and the postpartum period
Swedish data ASwedish data BEnglish dataDanish data
Time periodIRR* (95% CI)IRR* (95% CI)IRR (95% CI)†IRR (95% CI)†
Outside pregnancy
Reference (i.e., 1.00)
Antepartum5.08 (4.66–5.54)3.80 (3.44–4.19)3.10 (2.63–3.66)2.95 (2.68–3.25)
  Trimester 13.42 (2.95–3.98)3.04 (2.58–3.56)1.46 (0.96–2.20)1.12 (0.86–1.45)
  Trimester 24.31 (3.78–4.93)3.01 (2.56–3.53)1.82 (1.27–2.62)1.58 (1.24–1.99)
  Trimester 37.14 (6.43–7.94)5.12 (4.53–5.80)5.69 (4.66–6.95)5.48 (4.89–6.12)
Around delivery37.5 (30.9–44.45)27.97 (22.24–35.17)44.5 (31.68–62.54)
Postpartum10.21 (9.27–11.25)8.72 (7.83–9.70)8.54 (7.16–10.19)4.85 (4.21–5.57)
  Early postpartum19.27 (16.53–20.21)15.62 (14.00–17.45)14.61 (12.10–17.67)8.44 (7.27–9.75)
  Late postpartum2.06 (1.60–2.64)1.69 (1.26–2.25)2.29 (1.44–3.65)0.89 (0.53–1.39)
Notes: Swedish data A = Using any code for VTE regardless of confirmation. Swedish data B = Using only algorithm-confirmed VTE. Early postpartum = First 6 weeks after delivery. Late postpartum = More than 6 weeks after delivery. * = Adjusted for age and calendar year. † = Unadjusted ratio calculated based on the data provided. Source: [82]

Immune system

Estrogen has anti-inflammatory properties and helps in mobilization of polymorphonuclear white blood cells or neutrophils. [80]

Associated conditions

Researchers have implicated estrogens in various estrogen-dependent conditions, such as ER-positive breast cancer, as well as a number of genetic conditions involving estrogen signaling or metabolism, such as estrogen insensitivity syndrome, aromatase deficiency, and aromatase excess syndrome.

High estrogen can amplify stress-hormone responses in stressful situations. [83]



Steroidogenesis, showing estrogens at bottom right as in pink triangle. Steroidogenesis.svg
Steroidogenesis, showing estrogens at bottom right as in pink triangle.

Estrogens, in females, are produced primarily by the ovaries, and during pregnancy, the placenta. [85] Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) stimulates the ovarian production of estrogens by the granulosa cells of the ovarian follicles and corpora lutea. Some estrogens are also produced in smaller amounts by other tissues such as the liver, pancreas, bone, adrenal glands, skin, brain, adipose tissue, [86] and the breasts. [87] These secondary sources of estrogens are especially important in postmenopausal women. [88] The pathway of estrogen biosynthesis in extragonadal tissues is different. These tissues are not able to synthesize C19 steroids, and therefore depend on C19 supplies from other tissues [88] and the level of aromatase. [89]

In females, synthesis of estrogens starts in theca interna cells in the ovary, by the synthesis of androstenedione from cholesterol. Androstenedione is a substance of weak androgenic activity which serves predominantly as a precursor for more potent androgens such as testosterone as well as estrogen. This compound crosses the basal membrane into the surrounding granulosa cells, where it is converted either immediately into estrone, or into testosterone and then estradiol in an additional step. The conversion of androstenedione to testosterone is catalyzed by 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (17β-HSD), whereas the conversion of androstenedione and testosterone into estrone and estradiol, respectively is catalyzed by aromatase, enzymes which are both expressed in granulosa cells. In contrast, granulosa cells lack 17α-hydroxylase and 17,20-lyase, whereas theca cells express these enzymes and 17β-HSD but lack aromatase. Hence, both granulosa and theca cells are essential for the production of estrogen in the ovaries.

Estrogen levels vary through the menstrual cycle, with levels highest near the end of the follicular phase just before ovulation.

Note that in males, estrogen is also produced by the Sertoli cells when FSH binds to their FSH receptors.

