Testosterone is for men, and estrogen is for women, right? For the most part yes, but there is estrogen found in all men, and women do need small amounts of testosterone. There is, however, a growing need to understand the effects of estrogen in men. Like all hormones, estrogen needs to be kept in balance in both men and women. Chronic health conditions are more likely to occur in men as a result of estrogen levels becoming too high.

Testosterone and estrogen are actually very closely related in the body. A look at their chemical structure reveals only subtle differences. Yet, the differences of the effects of these two hormones on the body are substantial. Testosterone affects nearly every cell in the male body. It improves muscle mass and bone density and will also have a positive affect on the heart, brain and blood vessels. Estrogen is actually made from the circulating testosterone in the body by an enzyme called aromatase. As men age, they tend to make increasing levels of estrogen with decreased production of testosterone. Estrogen can be made in the liver, muscle and brain, as well as the fat cells. This is actually where much of the concern lies. As obesity rates go up in this country and around the world, the production of estrogen will also increase from the fat cells. This is a bad combination of decreasing testosterone and increasing estrogen.

The benefits of testosterone for men are just beginning to be fully understood. We are learning that testosterone may help prevent heart and vascular disease in addition to its benefits with mood, muscles and aiding blood sugar levels. Diabetics tend to have higher rates of estrogen, which may correlate to a degree with their higher blood sugar levels [Source: Small]. Lower testosterone has also correlated higher rates of depression [Source: Eskelinen, Martinez-Jabaloyas]. Too much estrogen may correlate with diabetes and heart attacks [Source: Sewdarsen]. Prostate cancer continues to be one of the most frequently diagnosed and one of the most common causes of death in men. Evidence is now pointing to estrogens playing a significant role in the etiology of prostate cancer [Source: Carruba, Stone]. For years, testosterone has been blamed as the cause of prostate cancer, but a shift in thinking is pointing to an imbalance of the estrogens in the body being very important in preventing or causing prostate cancer. For men, too little testosterone and too much estrogen may play a role in nearly all chronic disease.

Estrogen in Men

Estrogen is not all bad for men, but it needs to be in balance. In one study investigating estrogen in heart failure, the men with the lowest and highest amount of estrogen had the greatest problems [Source: Jankowska]. Another study found that testosterone supplementation in elderly increased spatial memory and verbal memory. This testosterone supplementation also naturally increased estrogen levels due to the enzyme aromatase. If aromatase was blocked, estrogen would not increase and spatial memory improved, but not verbal memory [Source: Cherrier]. This helps establish the fact that men need some estrogen, but not too much.

How do we prevent too much estrogen? Obesity is perhaps the greatest hindrance to maintaining a healthy hormone balance. Obesity decreases the production of testosterone [Source: Tan]. Extra fat cells will also increase levels of estrogen [Source: Rao]. By getting trim and building muscle through exercise, men get extra insurance against chronic disease through better hormone balance. The growing rates of obesity may be part of the reason behind the ever declining sperm production in men seen the past several decades [Source: Swan]. We men are becoming less of a man each year! Increased use of alcohol can increase production of estrogen in men. Chemicals in plastics may also play a factor in disrupting proper hormone function. For this reason, extra exposure to plastic chemicals has to be limited. For example, do not microwave food in plastic and do not let plastic water bottles get too warm in the sun as the plastic may leach into the water.

Both estrogen and testosterone levels can be checked through simple blood tests. Medications can be used to help balance the levels of estrogen. This is worth considering for any man with high estrogen levels or with treatment of testosterone, as that may increase estrogen due to the enzyme aromatase. The supplement resveratrol is thought to have many beneficial effects, including estrogen balance, through action on aromatase. Broccoli and the cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, brussels sprouts, etc.) may also help to some degree with proper hormone balance.

Healthy ratios of estrogen and testosterone are critical for men to maintain good energy, stamina, muscle mass, bone density and to prevent many chronic diseases. Unfortunately, the same negative lifestyle habits that cause men to lose muscle and gain weight are compounded by the fact that the obesity will further decrease testosterone, increase estrogen and make weight gain even more likely. Elevated levels of estrogen in men need to be recognized and treated. Through the balance of testosterone and estrogen, men can find improvements in how they feel and prevent of many problems down the road.