Men: Testosterone and Oestrogen Balance

Keep those hormones in check

Guys, it might seem like I spend a lot of time talking to women on Strong Words. Let me make amends. 

While we all like to conjure up the familiar cliche of muscle-bound bros on the pump, the reality is quite different.

Many men think they are healthy because they run. Others don't get to the gym at all. Couple that with high-stress, sedentary lifestyles and, guess what? Your hormones might be out of whack.

Men's systems play a very delicate balancing act between testosterone and oestrogen. Yes indeed - oestrogen is present, and it is feisty. We hear a lot about testosterone levels in men (and women) these days, but oestrogen can't be ignored. In fact, for men, it is important to have your oestrogen levels tested.

Variances in either hormone level can cause a range of issues and symptoms from muscle weakness and loss of bone density to libido and fertility issues and mood disorders such as depression and cognition issues. The symptoms list is quite similar to menopause. And it's no wonder - changes in hormone levels can throw your whole system off balance (figuratively and literally). 

What is testosterone and why is it important?

The hormone testosterone is produced by the testes in their function as an endocrine gland, in addition to their role as part of the male reproductive system. It is essential for male development during puberty and for sex drive, sperm production, maintaining muscle mass and healthy bone density. 

The levels of testosterone are controlled by the hypothalamus and the pituitary glands by sending signals to stimulate testosterone production when levels are too low or too high. When there is an imbalance it may be due to an issue with the pituitary gland, so a problem with the signals, or with the testes. 

What is oestrogen and why is it important?

Women synthesise oestrogen in the ovaries but the male system takes a slightly different approach. Men produce small amounts of oestrogen in the testes, adrenals, the brain and in fat but also directly from testosterone itself.

TC Luoma over at TNation has my favourite explanation. He explains that testosterone and oestrogen are very similar in their molecular makeup, in fact, "...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".

TC goes on to explain that this similarity is a reason why some men have such high oestrogen levels as "...it's very easy for aromatase enzymes to ninja-slice that one extra carbon atom off and convert testosterone to oestrogen."

Oestrogen is part of the signal loop that tells the testes whether or not to produce more testosterone. It is possible though that too much testosterone is converted into oestrogen, but the signals keep telling the testes that there is too much testosterone. Now we have a high oestrogen, low testosterone situation.

    Here are some lists that will probably make you feel a bit queasy.

     

    Symptoms of Low Testosterone

    • Erectile dysfunction
    • Fatigue
    • Reduced muscle Mass
    • Increased body fat
    • Back pain
    • Osteoporosis
    • Increased risk of heard attack
    • Higher cholesterol
    • Decreased fertility
    • Cognition Issues
    • Depression & other mood disorders
    • Increased fatty tissue around nipples

    Symptoms of Low Oestrogen

    • Joint cracking and soreness
    • Fatigue
    • Depression
    • Blunted emotions
    • Anxiety
    • Lower blood pressure
    • Excessive urination

     

    Symptoms of High Oestrogen

    • Increased abdominal fat
    • Reduced muscle mass
    • Low sex drive
    • Erectile dysfuntion
    • Fatigue
    • Increased fatty tissue around nipples
    • Depression & other mood disorders
    • Lower urinary tract disorders

    What causes high oestrogen?

    There are lots of reasons these signals might get crossed. 

    • Too much body fat means you have lots of the enzyme that converts testosterone into oestrogen as it is contained in fat
    • As discussed in my article on resistance training, as you age your body atrophies and it starts to produce even more of that cheeky enzyme
    • Sometimes treatments for low testosterone can cause high oestrogen - if you are being treated for low T and are overweight, speak to your doctor 
    • Toxins and chemicals in the environment around you 
    • Lifestyle - alcohol and recreational drugs can mess with your system - no surprises there!

     

    What can I do to help avoid all of these symptoms?

    I'm glad you asked! There are plenty of practical things you can. It is also a good start to speak to your doctor if you are experiencing any symptoms or if you have questions. Many researchers also suggest that men should get tested for oestrogen levels. Read more about the types of tests you should ask for in TC's article (this will vary between countries).

    As with my discussions on menopause and aging in women, the absolute biggest factors in helping to fortify your body against hormonal changes is diet, exercise and lifestyle.

    Diet:

    Focus on a balanced, un- or minimally processed diet. Plenty of vegetables, good fats, high protein. Stick to organic for anything that you don't peel to reduce the toxin and chemical intake.

    Pay close attention to vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts which contain indole-3-carbinol and calcium d-glutarate (which is also found in grapefruit, apples and oranges). These can reduce the effect of oestrogen.

    Lifestyle:

    A rich and full life full of laughter and not full of stress. That's the ideal situation and what we should all be striving for, but of course, we all deal with stress in real life.

    Take stock of your situation and work out where you can introduce some restorative actions like meditation or yoga. Are you getting enough sleep? What is your alcohol intake like? Of course, no smoking. 

    Exercise:

    Guess what? Yes! Hit the weights. While any type or movement is better than no movement, resistance and strength training as part of your routine is where you will see the biggest change in your health, your mood, your body, your state of mind.

    Strength and resistance training is something I talk about frequently, and I do so consciously. It is just SO crucial for your health. Everyone's health. That means men too.

    Again, our friends at TNation got it right. Here's what Dani Shugart, TNation Editor, has to say about it:

    "Your entire body becomes more proficient. It's phenomenal. Heavy things feel lighter, hard tasks feel easier, big meals get used instead of stored. Moving your own body around becomes a natural, simple thing. You don't even realize your own physical capability if you've had muscle for a long time and have been taking it for granted. But when you go from not lifting to lifting, your body turns into this unrecognizable machine."

    Hit the weights room to help your body:

    • Lose weight and keep it off
    • Protect your bone health
    • Increase your capacity for muscle mass
    • Feel strong and fit
    • Better body mechanics
    • Fight disease
    • Boost your mood

    There is no time like the present to get started or to re-start. Just give it a go! Find a personal trainer, join a class, train with a friend - there are lots of ways to get back to health.

    Guys, talk to me about your concerns, your experiences and your questions so that we can write about your specific topics on Strong Words! Head over to the topics message page or drop me a line.

    Grace xx

     

    References and Further Reading

    Check out EndocrineWeb.com for a deep dive into the Endocrine System

    Great articles by TNation on Oestrogen (or estrogen) in men and generally about strength training

    A good list of reasons why strength training is so important from Everyday Health