The surprising hormone that protects against heart disease


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Photo: Getty Images/WestEnd61; Graphics: Well+Good Creative

You may go days (or even weeks or years) at a time without thinking about your hormones. For example, estrogen is well-known primary hormone produced by your ovaries, adrenal glands, and fat tissues that’s primarily associated with the vital role it plays during puberty. But it affects your life far beyond your early teenage years. According to Nataki Douglas, MD, PhD, chair of Modern Fertility Medical Advisory Board, estrogen also helps to shield against heart disease.

At the most recent Well+Good TALK in New York City, “Why Your Hormones Are at the Center of Everything,” Dr. Douglas explained why estrogen is a heart health superstar. “When we’re looking at estrogen in a reproductive age woman, we’re looking at the great protective effect estrogen has on our heart,” she said. “As women, we have a much lower risk of heart disease as compared to men… What really governs that is estrogen. Estrogen helps keep our good cholesterol—HDL—high, and our bad cholesterol—LDL—low. Estrogen works to keep the blood vessels dilated and pliable, so there’s easy blood flow and not a lot of plaque.”

As estrogen levels begin to fall naturally in postmenopausal women, the risk of heart disease increases. When estrogen levels are low, but they’re premenopausal, Dr. Douglas says that can be cause for concern. “As a reproductive endocrinologist, I think about women who have low estrogen when they’re premenopausal. If you’re in your 20s, 30s, and 40s, and your estrogen levels are low, you then increase your risk for heart disease early in life.” In either case, it’s best to speak to your primary healthcare provider to see what steps you can take to help prevent the onset of heart disease.

In addition to protecting your heart, estrogen helps your brain and your bones. If up until now you’ve only ever been grateful of estrogen for your middle school glow-up, now you have three more reasons to appreciate the hardworking hormone.

Check out the 4 things and endocrinologist for her hormone health, and why your period poops are so painful (hint: your hormones have a role). 

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