The main male hormone is testosterone, almost everyone who did not skip biology classes in high school knows this. And estrogen is a female hormone, and everyone knows this too. But it turns out that everything is much more complicated: both of these hormones are important and necessary for people of both sexes. And even for those who have not decided on the gender with all confidence.
Sex hormones predominate in individuals of a certain sex, but are normally present in both women and men. But what should they do in the body of the opposite sex?
MedAboutMe offers to find out why men need estrogen too, and what its role is in the male body.
Estrogen and its role
Estrogen is produced by the adrenal glands, fat cells, ovaries, and testes. This hormone is important not only for female reproductive function, but also for males too.
In women, it regulates the menstrual cycle and is «responsible» for puberty. In men, the normal activity of the testicles and the production of seminal fluid, as well as the desire and ability to have sexual contact, that is, sexual desire and the ability to have an erection, depend on estrogen. But that’s not all.
Estrogen is involved in the regulation of cholesterol levels, and the risk of developing osteoporosis largely depends on it. Cardiovascular health is also related to estrogen levels. That is why heart attacks in women happen less often. But only until the onset of menopause, at which the level of estrogen in the blood decreases.
There are three types of hormone under the general name estrogen.
The main form is estradiol. Estriol is produced predominantly in pregnant women, while estrone predominates in postmenopausal women. Estradione and estrone are predominantly present in the male body.
For men, neither an increase in the level of estrogen in the blood, nor its excessive decrease is desirable.
Rex A. Hess, andrologist
Although estrogens are considered female hormones, the fact that men also have them has been known for almost 100 years. And at first it was believed that estrogen was harmful to male reproductive function. However, later it was discovered that this hormone is produced mainly in the testicles, in a smaller amount in the adrenal glands, and estrogen is necessary for the normal functioning of the male reproductive system. Studies in mice have shown that a lack of estrogen receptors or lack of estrogen lead to abnormalities in the development of the epididymis, prostate gland and infertility.
Symptoms of high hormone levels
With an increased level of estrogen, a man may experience difficulties with intimate life due to erectile dysfunction, and the ability to fertilize is reduced. A frequent companion of these problems is depression.
It is not uncommon for high estrogen levels to cause gynecomastia: female-type breast enlargement.
Body hair loss and decreased muscle mass are also likely.
During adolescence, elevated estrogen levels can lead to delayed puberty and premature cessation of growth. Perhaps underdevelopment of the genital organs or their small size.
Some studies link elevated estrogen levels in men to a higher risk of migraine. Hot flashes are also likely, as some women have during menopause.
Causes of increased estrogen levels in men
Increased estrogen production may be genetic in nature. A link with low testosterone levels is likely, but this is not necessary.
High estrogen levels in men can be a symptom of diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, an overactive thyroid gland, or tumors of the testicles and adrenal glands.
Alcohol abuse can also cause an increase in estrogen. This is due to the fact that alcoholism can manifest a syndrome of excess aromatase, and this enzyme is able to convert normal male testosterone into estradiol. Stopping drinking alcohol can significantly reduce the production of estradiol.
Estrogen levels can rise due to stress, weight gain due to body fat.
Some medications can cause increased estrogen production, as can certain herbs (ginseng, ginkgo biloba, among others). There is also evidence to suggest that certain foods can also increase estrogen levels. These include soy and its derivatives, yams, etc.
Signs of low estrogen
A decrease in the level negatively affects sexual desire, and also stimulates the deposition of fat in the abdomen. Lack of estrogen causes bone loss and osteoporosis, just like in women. Many of the symptoms of low estrogen levels are similar to those of excessively high levels, as both of these conditions are associated with hormonal imbalance.
Among the reasons for the decrease in estrogen levels below normal may be:
- autoimmune diseases (in particular, Addison’s disease, hypoparathyroidism, etc.);
- genetic disorders;
- transferred infections of the reproductive system, including mumps;
- cryptorchidism, that is, undescended testicles into the scrotum;
- diseases of the liver and kidneys;
- hemochromatosis (excess iron in the blood);
- radiation exposure;
- undergone surgery on the genitals;
- HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), tuberculosis, sarcoidosis and other diseases;
- sudden loss of body weight;
- unbalanced diet;
- brain surgery;
- neoplasms in or near the pituitary gland.
As you can see, low estrogen levels in men can be a symptom of many health problems.
If there is reason to suspect an increased or decreased level of estrogen, you should consult a doctor for a referral for examination and tests. If deviations from the normal level of the hormone are detected, the doctor will prescribe a treatment that will allow for a correction and balance the hormones.
Nutrition and lifestyle
Diet can make a difference, as some foods contain phytoestrogens, which can increase blood estrogen levels, or inhibitors of aromatase, the enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen. Aromatase inhibitors, found in some foods, can help lower estrogen, but don’t count on them to be very effective. They can only be used as an aid and only after consulting a doctor.
To control estrogen levels, a diet low in animal fats and high in fiber is recommended.
All varieties of cabbage contribute to lowering estrogen levels, especially broccoli. Portobello and shiitake mushrooms reduce aromatase levels. Red grapes contain natural estrogen blockers — resveratrol and proanthocyanidin. It is also recommended to pay attention to sesame and flax seeds, products from whole grains of oats, rice and corn, green tea and pomegranate fruits.
However, do not try to reduce the level of estrogen to zero. Studies have shown that regular consumption of foods containing phytoestrogens helps reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer in Caucasian and Asian men. Men need estrogen in moderation.
Michael Schuster, urologist-andrologist
A meta-analysis of previous studies suggests that phytoestrogen intake is associated with a significant reduction in the risk of prostate cancer in Caucasians and Asians, but not in Africans. We recommend regularly including soy and soy products, legumes in the diet. Paradoxically, soy products containing phytoestrogens can regulate normal blood levels of estrogen. This is due to isoflavones, which affect the activity of estrogen receptors, making them more or less susceptible. Accordingly, soy products can be both antiestrogens and proestrogens. Or be neutral with normal hormone levels.
However, you should not try to regulate the level of estrogen on your own, by home methods, without a preliminary examination and recommendations from a doctor. Hormonal balance is too complex to interfere with without special knowledge and control tools.
Increased estrogen level can be associated with depression in males / Daniela Stanikova et al // Psychoneuroendocrinology — 2018
The role of estradiol in male reproductive function. / Schulster M, Bernie AM, Ramasamy R. // Asian J Androl — 2016
Is phytoestrogen intake associated with decreased risk of prostate cancer? A systematic review of epidemiological studies based on 17,546 cases. / Zhang M, Wang K, Chen L, Yin B, Song Y. // Andrology — 2016
erectile dysfunction. / Yafi FA, Jenkins L, Albersen M, et al. // Nat Rev Dis Primers — 2016
Estrogens in Male Physiology / Paul S. Cooke, Manjunatha K. Nanjappa // American Physiological Society Journals — 2017
Estrogen in the male: a historical perspective. / Hess RA, Cooke PS. // Biol Reprod. — 2018