Estrogens are hormones that are important for sexual and reproductive development, mainly in women (also known as female sex hormones). The term “estrogen” encompasses all of the chemically comparable hormones in this group, including estrone, estradiol and estriol.
In women, estrogen is produced primarily in the ovaries. A woman’s ovaries are small cherry-sized glands that are found by the uterus and are an integral segment of the endocrine system. Estrogen is also generated by fat cells and the adrenal gland in both females and males. During puberty, estrogen is the main driving factor in the development of the female secondary sex features, such as breasts, wider hips, pubic hair and armpit hair.
Testosterone is for men, and estrogen is for women, right? On the contrary, it may come as a surprise to many, that men do not have the market cornered when it comes to testosterone as well as women when it comes to estrogen.
When it comes to being healthy and having a properly balanced hormonal profile, both males and females should have the proper ratio of both male and female sex hormones. As when our hormones are disharmonious, our whole body malfunctions, both emotionally, mentally and physically. In addition, since our hormones are so equally dependent on one another there are countless opportunities for possible imbalances including: estrogen dominance, estrogen deficiency, low testosterone/high cortisol and fluctuating hormones just to name a few.
Now there are quite a few other hormones profiles that contribute to internal symphony we call life. However in both males and females the testosterone and estrogen tends to take center stage, and their balance is crucial to a person’s energy levels and vitality.
Numerous negative health conditions are more likely to occur in both men and women as a result of testosterone and estrogen levels becoming too high or too low. Now Testosterone and estrogen are interconnected in the body. When looking at their chemical structure reveals only slight differences. Yet, the variations of the influences of these two hormones on the body are considerable.
Now what is considered a healthy reference range regarding a proper testosterone and estrogen level for both men and women will always vary as no one person is the same and reference ranges always change based on the health of the population. However, it is important to understand what a healthy reference range should be and what the symptoms could look like when it comes to having an improperly balanced testosterone to estrogen ratio.
Common symptoms of low estrogen in women include: an increase in urinary tract infections (UTIs) due to a thinning of the urethra, irregular or absent periods, mood swings, hot flashes, breast tenderness, headaches or accentuation of pre-existing migraines, depression, trouble concentrating and fatigue.
Common symptoms of low estrogen in men include: fatigue, oversleeping, sleeping too often, erectile dysfunction, sexual dysfunction, water retention, bone loss, fat accumulation, anxiety, depression and irritability.
Common symptoms of high estrogen in men include: sexual dysfunction (low libido, decreased morning erections, decreased erectile function), formation of breast tissue, lower urinary tract symptoms associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), increased abdominal fat (can also be a symptom of low estrogen), feeling tired, loss of muscle mass, emotional disturbances, especially depression and lastly type 2 diabetes.
Common symptoms of high estrogen in women include: mood swings, anxiety, depression, insomnia, bloating, weight gain, hair loss, fatigue, irregular menstrual cycles, decreased sex drive and breast tenderness.
How Exercise Affects Estrogen
Through multiple studies, exercise has been proven to have an impact on estrogen levels in women but the duration and intensity level of the exercise will have a different impact from person to person. Mostly, it is reliant on the individual’s fitness level, age, their exercise routine as all of the following could or could not affect their estrogen levels.
A female’s body fat level in conjunction with exercise can have an even larger impact on their estrogen levels. As women with extremely low body fat levels could definitely have difficulties producing adequate amounts of estrogen. Women in these types of situations often experience interruptions in their menstrual cycles, known as amenorrhea. They may also develop osteoporosis – the thinning of their bones and fractures as well as other situations that are associated with older women following menopause.
Regular workouts for the non-athlete are less likely to have a negative impact on estrogen production and can even help improve estrogen levels. Now if a female is overweight, they may be producing too much estrogen and a regimented exercise routine may help balance out their estrogen levels.
According to a 2002 study by the National Cancer Institute, regular exercise can cause a significant decrease in estrogen levels, particularly in postmenopausal women. A 2011 study published in the “Journal of Applied Physiology” demonstrated the benefits of cardiovascular exercise. This study found that premenopausal women who did cardiovascular exercise for 300 minutes a week showed significant reductions in their estrogen levels, suggesting that cardio exercises are most effective at reducing estrogen levels.
