Estrogen in Men
Table of Contents
- Written by Dr. Patricia Shelton on July 04, 2022
Many people think of estrogen as being a female hormone, and testosterone as being a male hormone. Testosterone is indeed very important for a man’s health, with either high or low levels being potentially a concern. But do males have estrogen too?
In fact, they do. Just as women produce testosterone (and can experience symptoms from high or low levels), men also produce estrogen. Imbalances in the levels of estrogen can lead to a variety of issues in men. What effects does estrogen have on males? What are the symptoms of low or excess estrogen in men?
Do men produce estrogen?
Men do have estrogen in their bodies. It’s important that this hormone be in balance with other sex hormones, in order for a man to have optimal health. The male body produces estrogen from testosterone, using an enzyme called aromatase.
Can males produce estrogen in their fat tissue?
The conversion of testosterone to estrogen through aromatase occurs in a variety of tissues around the body, including in the testes, fat tissue, adrenal glands, skin, bone, and brain. Only about 20% of a man’s estrogen is made in the testes, so fat tissue and other tissues represent a significant source of estrogen for men.
Women also make estrogen in a variety of tissues around the body, including in fat tissue. However, in premenopausal women, the ovaries represent the major source of estrogen, because they produce it at such high levels.
What are the effects of estrogen on the male body?
Estrogen has significant impacts on various functions in a man’s body, including:
- Sexual function
- Bone health
Either low or elevated estrogen levels in males can produce a variety of symptoms.
What are the signs of high estrogen in males?
Men who have high estrogen levels may experience a variety of different symptoms. The effects of high estrogen in men may include:
- Gynecomastia, a condition in which males develop more breast tissue than normal
- Erectile dysfunction
- Infertility, due to low sperm concentration
- Osteoporosis, or low bone mineral density
- Fatigue and low energy levels
- Reduced muscle mass
- Trouble focusing
Men with high estrogen levels are also at an increased risk for developing chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes.
What factors lead to elevated estrogen levels in males?
Because fat tissue contains aromatase and can convert testosterone to estrogen, being significantly overweight is one common factor that can lead to elevated levels of estrogen. Other factors include:
- Taking certain medications or herbal supplements
- Liver disease
- High levels of stress
- Certain tumors
What are the signs of low estrogen or low estradiol levels in males?
Although high estrogen levels can lead to changes in a man’s body, low estrogen levels can actually have an impact as well. A man with low estrogen levels may experience:
- Mood changes, like depression, anxiety, or irritability
- Fatigue and low energy levels
- Weight gain
- Low libido
- Loss of bone mineral density
- Trouble focusing
Note that many of these symptoms are similar to those caused by high estrogen. They can also resemble the symptoms of low testosterone. This is why testing is so important to determine the cause of a man’s symptoms.
What factors decrease estrogen in males?
Low estrogen can actually result from low testosterone. This is because men’s bodies make estrogen from testosterone. The most common causes of low estrogen and low testosterone are very similar, and include:
- Cancer treatments, including chemotherapy or radiation therapy
- Certain medications
- Severe injury to both testicles
- Hemochromatosis (a disease of too much iron in the blood)
- Certain chronic diseases
- Congenital or genetic conditions
There’s a common belief that estrogen naturally rises with age in men. In fact, estrogen and testosterone both naturally decline with age. However, if a middle-aged or older man gains weight, then his estrogen levels may rise as a result. Men may believe that their high estrogen is due to aging, when it’s actually a result of gaining excess fat tissue.
How do you know if you are estrogen dominant?
Estrogen dominance is a type of hormonal imbalance that, like low or high estrogen levels, many people associate with women. However, it can also affect men. In a person with estrogen dominance, there is high estrogen and low progesterone.
Progesterone actually serves as a precursor to testosterone, so low progesterone levels can lead to low testosterone levels. In addition, progesterone inhibits estrogen. In those who have estrogen dominance, men’s symptoms are similar to those experienced by men with low testosterone and high estrogen.
What should you do if you notice the signs of low estrogen or side effects of high estrogen in males?
If you’re concerned about your hormone levels, the only way to know for sure is to test. Even if you have a variety of symptoms that likely indicate an imbalance of estrogen in your body, you can’t be sure that this is the case until you get your hormone levels tested. It’s not recommended to simply start taking hormone supplements without testing.
One way to get your test is to visit your doctor and discuss your concerns. They will then order your testing, and you’ll go to a laboratory to get blood drawn. For some people, this process can be a hassle, which unfortunately stops some men from getting the testing that they need. For more convenience, you can choose to order a male hormone test kit from a home testing service. This will be delivered to your house; you’ll take the blood sample using a small fingerprick, and mail it back to the lab. You’ll then get your results online, and will have the chance to talk with a medical professional about any abnormal results.
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Hammes SR, Levin ER. Impact of estrogens in males and androgens in females. J Clin Invest. 2019 May 1;129(5):1818-1826. doi: 10.1172/JCI125755.
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