Estrogen is the primary hormone produced in the ovaries. The ovaries begin their production of estrogen in response to chemical stimulation from the area of the brain known as the pituitary gland. Low levels of estrogen in young women can occur when there is an issue with the ovaries’ ability to produce estrogen and whether or not the signaling pathway from the brain to the ovaries is working properly. Low estrogen levels can affect physical characteristics, behaviors and fertility potential.
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A medical syndrome that commonly affects young women is the combination of occurrences known as the female athlete triad. The female athlete triad consists of disordered eating, bone loss and issues with menstruation. The excessive exercise and disordered eating that initiates the downward spiraling event results in low estrogen levels, according to a 2000 "American Family Physician" journal article. The competition to be the best, to fit into weight classifications and look a certain way leads to this athletic disease. The 2000 article notes that certain sports increase a young woman’s risk of developing the triad, because of their restrictive and idealistic imagery. These sports include gymnastics, figure skating, ballet, distance running, diving and swimming.
Fat and Calorie Restriction
Estrogens are hormones. Cholesterol, a type of fat in the diet forms the backbone structure of all hormones in the body. Severely limiting fat in the diet, especially during the years of menarche, or onset of menses, can have devastating effects on estrogen production and the onset of a period, according to Aetna Intelihealth disease database. When body fat is below 22 percent or has not reached the level that will trigger the hypothalamus and pituitary to start speaking to the ovaries, the ovaries will not start, or will abruptly stop their production of estrogen. Low levels of circulating estrogen will halt the normal menstrual cycle in actively cycling women and may prevent the onset of the first menstrual bleed in younger, preteen or teenage women.
Genetics and Toxins
A woman can have genetic reasons why her ovaries make insufficient levels of estrogen. A genetic condition known as Turner syndrome, which prevents the ovaries from developing normally, can lead to low levels of estrogen that will lead to a delay of menstruation. In this genetic condition, altered genes determine internal and external sexual characteristics.
Medications can be toxic to the ovaries. The Center for Young Women’s Health notes that the use of radiation and chemotherapy, especially of the pelvic area can lead to very low estrogen levels. In these cases, the use of oral contraceptives that can replace the estrogen that the body is lacking, would be appropriate.