If your estrogen levels are out of whack, it can ruin your body comp, your health, maybe even your life. Here's what you need to know.
Men Must Know Their Estrogen Levels
Every adult male needs to know what his estrogen levels are. His health may depend on it, his appearance may depend on it, his emotional wellbeing may depend on it, and his ability to procreate may depend on it. In fact, his very life may depend on knowing whether his estrogen levels are too low or too high.
Estrogen and Testosterone, Sitting in a Tree...
Testosterone gets most of the male press and estrogen gets most of the female press, but estrogen is, in many ways, just as important to men as testosterone. And, even though the two hormones are regarded as the yin and yang of human sexual behavior and development, molecularly they're very similar.
You could even merge the two molecules into one three-dimensional figure and they'd look identical except that testosterone would have one little extra carbon atom sticking straight up from its molecular bridgework and waving hi.
And in this similarity lies one reason why some men have high estrogen levels. Since the testosterone molecule is so molecularly similar to estrogen, it's very easy for aromatase enzymes to ninja-slice that one extra carbon atom off and convert testosterone to estrogen.
That's a good thing because, as explained, you need a certain level of estrogen. Not only does estrogen have innumerable effects on one's health, but it's also part of an elegant feedback system where overly high estrogen levels alert the testicles, via the pituitary, to send some testicular workers home and cut back on testosterone production for that day.
In this way, the system keeps a perfect amount of testosterone and estrogen flowing through the body.
Sometimes, though, too much testosterone is converted into estrogen. That amount, combined with the small amounts of estrogen being produced in the testes, adrenals, brain, and fat, can create a hormonal maelstrom of trouble. The feedback loop gets a kink in it. Estrogen levels stay perpetually high and thus keep barking the order to back off on the manufacture of testosterone.
But there are plenty of other ways estrogen levels can get too high, too, and, even though it's not often discussed, low estrogen can sometimes be even more of a problem than high estrogen. Either way, though, estrogen levels need to be in the hormonal Goldilocks zone – not too high, not too low, but just right.
What Problems Can Whacked-Out Estrogen Levels Cause?
Once estrogen levels rise unchecked, the risk of degenerative disease skyrockets. Atherosclerosis rates go up. The incidence of stroke increases. The risk of developing Type II diabetes goes up. Emotional disturbances become more prevalent. The risk of prostate cancer increases.
Erectile function suffers. Waistlines grow thicker. It becomes harder to put on muscle. And, most seriously, high estrogen significantly increases the risk of flat-out dying.
When researchers monitored the estrogen levels of 501 men with chronic heart failure, men with estradiol (the most "potent" form of estrogen) in the normal range (between 21.80 pg/ml and 30.11 pg/ml) had the fewest deaths during a three-year period. Men with the highest levels (above 37.99) had 133 percent more deaths during the same period. However, the men with the lowest estrogen levels (below 12.90) fared the worst as they experienced 317% more deaths.
Clearly, estrogen levels play a big part in the health of your ticker, in addition to the health of a whole lot of body parts, body systems, and body functions.
Noticeable Symptoms of High Estrogen:
- Increased abdominal fat
- Loss of muscle mass
- Low libido, decreased erectile function
- Increased fatty tissue around nipples
- Depression, emotional disturbances
- Lower urinary tract symptoms associated with benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH)
Noticeable Symptoms of Low Estrogen:
- Decent erections but ho-hum orgasms
- Joint cracking or soreness
- Fatigue and depression
- Blunted emotions
- Possible weakening of adrenal glands
- Excessive jealousy
- Low blood pressure
- Excessive urination
Testing Estrogen Levels
It's in every male's interest to make sure he's in an estrogen sweet spot, regardless of age. It's also important that every man establish an estrogen baseline, to which he can refer to, compare, and maybe even brag about to his grandchildren in coming years.
Here's a list of the median estradiol levels by age, as established by the authors of a study that appeared in the journal Clinical Endocrinology:
- Age 2-29: 28.0 pg/ml
- Age 30-39: 25.7 pg/ml
- Age 40-49: 24.7 pg/ml
- Age 50-59: 22.1 pg/ml
- Age 60-69: 21.5 pg/ml
- Age 70-80: 21.9 pg/ml
There are pretty much only two ways to accurately test estrogen levels – via a 24-hour urine test or a blood test. The blood test is easier and less dangerously sloshy, of course, but make sure you insist that your doctor order a "sensitive" assay. (By default, most labs use the standard assay, which is designed for women.)
Furthermore, most labs use immunoassay techniques to test blood samples, which, when compared to other methods, show a variability rate of up to 53%. That kind of inaccuracy could lead to a physician treating a problem that doesn't even exist, e.g., treating a man for high estrogen levels when he's actually well within normal ranges, which could lead to disastrous consequences.
