Understanding estrogen levels in men

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on August 15, 2021. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Hormones play an important part in your overall health. They comprise unique chemicals that regulate a wide range of functions, from hunger to physical development. The human body contains about 50 of these unique chemicals.

Most people who think of hormones think about human sex hormones. These get broken down into androgen (male sex hormones) and estrogen (female sex hormones). While these hormones do get categorized based on gender, every person of every gender needs some amount of androgen (in the form of testosterone) and estrogen. Learn more about estrogen in men and its interactions with testosterone and other hormones below.


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What is Estrogen?

Estrogen refers to a category of female sex hormones that all have a similar chemical structure. This includes estrone, estriol, and estradiol. In women, estrogen is produced primarily in the ovaries, which are also responsible for producing eggs every month. During puberty, estrogen plays an integral part in the growth of breasts, wider hips, armpit hair, and pubic hair. In adult women, estrogen regulates menstrual cycles, supports blood clotting, maintains proper bone health, and reinforces vaginal health.

As vital as estrogen is to women, it’s just as important in men. In cis men, testosterone is the main sex hormone that contributes to physical and sexual development and function, but cis men also need estrogen for optimal health. Estrogen plays a role in just about every system in the body, from your immune system to your cardiovascular system. A careful balance of testosterone and estrogen also affects sex drive, sperm count, and the ability to have an erection.

Cis men typically don’t produce as much estrogen as cis women. Testosterone gets converted into estrogen by aromatase, an enzyme present in the testes, adrenal glands, the brain, and fat tissue. The converted estrogen is then secreted by the testes and adrenal glands.

How Estrogen Levels Fluctuate in Men

Cis men typically have two types of estrogen: estrone and estradiol. Prior to puberty and even sometimes during puberty, these hormones are nearly undetectable on average. In adult cis men, estrone levels are typically at 10 to 60 picograms per milliliter, while estradiol levels are at 10 to 40 picograms per milliliter on average. By comparison, estrone levels can go up to 200 picograms per milliliter in premenopausal cis women, while estradiol levels can be as high as 350 picograms per milliliter.

As cis men age, testosterone levels naturally go down while their estrogen levels go slightly up. This generally isn’t a problem, but too much of an imbalance can potentially lead to health issues. So, what causes high estradiol levels in males?

Symptoms of Estrogen Imbalances

Any extreme imbalance in estrogen can result in a wide range of health issues. Typically, high estrogen levels or estrogen dominance can pose more prominent signs and symptoms. While low estrogen levels aren’t usually a cause for concern, this is usually caused by hypogonadism, which can affect all your hormones, including testosterone and estrogen, resulting in overall hormonal imbalances. Both high and low estrogen levels might manifest the same problems.

Infertility

Estrogen is necessary for the production of sperm. Too much estrogen can slow down sperm production in the testes, resulting in a lower sperm count and fewer healthy sperm cells.

Gynecomastia

Gynecomastia refers to increased development of breast gland tissue. Higher estrogen levels can result in more breast tissue growth. While this is typically harmless, breast tissue can feel swollen and tender, and cis men may feel embarrassed or self-conscious.

Erectile dysfunction

Getting and maintaining an erection requires a careful balance of hormones. Increased estrogen can disrupt that balance, resulting in erectile dysfunction. This can be even more prominent if you already experience low testosterone levels.

Low Libido

While most cis men associate their sex drive with testosterone, estrogen may play a more important role than you realize. Studies found that reductions in estrogen in men who were undergoing treatment for low testosterone levels resulted in a significant drop in libido.

Depression

Studies show that increased estrogen levels may be associated with symptoms of depression. While this was studied in obese and overweight men, the studies also show that the depression symptoms manifested regardless of BMI. The exact mechanisms of this still require further study.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is characterized by weak, porous bones, resulting in debilitating or even life-threatening bone fractures. Although this is more common in menopausal women, men can also suffer from osteoporosis. Estrogen is known to regulate bone health and the metabolism of calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients essential to the growth and development of bone. Studies suggest that low estrogen levels may contribute to an increased risk of osteoporosis.

What Causes Estrogen Imbalances?

Hypogonadism

One of the main physiological causes of an estrogen hormone imbalance is hypogonadism. This is a condition wherein the testes don’t produce enough testosterone, which can lead to imbalances in other hormones. Remember, estrogen in cis men is a product of testosterone conversion. Without enough testosterone, your body has less of the hormone to convert into estrogen.

Hypogonadism comes in two forms. Primary hypogonadism is caused by problems within the testicles. Secondary hypogonadism is characterized by problems in the pituitary gland or hypothalamus. These glands normally send signals from the brain to the testicles to produce testosterone, but problems in these glands may prevent signals from reaching the testes, inhibiting the production of testosterone.

These two forms of hypogonadism can occur at the same time. Both forms can also be inherited or caused later in life by injury or infection.

Obesity

Studies show that obesity may also increase estrogen in men. This may come from the larger number of fat cells, which may signal increased estrogen production while reducing testosterone production.

Stress

If you know what the DHEA hormone is, then you might know of cortisol. It is the main stress hormone, and both DHEA and cortisol are produced in your adrenal glands. Cortisol naturally suppresses the function and production of other hormones, including testosterone. Chronic stress can lead to a constant flood of cortisol. This can then result in estrogen imbalances.

Medical Causes

Certain forms of medication, like antibiotics and antipsychotics, may contribute to hormonal imbalances. Tumors in the testicles and in glands responsible for signaling testosterone production may also inhibit hormone production.

How to Manage Estrogen Balance

Your doctor may recommend simple diet and lifestyle changes to help you maintain your estrogen balance. Most experts recommend diets high in fiber and low in fat as a means of controlling your estrogen.

Exercise may also help to balance your estrogen levels. Higher muscle mass is known to increase testosterone production, which can help to balance out your hormones. Knowing the benefits of DHEA will also help you control your estrogen levels. Working out also naturally reduces stress, allowing for less cortisol interfering with the rest of your hormones.

However, for extreme cases of estrogen imbalance, you should consult your doctor. There may be an underlying health issue that you need to address.

Estrogen plays an integral role in your health, regardless of your gender. If you believe your estrogen and other hormones may be fluctuating, consider the Everlywell Men’s Health Test, which measures cortisol, estradiol, testosterone, and DHEA.

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