Production rates, secretion rates, clearance rates, and blood levels of major sex hormones
SexSex hormoneReproductive
production rate
secretion rate
clearance rate
Reference range (serum levels)
SI unitsNon-SI units
Men Androstenedione
2.8 mg/day1.6 mg/day2200 L/day2.8–7.3 nmol/L80–210 ng/dL
6.5 mg/day6.2 mg/day950 L/day6.9–34.7 nmol/L200–1000 ng/dL
150 μg/day110 μg/day2050 L/day37–250 pmol/L10–70 pg/mL
60 μg/day50 μg/day1600 L/day<37–210 pmol/L10–57 pg/mL
Estrone sulfate
80 μg/dayInsignificant167 L/day600–2500 pmol/L200–900 pg/mL
Women Androstenedione
3.2 mg/day2.8 mg/day2000 L/day3.1–12.2 nmol/L89–350 ng/dL
190 μg/day60 μg/day500 L/day0.7–2.8 nmol/L20–81 ng/dL
Estrone Follicular phase110 μg/day80 μg/day2200 L/day110–400 pmol/L30–110 pg/mL
Luteal phase260 μg/day150 μg/day2200 L/day310–660 pmol/L80–180 pg/mL
Postmenopause40 μg/dayInsignificant1610 L/day22–230 pmol/L6–60 pg/mL
Estradiol Follicular phase90 μg/day80 μg/day1200 L/day<37–360 pmol/L10–98 pg/mL
Luteal phase250 μg/day240 μg/day1200 L/day699–1250 pmol/L190–341 pg/mL
Postmenopause6 μg/dayInsignificant910 L/day<37–140 pmol/L10–38 pg/mL
Estrone sulfate Follicular phase100 μg/dayInsignificant146 L/day700–3600 pmol/L250–1300 pg/mL
Luteal phase180 μg/dayInsignificant146 L/day1100–7300 pmol/L400–2600 pg/mL
Progesterone Follicular phase2 mg/day1.7 mg/day2100 L/day0.3–3 nmol/L0.1–0.9 ng/mL
Luteal phase25 mg/day24 mg/day2100 L/day19–45 nmol/L6–14 ng/mL
Notes and sources
Notes: "The concentration of a steroid in the circulation is determined by the rate at which it is secreted from glands, the rate of metabolism of precursor or prehormones into the steroid, and the rate at which it is extracted by tissues and metabolized. The secretion rate of a steroid refers to the total secretion of the compound from a gland per unit time. Secretion rates have been assessed by sampling the venous effluent from a gland over time and subtracting out the arterial and peripheral venous hormone concentration. The metabolic clearance rate of a steroid is defined as the volume of blood that has been completely cleared of the hormone per unit time. The production rate of a steroid hormone refers to entry into the blood of the compound from all possible sources, including secretion from glands and conversion of prohormones into the steroid of interest. At steady state, the amount of hormone entering the blood from all sources will be equal to the rate at which it is being cleared (metabolic clearance rate) multiplied by blood concentration (production rate = metabolic clearance rate × concentration). If there is little contribution of prohormone metabolism to the circulating pool of steroid, then the production rate will approximate the secretion rate." Sources: See template.


Estrogens are plasma protein bound to albumin and/or sex hormone-binding globulin in the circulation.


Estrogens are metabolized via hydroxylation by cytochrome P450 enzymes such as CYP1A1 and CYP3A4 and via conjugation by estrogen sulfotransferases (sulfation) and UDP-glucuronyltransferases (glucuronidation). In addition, estradiol is dehydrogenated by 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase into the much less potent estrogen estrone. These reactions occur primarily in the liver, but also in other tissues.


Estrogens are excreted primarily by the kidneys as conjugates via the urine.

Medical use

Estrogens are used as medications, mainly in hormonal contraception, hormone replacement therapy, [90] and to treat gender dysphoria in transgender women and other transfeminine individuals as part of feminizing hormone therapy. [91]


The estrogen steroid hormones are estrane steroids.


In 1929, Adolf Butenandt and Edward Adelbert Doisy independently isolated and purified estrone, the first estrogen to be discovered. [92] Then, estriol and estradiol were discovered in 1930 and 1933, respectively. Shortly following their discovery, estrogens, both natural and synthetic, were introduced for medical use. Examples include estriol glucuronide (Emmenin, Progynon), estradiol benzoate, conjugated estrogens (Premarin), diethylstilbestrol, and ethinylestradiol.

The word estrogen derives from Ancient Greek. It is derived from "oestros" [93] (a periodic state of sexual activity in female mammals), and genos (generating). [93] It was first published in the early 1920s and referenced as "oestrin". [94] With the years, American English adapted the spelling of estrogen to fit with its phonetic pronunciation. Nevertheless, both estrogen and oestrogen are used nowadays, yet some still wish to maintain its original spelling as it reflects the origin of the word.

Society and culture


The name estrogen is derived from the Greek οἶστρος (oîstros), literally meaning "verve" or "inspiration" but figuratively sexual passion or desire, [95] and the suffix -gen , meaning "producer of".