Labs should instead use Liquid Chromatography/Mass Spectroscopy, which is much more accurate when measuring hormone levels. There are specific lab codes that your ordering doctor should use. If he doesn't use them or doesn't know them, tell him what they are:
- LabCorp "Sensitive Estradiol" Code 140244, 500108
- Quest Diagnostics "Ultrasensitive Estradiol" Code 30289
- ARUP TMX Code 93247
- Mayo Clinic "Enhanced Estradiol" Code EEST
To further complicate issues, steroid hormone binding globulin (SHBG) also plays a role in estrogen levels. SHBG, as the name suggests, literally binds up a certain percentage of hormones, including both testosterone and estrogen, making them in all practicality inaccessible to the body.
Furthermore, as you get older, SHBG levels rise and bind up more hormone, so while estrogen levels might appear "normal," your amount of "free" estrogen might be too low. Ideally, both SHBG and estrogen blood levels should fall in the mid-range of normal values so that you can get an actual snapshot of your estrogen situation.
What Causes High Estrogen?
1 – Too much body fat
Fat contains the testosterone-to-estrogen changing aromatase enzyme, so as you get fatter you convert more testosterone to estrogen, which makes you even fatter. This peculiar bit of fat chemistry is like a fat snake trying to swallow its fat tail, and the only way you can get the snake to puke up its tail is to get lean and stay lean.
2 – Getting old
The older you are, the more aromatase you produce and the higher your estrogen levels. That's why old guys at the beach sometimes have decidedly non-perky breasts indistinguishable from those of their old wives.
Of course, the age and estrogen thing isn't so cut and dried. Since SHBG levels also rise with age, presumably binding up some of the increased estrogen, you'd think geezers would have less estrogen. Similarly, aging also generally brings a reduction in testosterone, which would mean there's less estrogen because there are fewer raw materials to convert to estrogen.
These phenomena might explain, partly, why so many men with cardiac conditions have either estrogen levels that are too low or too high. Either way, they're sometimes a defibrillator away from kicking unless they resolve their estrogen problems.
3 – Faulty feedback mechanisms
When estrogen levels are too high, they signal the testicles, via the pituitary, to temporarily stop making testosterone. But if estrogen levels are perpetually high, it can short-circuit the system, sending the mistaken message to the testicles to go on a long vacation to some testosterone-free land where they laze around all day listening to soft jazz. This can in turn lead to even higher estrogen levels.
4– Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT)
Millions of men are on TRT to revitalize their bodies and shore up their flagging libidos. Unfortunately, a lot of doctors haven't done their homework. Injecting too much testosterone, or injecting too much testosterone into obese men, can cause an undesired amount of T to be converted into estrogen. These elevated levels need to be addressed by either adjusting the dosage or by prescribing an anti-aromatase (see below).
5 – Impairment of cytochrome P450 enzyme system
The P450 system is where most drugs go to die. In other words, the vast majority of drugs, chemicals, or supplements you ingest are processed and eliminated by the P450 system. The system is like a chemical recycling station where drugs are torn down, repackaged, and either re-used or excreted.
This same system eliminates excess estrogen from the body, too. However, certain things can impair this system. Drinking too much might be a problem, as might being obese, or having a zinc deficiency. You might also be eating foods or taking drugs or supplements that impede the P450 enzyme system's efficiency, like grapefruit juice or ginkgo biloba.
6 – Xenoestrogens
These are chemicals in the environment that mimic estrogen. These chemicals, mainly heavy metals, synthetic chemicals like DES and DDT, and industrial chemicals like phthalates, grow in number, and accumulate in more tissue, with each passing year.
These chemicals are found in foods, adhesives, fire retardants, detergents, drinking water, perfumes, waxes, household cleaning products, lubricants... virtually everywhere.
Although we don't know the exact scope of damage caused by these chemicals, we have seen widespread reports of biological anomalies in both animals and humans in the last couple of decades (mutations, indeterminate sex organs, lessened fertility, more people listening to light jazz, etc.).
Case in point, in 1992 a team of reproductive specialists from Copenhagen announced that the sperm counts in the industrialized world had dropped 50% since 1938. (That means, in one way, you're likely half the man your grandfather was.)
Furthermore, there's plenty of evidence that these chemicals are a part of all of us. Researchers found that 75% of the samples taken from 400 adults contained significant levels of industrial xenoestrogens, whereas 98.3 percent of samples contained DHT and its derivatives. To make matters even more troubling, different xenoestrogens appear to act synergistically so that their effects are magnified.
7 – Phytoestrogens
While xenoestrogens are man-made monstrosities, phytoestrogens occur in plants. Xenoestrogens accumulate in adipose tissue, while phytoestrogens are metabolized and booted out of the body relatively fast. As such, they're not nearly the problem that xenoestrogens are.
Still, you generally don't want too many of them around as they resemble estrogen molecularly and can act like the real deal. Phytoestrogens are also found in various foods, perhaps most notably in soy and soy protein.
8 – Alcohol and Weed
Yeah, recreational drugs can cause elevated estrogen levels. Sorry.
What Causes Low Estrogen?
There aren't that many things that cause low estrogen in males. One is old age, with its accompanying low testosterone levels and increased SHBG levels. This might be remedied by simply going on testosterone replacement therapy.
