Estrogen? In men? Never!
Well actually, always.
While estrogen has traditionally been known as a female hormone and testosterone has traditionally been associated with men, it may surprise you to know that estrogen plays an integral role in male sexual function, including the regulation of sex drive, the development of sperm and even erectile function.
Unsurprisingly, too much of any circulating hormone in the body isn't a good thing. This week, LetsGetChecked tells you everything you need to know about estrogen, predominantly what high estrogen in men can mean.
LetsGetChecked is joined by urologist Dr. Gregory Bernstein who offers insight into estrogen from the male perspective.
- What Is Estrogen?
- How Can Estrogen Exist In Men?
- What Is The Function Of Estrogen In Men?
- What Are The Symptoms Of High Estrogen In Men?
- Should You Test Your Hormones?
What Is Estrogen?
Estrogen is typically known as a "female steroid hormone" or a "sex hormone".
Estrogen refers to three chemically similar hormones within the estrogen group, including estrone, estradiol and estriol.
In women, estrogen is responsible for the development of secondary sex characteristics, the release of the egg during ovulation and the maintenance of a regular menstrual cycle.
In men, estrogen regulates a number of sexual and reproductive functions. For both men and women, it is possible for the body to produce too much estrogen, this condition is commonly referred to as "Estrogen Dominance."
Estrogen Dominance in men and women may cause water retention, bloating, weight gain, mood changes, sexual dysfunction and low libidio.
Dr. Bernstein explains "Although estrogen is typically thought of as a “female” hormone, it is also a necessary hormone in men for a variety of normal bodily day to day functions. Estrogen levels in men can become elevated due conversion of testosterone to estrogen in fatty tissue via an enzyme called aromatase which is higher in fat tissues."
How Can Estrogen Exist In Men?
Men obviously don't have similar reproductive organs to women so they produce estrogen in a different way. Estrogen is produced through an enzyme known as aromatase. Aromatase transforms testosterone to estrogen in men.
As men age, it is possible for the enzyme aromatase to cause estrogen to spike and testosterone to a decrease in volume.
Medications, medical procedures, stress and weight gain may cause a fluctuation in estrogen. While a certain level of hormones can be taken in through nutrition, this is a tiny proportion and there are no sole foods that can be clinically attributed to a drastic spike in estrogen or a loss of testosterone.
LetsGetChecked recently separated fact from fiction when discussing the widespread claims that certain foods can decrease testosterone or increase estrogen in men in this article: Foods That Kill Testosterone: Do They Actually Exist?
When it comes to the idea that your diet can modulate estrogen in the body, Dr. Bernstein says: "There have been many studies that have looked at foods that may be associated with increasing estrogen levels but unfortunately none of them have showed any statistical significance and many of the studies done have been on animals, not humans. There can be higher levels of hormones in farm animals that are being raised to be used for food products for human consumption."
Throughout a man's life, estrogen and testosterone levels rise and fall, if testosterone becomes lower than estrogen, or if estrogen spikes, physical symptoms may become apparent.
What Is The Function Of Estrogen In Men?
Estrogen has a number of functions in men. Traditionally, it has been solely associated with sexual function but estrogen also plays a large part in regulating mood, and in particular promoting a good mood.
Estrogen promotes the stimulation of serotonin and beta-endorphins that are known as the "feel good" neurotransmitters, and is said to play a part in maintaining one's verbal and spatial memory in men, especially in later life.
When we are talking about the connection between estrogen and erectile function, we are looking at a balancing act. If men have a small amount of circulating estrogen, they can expect functional erections. If estrogen spikes and testosterone then drops, it is expected that you are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction. High estrogen and low testosterone is associated weaker and less frequent erections.
In one study, including a sample group of male transgender individuals who were taking estrogen therapy as part of their transition to becoming a woman, it was found that the estrogen caused inhibited sexual activity, fewer spontaneous erections and fewer nocturnal erections, (erections during sleep.)
Estrogen receptors and aromatase, (the enzyme we touched on earlier) are found in the brain, testes, and penis. The testosterone transformation to estrogen occurs in targeted areas that are related to arousal. Estrogen plays a role in the production of sperm. Too much estrogen in the testes may impact your fertility. Estrogen regulates the development of essential cells that line the testes, however it can also negatively impact the quantity and quality of sperm.
