Estrogen – the Neglected Side of Masculinity

Many men who can boast normal levels of testosterone nonetheless exhibit characteristic symptoms of the male menopause.  They find their energy diminishing and their sexual life faltering.  If this situation is due to a hormonal imbalance, it may not be related to testosterone.  Frequently it is in the level of estrogen, the female hormone, where the trouble lays.

Men react with surprise when they learn the male body contains its own natural supply of estrogen.  They are equally unprepared for the news that estrogen is a normal aspect of their hormonal makeup.  The male body actually manufactures the female hormone from testosterone.  An enzyme in the body, aromatase, converts a small portion of testosterone into estrogen, a process necessary for the healthy functioning of estrogen-sensitive tissues in a man’s body. 

It is likely that estrogen is beneficial to the male brain.  Estrogen is definitely important in influencing certain natural sexual functions through its effects on brain chemistry.  The very areas of the brain involved with sexual function require estrogen for its special purposes in those specific locations.  When it comes to estrogen levels, however, the effective range in the male body is very narrow.  Too little estrogen will neuter a man just as effectively as too little testosterone.  Too much estrogen can displace testosterone at various cellular receptor sites, switching off important cellular activities. 

As we grow older aromatase levels tend to increase, resulting in greater estrogen production.  In addition, methods for eliminating estrogen, once it has been created, decline.  Consequently, the middle-aged man becomes estrogen dominant.  By the time a man reaches his fifties the estrogen level in his body may actually exceed that found in a menopausal woman on estrogen replacement therapy.  The changing ratio of estrogen to testosterone is a major factor underlying a common form of male menopause known as metabolic andropause. 

Estrogen dominance develops slowly in men.  Some common reasons for midlife estrogen elevation in males include:

  • Age-related increases in aromatase activity
  • Obesity
  • Alteration in liver function
  • Zinc deficiency
  • Overuse of alcohol
  • Drug-induced estrogen imbalance
  • Ingestion of estrogen-enhancing food or environmental substances

High estrogen levels are associated with increased risk of heart attacks in males – the exact opposite of its effect in females, in whom it has cardioprotective effects, dilating the coronary arteries, decreasing clotting factors and revving up the body’s natural clot-busting system.  Increasing levels of estrogen in men may adversely affect the prostate gland.  Some studies have found that men with higher estrogen levels are more likely to develop benign prostatic hypertrophy.  In many men, high estrogen levels cause an actual reduction in testosterone production, and reduce the effective availability of testosterone.  A relative excess of estrogen to testosterone diminishes male sexuality.

Many physicians have neglected estrogen’s role in males.  In the bodies of both men and women, the balance of estrogen and testosterone is critical.  By overlooking the effects of estrogen in males, physicians have found themselves at a loss to explain the failure of testosterone replacement therapy in men who seem ideally suited to it.  Observations of these failures have lead many physicians to conclude that testosterone is not significantly related to male midlife changes.  In such instances, the failure may be in neglecting the other side of the equation – estrogen.

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