How Aging Affects Estrogen
As we age, changes naturally occur in the way our body systems control our hormones. Some of these target tissues become less sensitive to their regulating hormone. The amount of hormones the body produces can also change with blood levels of other hormones increasing, while others decrease, and some remain unaffected. Hormones also break down (metabolize) more slowly and estrogen is no exception to this rule. For example, an endocrine tissue may produce less of its hormone than it did at a younger age, or it may produce the same amount at a slower rate.
Estrogen is just one of the many hormones that impact the speed at which we age. Decreases in estrogen in women primarily affect bone loss, depression, memory, brain processing speed and sex drive.
When it comes to health and longevity, the maintenance of sufficient hormone levels throughout the body plays a huge part in our ability to maintain all other optimum hormone levels, as well as produce the vital nutrients and perform many of the body’s functions that are required for long-term physical and mental health.
While diminished estrogen production may seem inevitable with the looming menopause, the ability to keep all of our hormones balanced in both women and men will only contribute to maintaining a zest for life and reducing the occurrence of many possible negative medical conditions.
Hormonal issues are many times the root of all of our problems – especially if any of the symptoms from above feel familiar. As we have stated, estrogen is a key player of the female hormonal system and can causes serious health issues in both females and males if not properly balanced with testosterone. Now to keep estrogen from building up in the body the following lifestyle tips will aid the body in properly balancing and getting rid of any unused estrogen effectively:
Improve Your Diet
Make sure to focus on food quality and get plenty of vegetables. Mainly the cruciferous types as these powerhouse veggies contain indole-3-carbinol, which detoxifies the effects of estrogen. This compound is found in broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, arugula and Brussels sprouts. For the same reason, focus on high quality and clean protein sources like; grass-fed meats, Pacific salmon, organic chicken and pastured eggs. You should avoid protein sources that shift the amount of estrogen metabolites against you, like proteins found in soy products. It is also optimal that you decrease your intake of sweets, refined flours, and processed foods. Sweets and refined flours can increase the amount of insulin in your body and insulin can increase the activity of aromatase (the conversion of testosterone to estrogen.) Also, processed or packaged foods are usually made with cheap oils (corn, soybean, safflower) and these oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids which also promote inflammation as well as aromatase activity.
Given that elevated estrogen is such a health problem in both men and women, undoubtedly the supplement industry has stepped in and done its fair share of research towards creating products that help balance it. Below are some of the vitamins, nutrients, or compounds that seem to have a powerful impact in balancing and maintaining a normal estrogen level:
- Boron – has been shown to decreases free estrogen levels in both men and women.
- Curcumin, Green Tea, Resveratrol – can reduce the effects of aromatase activity in men.
- Zinc – can reduce the activity of estrogen receptor.
- Soluble and Insoluble fiber – Aids in the removal of estrogen through proper bowel movements. If the body does not have frequent bowel movements, estrogen can get recycled back into the body. High quality fiber is found in plant foods: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds.
- Daily Probiotic – the enzyme called beta-glucuronidase that is made from bad bacteria in your gut increases estrogen recycling. An effective way to stop this enzyme form being produced is to make sure your GI tract is filled with good bacteria such as lactobacillus and/or bifidobacteria. However, most probiotics do not contain high enough levels to be effective. Look for probiotic supplements with at least 10-15 billion, colony-forming units (CFU’s).
- Daily omega-3 supplement such as fish oil – The body’s escalation in production of the enzyme aromatase can be increased by low-grade inflammation from things such as stress, illness, obesity, and pollution. Aromatase is used in the creation of estrogen. Therefore, when this enzyme is around in larger quantities even more estrogen may be created than the body needs or can use safely. It is important that your Omega-3 supplement contain both DHA and EPA. 3000 mg per day is a good starting point.
Decrease Stress Levels
Increased levels of stress lead to inflammation of which can increases the activity of the aromatase enzyme. Getting more sleep, regular exercise and deep breathing and or meditation techniques can serve as excellent stress relievers. Managing your time effectively can also make a huge reduction in your stress levels. Take time for yourself and do not overstep or overbook yourself as once you begin to properly take care of yourself, usually everything else falls into place.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Fat tissue creates estrogen in the body. When you have more fat mass you will have more estrogen circulating in your body. Excessive body fat levels (greater than 28 percent in women and 20 percent in men) is also a main contributor to a condition called “estrogen dominance,” in women and plays a large role when it comes to the aromatization of testosterone to estrogen in men.