Estrogen affects your sex drive in a number of ways. Aromatase enzymes also live in the brain, as these enzymes are responsible for the transformation of testosterone to estrogen, it is unsurprising that estrogen affects sexual behaviour from a psychological perspective in the adult male. This psycho-sexual development is said to take on from the early development of the brain. For the purpose of understanding the effects of high estrogen on sex drive, all you need to know is low estrogen in women causes low sex drive, and high estrogen in men, in the instance where it causes a depletion of testosterone, can cause a lowered libido.
Dr. Bernstein says:
Just like many hormonal levels, too high or too low outside of normal ranges can impact a variety of medical issues or bodily functions. Elevated estrogen can be associated with obesity and depression
What Are The Symptoms Of High Estrogen In Men?
What are the symptoms of high estrogen in men? According to Dr. Bernstein "erectile dysfunction, weight gain, decrease in libido or sexual drive, enlargement of the breast tissue, depression, loss of energy or feeling tired and decrease in muscle mass" are some of the symptoms you could expect if you live with high estrogen.
High estrogen in men may cause:
The symptoms of high estrogen are complex, let's explore why high estrogen may cause some of of the most common symptoms:
As estrogen plays a part in the production of mature sperm, it is no surprise that high estrogen in men could make conception difficult. Estrogen affects the development of germ cells which line the testes, so it is essential that circulating estrogen is balanced to ensure not only the development of sperm but also the nourishment of mature sperm.
Dr. Bernstein says: "Estrogen is a necessary hormone in the setting of normal fertility. Both high and low levels may upset that balance and affect the proper production of sperm in men."
The involvement of estrogen in weight gain can be complex to understand when we are looking at the cause and effect. As we age, testosterone naturally begins to decrease, leaving males in their older age at an increased vulnerability to estrogen dominance.
Conversely if you gain weight as you age, which is common as the metabolic rate slows during this period you are more likely to produce more estrogen as aromatase enzymes live in fatty tissues. Lastly, high estrogen can cause negative mood swings and depression which can have a substantial impact on one's desire to stay fit and healthy. High estrogen in men therefore can be seen as a risk factor in stimulating weight gain and obesity.
Low Sex Drive
Testosterone is one of the key drivers in sexual desire in men which is why low testosterone affects not only the physical aspect but also the emotional aspect when it comes to having sex. Low testosterone can cause a low libido as high estrogen may cause the increased likelihood of developing depression, along with fatigue and other negative mood changes.
Should You Test Your Hormones?
When it comes to testing and treatment for high estrogen, Dr. Bernstein says:
"This is not a black and white answer and boils down to why the man may have elevated estrogen levels and whether or not he is having any symptoms. If a man is concerned about his estrogen levels it always best to see a medical professional for a full evaluation, physical exam and laboratory evaluation."
LetsGetChecked offer the Male Hormone Advanced Test which measures key hormones that may offer insight into your hormonal balance. The test measures testosterone, sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), oestradiol and prolactin. The Free Androgen Index (FAI) offers you insight into how much bioavailable, or functional testosterone there is in the blood.
Hormonal imbalances and the global decrease in testosterone have become a common concern among men. It is natural to be worried about changes in your physical and emotional states as you age.
You should get tested if:
- You are noticing signs and symptoms of high estrogen.
- You are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy, especially for prostate cancer.
- You are obese or overweight.
- You have a family history of low testosterone.
- You suffer from chronic stress.
- You take anabolic steroids.
- You live with Klinefelter syndrome.
- You live with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
- You suffer from hemochromatosis.
- You have a pituitary gland disorder.
- You suffer from thyroid issues.
- You have kidney or liver disease.
- You have anorexia nervosa.
If you are noticing changes in yourself and you worry that it may be a hormonal imbalance, do not fear; there are a few simple steps that can be made through medication and lifestyle habits to get you feeling your best again, and with LetsGetChecked you will be supported at every step of the way.
Written by Hannah Kingston | Medically Reviewed by Dr. Dominic Rowley