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Bodybuilders are normally most concerned with testosterone levels, as it is the male hormone that is associated with muscle development. That doesn’t mean estrogen levels should be ignored, as they also play a vital role in health and fitness. Estradiol is a type of estrogen that can have a profound effect on men and women alike – here’s what you need to know.
Women have three major types of estrogen in their bodies: estrone (e1), estradiol (E2), and estriol (E3). During child-bearing years, estradiol becomes the primary estrogen, as it is responsible for reproductive function, and acts as a growth hormone for the lining of the vagina. This hormone is also found in men, although estradiol levels in males are much lower than they are in females. In males, the primary purpose for estradiol is assisting with sperm maturation.
Even children have detectable levels of estradiol in their bloodstreams. The level in males ranges from 13 pg/ml for prepubescent children to as high as 40 pg/ml for those who have completed puberty. Estradiol levels in prepubescent girls can be as high as 20 pg/ml, and may raise as high as 350 pg/ml after going through puberty. Adult males may have between 10 and 40 pg/ml, but the level in adult females will vary based upon her menstrual cycle and menopausal phase. Prior to menopause, a woman may have levels as high as 436 pg/ml or as low as 27 pg/ml. After menopause, there may be anywhere from 10 to 40 pg/ml present in the blood.
A study published in Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention reports that exercise “influences the way our bodies break down estrogens to produce more of the good metabolites that lower breast cancer risk.” Premenopausal women who performed 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise per week noticed changes in their estrogen metabolism in a manner that was consistent with a lowered risk of break cancer. This study suggests that exercise could effectively reduce one’s risk of breast cancer by altering estradiol levels in a positive way.
Anabolic steroids have the ability to convert into estrogen in the body. As such, men who regularly take large doses of anabolic steroids could notice changes in their estradiol levels as testosterone converts into estrogen. This can lead to gynecomastia, a condition in which men start growing breasts. It may also result in fat and water retention under the skin, causing males to take on a smoother, more feminine appearance. Eliminating steroids and/or taking an anti-estrogen drug may be necessary in order for estrogen levels to return to normal.
A simple blood test is all that is needed in order to test estradiol levels. Women with an increased risk of breast cancer as well as men who are showing signs of gynecomastia should consider one of these blood tests to ensure their levels do not become skewed too much one way or the other.