Another reason males may be low is overuse of estrogen blockers or anti-aromatases. These are drugs usually prescribed by physicians that either block testosterone from being converted to estrogen (anti-aromatases) or block estrogen from binding to receptors on the cell or in the cell (estrogen blockers).
Of course, any man with low estrogen levels might have some yet-to-be diagnosed condition or disease, with low estrogen being one of many consequences.
How Can You Fix High Estrogen?
1 – Diet
Plenty of vegetables contain indole-3-carbinol, which ameliorates the effects of estrogen. The chemical is found in decent amounts in broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.
Calcium d-glutarate is also a capable estrogen fighter in that it helps the body eliminate estrogen before the body reabsorbs it. You can find tangible amounts in grapefruit, apples, oranges, and the same cruciferous vegetables that are also rich in indoles.
However, these fruits and vegetables can't singlehandedly regulate whacked out estrogen levels. At best, they should be regarded as estrogen "shifters" that can affect the amount of estrogen metabolites in your favor. By the same token, you should avoid foods that shift the amount of estrogen metabolites against you, like soy products.
2 – Supplements
Given that elevated estrogen is such a problem, the supplement industry has spent a lot of time researching it and thinking about it. Here are the vitamins, nutrients, or compounds that seem to be the most powerful in normalizing estrogen levels:
- Boron (decreases free estrogen levels)
- Curcumin by reducing the effects of aromatase
- Fish Oil (specifically DHA, which reduces the number of estrogen receptors)
- Green Tea (seems to inhibit aromatase)
- Resveratrol (decreases aromatase activity)
- Zinc (reduces activity of estrogen receptors)
3 – Pharmaceutical Intervention
Aromatase inhibitors (AI) interfere with the aromatase enzyme's ability to pull the old switcheroo on testosterone and convert it to estrogen.
There are two classes of AI. The first class consists of the "suicide inhibitors," such as the drug exemestane. Avoid them. They're too freaking powerful and they can easily bury estrogen levels too low.
The second class of AIs is the "competitive inhibitors" like anastrozole and letrozole. You should probably avoid letrozole, too, as it's also quite powerful. Using it to fix modestly elevated estrogen is akin to using C4 explosive to open a stubborn peanut butter jar.
That leaves us with the modestly powerful anastrozole, aka Arimidex. Still, it too can cause estrogen levels to drop precipitously. Don't take it unless 1) you have symptoms, 2) dietary and/or supplemental avenues haven't worked, and 3) you know what the hell you're doing.
Most men, however, don't ever use a drug like anastrozole unless they're concurrently undergoing testosterone replacement therapy and too much of their testosterone is being aromatized into estrogen. The general protocol is to start out with 0.25 mg of anastrozole every other day and only progress to .5 mg. a day if necessary.
4 – Purging Your Environment of Xenoestrogens
To purge your environment significantly, you'd probably have to move to the woods and live off organic mung bean sprouts. Short of that, there are several modest things you can do to make your life less estrogenic.
If you're anal about it, try to avoid the following chemicals:
- Atrazine (weedkiller)
- 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor (4-MBC) (sunscreen lotions)
- Butylated hydroxyanisole / BHA (food preservative)
- Chlorine and chlorine by-products
- DEHP (plasticizer for PVC)
- Dieldrin (insecticide)
- DDT (insecticide)
- Endosulfan (insecticide)
- Erythrosine / FD&C Red No. 3
- Ethinylestradiol (combined oral contraceptive pill)
- Heptachlor (insecticide)
- Lindane / hexachlorocyclohexane (insecticide)
- Metalloestrogens (a class of inorganic xenoestrogens)
- Methoxychlor (insecticide)
- Nonylphenol and derivatives
- Pentachlorophenol (general biocide and wood preservative)
- Polychlorinated biphenyls / PCBs (in electrical oils, lubricants, adhesives, paints)
- Phenosulfothiazine (a red dye)
- Phthalates (plasticizers)
- Propyl gallate
- Parabens (methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben commonly used as preservatives in personal care products)
Reading every label to see if they contain one or more of the previous chemicals might drive you to estrogenic insanity, so you can save yourself a lot of the trouble by just doing the following things whenever possible:
- Shop organic
- Store your food in glass (not plastic) containers
- Don't let plastic wrap touch your food when microwaving
- Use "all-natural" laundry detergents and household cleaners
- Use "all-natural" skin care and personal care products
- Avoid most plastics when possible, and don't drink from bottled water that's been exposed to the sun for any length of time.
5 – Lifestyle Adjustments
Your problems with estrogen might stem from drinking too much, too often, or smoking weed too much, too often. The simple solution is to practice moderation. Likewise, if you're overweight (which is itself an estrogenic progenitor), do the obvious.
Take Charge of Your Estrogen Levels
- Get tested using "sensitive" blood assay.
- If your reading is normal, use it as a reference point in the following years.
- If the reading is too high, assess whether you have any symptoms of high estrogen. Similarly, if the reading is too low, check to see if you have any symptoms of low estrogen.
- Attack the problem by using any estrogen-fighting solution or combination of solutions listed above, including lifestyle changes, supplements, drugs, diet, or avoidance of xeno and phytoestrogens.