08 January 2008

The Other Estrogen

Estrogen, which we normally think of as the female sex hormone (although men also have it in smaller amounts), impacts two different systems in the body, one called alpha receptors associated mostly with cell growth, and another called beta receptors, discovered in the late 1990s, whose purposes we are just discovering, according to Science News.

[T]he beta receptor has been found to protect against cancer, keep the immune system in check, help serious trauma patients survive their injuries, and keep people from being too anxious. A recent spate of studies on the receptor could lead to a new generation of hormone-based drugs for infertility, breast cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and a myriad of other conditions.

This second system may regulate ovulation timing, may be behind the cancer preventing properties of coffee and soy, control inflamation, help fight infections, and set pain thresholds. It may also be associated with many of the symptoms associated with menopause. There are also compounds called estrogen receptor beta agonists, in addition to estrogen, that activate only this system of the body, and other compounds called agonists that impact only the alpha receptors.

Thus a wide range of physical symptoms previously considered unrelated may now be understood to be part of a single system susceptible to treatment with a single class of drugs.

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