What Happens to Estrogen Levels at Menopause?
During and after menopause, the level of estrogen production declines dramatically, but it never stops altogether. Estrogen levels drop only 40-60% at menopause while progesterone levels can drop to almost zero. Other glands and body cells pitch in to help produce the missing hormones once the ovaries stop functioning.
The fat cells play a major role in production of estrogen after menopause. The fat cells can take androgens and convert them into estrone, a weak form of estrogen.
Androgens include testosterone, dihydrotestosterone, androstanediol and DHEA among others. The pre-cursor hormone to the androgens is pregnenolone. Pregnenolone follows a pathway either through progesterone or DHEA. At menopause, when ovary function slows down, the adrenal DHEA pathway becomes more active. The body fat of a woman becomes a reservoir for the major androgens and some of them are converted into the estrone.
As you can see from the chart below, androgens circulate through a woman’s body during the reproductive years and are produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands. The ovaries secrete a small amount of androgens while the adrenal glands contribute to the bulk of the supply.
Another important factor determining the amount of estrone in a woman’s body is her weight. The heavier a woman is, the higher percent of body fat, the more likely she is to have high levels of estrone. Therefore obese women tend to have less severe menopausal symptoms than thinner women.
Keep in mind that estrogen production in the body from fat cells is not released cyclically, but instead in a stable and steady manner.
Gary De Vane, “Hormonal Changes During the Climacteric,” Menopause Update, vol. 1, no. 2 (1983),
Lee, John R., “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause.”