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Hormones are the master switches that run our bodies. They direct and control pretty much every system that keeps us functional and healthy.
But one hormone in particular is a uniquely double-edged sword. It’s poised in a delicate balance in our bodies at all times. At optimal levels, it keeps our cardiovascular, immune and nervous systems functioning perfectly.
Throw the balance too far off and the result can be a devastating disease.
Many people think that only women need to worry about controlling this hormone, when in fact it’s intimately connected to male health as well.
Estrogen and men: The basics
Women’s ovaries produce estrogen. In men, the hormone is secreted by the adrenal glands and the testes.
Male estrogen can be produced in the liver, brain or muscle cells. This production happens when an enzyme called aromatase converts testosterone into estradiol (a type of estrogen).
Estradiol in men is essential for regulating libido, erectile function and sperm production.
Male menopause is real
Women may joke about “male menopause” when their partners get moody or irritable. But men actually do go through age-related hormone changes of their own.
As teenagers, men have high levels of testosterone and low levels of male estrogen. With age, testosterone starts converting to estrogen.
It makes sense, then, that as men age they can develop some of the symptoms of female menopause: moodiness, hot flashes, night sweats and low libido.
Ironically, male hot flashes are actually the body’s attempt to keep cool.
Lower testosterone levels confuse the hypothalamus (the ‘thermostat’ in the center of the brain). It thinks the body is overheated and sends signals to widen blood vessels in the skin, resulting in hot flashes that can last as long as an hour.
In addition, men may also experience erectile dysfunction and enlarged breasts (gynecomastia) as male estrogen levels rise.
The dangers of estrogen-testosterone imbalance
Aside from these bothersome and even embarrassing symptoms, there are serious health risks associated with the imbalance between estrogen and testosterone that can occur as men age.
While too little estrogen can make osteoporosis and fractures more likely, even slightly elevated levels can double a man’s stroke risk.
A man’s prostate has a love-hate relationship with estrogen.
Quite a few studies have concluded that elevated blood estrogen levels are a good predictor of disease risk. On the other hand, there is disagreement as to whether elevated testosterone can accelerate abnormal cell growth.
What men can do to keep a healthy balance
Know the symptoms. One way men can be proactive about the state of their hormones is to be familiar with what an imbalance can look and feel like.
High male estrogen can cause fatigue, loss of muscle mass and depression as well as symptoms of an enlarged prostate (frequent urination and a weak urine stream).
Low male estrogen also can cause sleepiness, along with erectile dysfunction and irritability.
Symptoms of too much or too little estrogen can seem to overlap, but if any symptoms mentioned here are troubling you, see your doctor sooner rather than later.
Use food. While nutrition alone won’t fix hormone levels that are severely off-balance, eating some of these foods could head off some of the hormone issues that come with age:
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kale are high in phytochemicals that block estrogen production.
Mushrooms work to block aromatase, thus lowering male estrogen production.
Red grapes are rich in resveratrol, which not only lowers estrogen but protects the prostate.
Exercise. In men, low male estrogen levels can cause fat to develop around the midsection. This is probably because the aromatase that converts testosterone to estrogen is found mostly in fat cells.
But the body’s efforts to provide more aromatase and thus more estrogen can backfire in the form of belly fat that’s hard to get rid of. This puts you at risk for too much estrogen as well as Type 2 diabetes.
Controlling body fat with aerobic exercise is crucial to keeping things in balance. Also, a sensible eating plan such as the Mediterranean diet can go a long way toward staying trim. There’s even evidence that it supports a healthy prostate.
They’re in our food packaging, household cleaners, even our hair products and deodorant!
Here are some natural ways to protect yourself and avoid their harmful effects.
Editor’s note: Every day 38 million Americans take a drug that interferes with the natural production of their sex hormones. It also steals memories. Are you one of them? Click here to find out!
- Why estrogen balance is critical for overall health — Medical News Bulletin
- Why Is Estrogen Important for Men? — Prostate.net
- Low Estrogen Symptoms in Men — 11 Common Symptoms — Testosterone Centers of Texas
- Estrogen action and prostate cancer — Expert Review of Endocrinology & Metabolism