Although it is primarily a female hormone, estrogen is equally as important to men. Estrogen levels that are too high or too low can cause weight gain in both sexes, and make it difficult to build lean muscle mass. Understanding the role it plays in both the male and female body is an important first step toward ensuring the proper balance.
The term estrogen actually refers to a group of female sex hormones that include estrone, estradiol, and estriol. Estriol is most abundant in the female body during pregnancy, but may benefit the bone and urinary tract health of both sexes when applied topically. During pregnancy, estrogen works in conjunction with another female hormone known as progesterone to prevent an additional ovulation from taking place. This is why estrogen together with progesterone are two of the primary ingredients in birth control pills.
In women, estrogen is produced primarily in the ovaries, and is responsible for the “secondary sex characteristics” that appear in females during puberty such as pubic hair, armpit hair, and the development of breasts. During child-bearing years, the hormone helps regulate the menstrual cycle, and is also responsible for bone formation. Skin, hair, and pelvic muscles are all affected whenever estrogen levels begin to decrease after menopause.
In men, estrogen is produced by the adrenal glands and testes. Its function in males is to initiate spermatogenesis, which is the maturation of sperm cells. As with women, estrogen helps men develop strong bones, and to some extent is responsible for sexual development (although to a lesser degree than in females.) However, estrogen levels that are too high can lead to infertility, gynecomastia, or erectile dysfunction, and may also put men at an increased risk for certain types of cancer.
The perfect balance of estrogen and testosterone is essential for the regulation of several important body functions. Estrogen hormones are actually formed from circulating testosterone via a process known as aromatase. As men grow older, testosterone production decreases while estrogen production increases. Once women reach menopause, estrogen is produced in decreasing amounts, which is largely what is responsible for hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and vaginal atrophy.
Men with unusually high estrogen levels may need to do more than receive testosterone supplements. They may also need to maintain an ideal weight through diet and exercise, in addition to getting adequate sleep each night. Regulating estrogen levels in women is far more complicated, as a great deal of fluctuation takes place during a woman’s various life stages. Doctors may recommend eliminating birth control pills, bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, or adding progesterone. Avoiding sugar and simple carbohydrates may also be recommended for women who also suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome.
Estrogen levels can often be checked via a simple blood or saliva test. When compared with a list of symptoms, the results of these tests will help doctors come up with a safe and effective treatment plan.