A range of synthetic and natural substances that possess estrogenic activity have been identified in the environment and are referred to xenoestrogens. [96]

Estrogens are among the wide range of endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) because they have high estrogenic potency. When an EDC makes its way into the environment, it may cause male reproductive dysfunction to wildlife and humans. [12] [13] The estrogen excreted from farm animals makes its way into fresh water systems. [97] During the germination period of reproduction the fish are exposed to low levels of estrogen which may cause reproductive dysfunction to male fish. [98] [99]


Some hair shampoos on the market include estrogens and placental extracts; others contain phytoestrogens. In 1998, there were case reports of four prepubescent African-American girls developing breasts after exposure to these shampoos. [100] In 1993, the FDA determined that not all over-the-counter topically applied hormone-containing drug products for human use are generally recognized as safe and effective and are misbranded. An accompanying proposed rule deals with cosmetics, concluding that any use of natural estrogens in a cosmetic product makes the product an unapproved new drug and that any cosmetic using the term "hormone" in the text of its labeling or in its ingredient statement makes an implied drug claim, subjecting such a product to regulatory action. [101]

In addition to being considered misbranded drugs, products claiming to contain placental extract may also be deemed to be misbranded cosmetics if the extract has been prepared from placentas from which the hormones and other biologically active substances have been removed and the extracted substance consists principally of protein. The FDA recommends that this substance be identified by a name other than "placental extract" and describing its composition more accurately because consumers associate the name "placental extract" with a therapeutic use of some biological activity. [101]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Estradiol</span> Chemical compound

Estradiol (E2), also spelled oestradiol, is an estrogen steroid hormone and the major female sex hormone. It is involved in the regulation of the estrous and menstrual female reproductive cycles. Estradiol is responsible for the development of female secondary sexual characteristics such as the breasts, widening of the hips and a female-associated pattern of fat distribution. It is also important in the development and maintenance of female reproductive tissues such as the mammary glands, uterus and vagina during puberty, adulthood and pregnancy. It also has important effects in many other tissues including bone, fat, skin, liver, and the brain.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Androstenedione</span> Endogenous weak androgen

Androstenedione, or 4-androstenedione, also known as androst-4-ene-3,17-dione, is an endogenous weak androgen steroid hormone and intermediate in the biosynthesis of estrone and of testosterone from dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). It is closely related to androstenediol (androst-5-ene-3β,17β-diol).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Estrone</span> Chemical compound

Estrone (E1), also spelled oestrone, is a steroid, a weak estrogen, and a minor female sex hormone. It is one of three major endogenous estrogens, the others being estradiol and estriol. Estrone, as well as the other estrogens, are synthesized from cholesterol and secreted mainly from the gonads, though they can also be formed from adrenal androgens in adipose tissue. Relative to estradiol, both estrone and estriol have far weaker activity as estrogens. Estrone can be converted into estradiol, and serves mainly as a precursor or metabolic intermediate of estradiol. It is both a precursor and metabolite of estradiol.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Estriol</span> Chemical compound

Estriol (E3), also spelled oestriol, is a steroid, a weak estrogen, and a minor female sex hormone. It is one of three major endogenous estrogens, the others being estradiol and estrone. Levels of estriol in women who are not pregnant are almost undetectable. However, during pregnancy, estriol is synthesized in very high quantities by the placenta and is the most produced estrogen in the body by far, although circulating levels of estriol are similar to those of other estrogens due to a relatively high rate of metabolism and excretion. Relative to estradiol, both estriol and estrone have far weaker activity as estrogens.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tibolone</span> Chemical compound

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Estrone sulfate</span> Chemical compound

Estrone sulfate, also known as E1S, E1SO4 and estrone 3-sulfate, is a natural, endogenous steroid and an estrogen ester and conjugate.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aromatase deficiency</span> Medical condition

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Estetrol</span> Chemical compound

Estetrol (E4), or oestetrol, is one of the four natural estrogenic steroid hormones found in humans, along with estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), and estriol (E3), estetrol is a major estrogen in the body. In contrast to estrone and estradiol, estetrol is a native estrogen of fetal life. Estetrol is produced exclusively by the fetal liver and is found in detectable levels only during pregnancy, with relatively high levels in the fetus and lower levels in the maternal circulation.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Conjugated estrogens</span> Estrogen medication

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Estradiol sulfate</span> Chemical compound

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Estradiol (medication)</span> Steroidal hormone medication

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Estrogen (medication)</span> Type of medication

An estrogen (E) is a type of medication which is used most commonly in hormonal birth control and menopausal hormone therapy, and as part of feminizing hormone therapy for transgender women. They can also be used in the treatment of hormone-sensitive cancers like breast cancer and prostate cancer and for various other indications. Estrogens are used alone or in combination with progestogens. They are available in a wide variety of formulations and for use by many different routes of administration. Examples of estrogens include bioidentical estradiol, natural conjugated estrogens, synthetic steroidal estrogens like ethinylestradiol, and synthetic nonsteroidal estrogens like diethylstilbestrol. Estrogens are one of three types of sex hormone agonists, the others being androgens/anabolic steroids like testosterone and progestogens like progesterone.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Estriol (medication)</span>

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Estrone (medication)</span> Estrogen medication

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pharmacokinetics of estradiol</span>

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