When it comes to achieving the body of your dreams, estrogen typically is not high on the list of things to look at.
However, what is not known by many folks is the way estrogen can make or break your physique.
Intrigued? You should be.
By optimizing your estrogen levels as a man, and keeping your testosterone to estrogen1 level ratio in check, you can have your gains and eat it too!
If you’ve tried increasing your testosterone naturally, but still feel underwhelmed, then estrogen deserves a serious look.
Ready to meet your feminine side? Yeah, we thought so too!
Who Is This Estrogen Thing You Speak Of?
Quite simply, estrogen is one of the body’s primary sex hormone, much more important in women than it is in men. In men, estrogen in primarily produced from our main sex hormone testosterone, via a process known as aromatization.
However, while small amounts of this hormone are important for general health, a problem quickly arises when our optimal testosterone to estrogen ratio gets out of whack.
In fact, so serious is the issue of excessive estrogen, that you may be surprised to learn that most men suffer the consequences as a result. A debilitating scenario referred to as Estrogen Dominance.
No, this doesn’t mean that your wife is ruling your life (although this is pretty common).
But rather a perfect storm arising from excessive estrogen levels, coupled with a drop in progesterone levels (more on progesterone in a bit). This scenario can occur discreetly, without you ever realizing what’s going on. Simple factors such as:
- Exposure to Excessive Xeno-estrogens and Phyto-estrogens: These are artificial and plant based estrogens respectively, which mimic the way estrogen acts in our body and disrupts functions as such.
- Excessive Bodyfat: This will promote production of estrogen since the process of aromatization (the production of estrogen) occurs in fat cells. Then the cycle repeats faster, as estrogen begets more fat.
- Stress: This is huge and nobody realizes it. Cortisol is indirectly produced via Progesterone, which is quickly used up under stressful conditions. The result? Greatly elevated estrogen levels
The Bad: Too Much Estrogen Will Make You Fat
This is quite the interesting fact, as it is a catch 22. Let me explain; in men, about 80% of estrogen in our body is produced from testosterone, via a process known as aromatization. This is all good, and coupled with the natural production of DHT, estrogen is kept in relative chains.
This situation can shift real fast however, if body fat levels increase. See, the thing is the process of aromatization occurs in fat cells; the more fat your possess, the more estrogen that can be produced. From here, things can go downhill real fast. In a nutshell, what happens is:
- Higher body fat levels lead to increased estrogen synthesis
- The subsequently higher estrogen levels leads to decreased rates of lipolysis, and promotes storage of calories (think of how a woman possesses more fat than a man)
- The increased estrogen production is then likely to suppress natural testosterone and DHT synthesis, via the negative feedback loop mechanism.
The result of this is an ever increasing negative cycle, ultimately taking a male athlete further and further away from his ideal body composition. If you notice your muscle gains have stagnated, a low testosterone and higher than normal estrogen level may be the culprit.
The Good: Estrogen Helps Maintain Bone Density
It’s no coincidence that women experience peak bone mass density (BMD) during their pre-menopausal years, then an abrupt drop in the post-menopausal phase. Estrogen is responsible for that. Estrogen can be considered a “nurturing” or bountiful hormone, which promotes bone mineralization, keep the structural integrity high.
In fact, a study carried out on collegiate level athletes revealed that testosterone itself has no real effect of BMD, but rather a combination of BMI, BMD and resistance training.
What does this mean for you as a man? For one, do not try to suppress estrogen completely. By doing so, you compromise bone mass density, and make yourself prone to fractures and injuries. It is better to consume a natural estrogen blocking food, or a supplement such as Arimistane that can help reduce production.
The Ugly: Suppressing Estrogen Production Is Not Enough
Huh? What am I talking about? Unknown to many men, is the fact that estrogen produced in our bodies is not the only way we may be subject to its effects. Many substances, and even foods, are considered pseudo or phyto-estrogens, and act in a way mimicking the natural hormone.
However, when we are in contact with lots of estrogen mimetics, the stage is set for negative repercussion to occur, as our testosterone/androgen to estrogen ratio is drastically altered.
Not sure where you may be exposed to these pseudo-estrogens? Here are few of the most popular culprits:
- Beer: Starting off the list is one of the most potent phyto-estrogens known to man. Many varieties of beer is made from hops, which are the flowers from the hop plant are contain high concentrations of phyto-estrogens.
- Plastic Bottles: Not all, but quite a few plastic bottles contain a chemical known as BPA (bisphenol A) which exerts strong pseudo-estrogenic effects in males. As much as you can, use glass bottles or plastic bottles that are specifically BPA free.
- Soy: Chances are we’ve all had some amount of soy before, be it from that easily accessible soy protein powder, many foods enriched with soy lecithin or even tofu. However, as a male, soy will undoubtedly lead to estrogen issues down the road.
Gynecomastia: The Beast Incarnate
If there is one undisputed scourge of the male fitness community, the condition known as gynecomastia would take that title. More commonly known affectionately as “moobs”, it may develop during puberty, while on cycles of anabolic steroids, or when using certain medications.
What exactly is gyno? Quite simply put, the development of male breast tissue, particularly the glandular tissue (areola and outer edges). It is not uncommon to see relatively lean men with gyno, whereby the chest is lean, but the nipples and areolas are plump and protruding.
Why does gyno happen? Frequently, it occurs when testosterone levels drop low in relation to estrogen levels2, or when testosterone is being suppressed by high estrogen. As gyno actually is the growth of glandular tissue, it can be very difficult if not impossible to treat without surgical excision, although that depends on your personal preference.
What About This Thing Called Prolactin?
In men, prolactin’s utility is minimal, with normal levels being associated with healthy sexual function3. In women, however, prolactin is very important in stimulating the commencement of lactation and production of breast milk.
Though rare, there have been reported cases of male breast enlargement (gyno) with subsequent production of a milky substance being due to the growth of small pituitary tumors referred to as prolactinomas.
Men who have prolactinomas coupled with high estrogen levels will experience greater than normal growth of breast tissue, and may need to go on prescription drug therapy to control over secretion of this hormone. For guys, estrogen and prolactin are those two female hormones you for sure want to keep at bay.
The Flip Side Of The Coin: Too Little Estrogen
On the other extreme are persons who try hard to suppress estrogen to such an extent that they virtually nullify its presence. Though it may seem as a good idea at first, estrogen suppression when taken to extremes can result in numerous adverse effects on health and body composition as a whole. Consider the following effects that you may experience:
- Diminished Sex Drive and Erectile Potency
- Low BMD, and predisposition to fractures
- Joint pain as a result of diminished cartilage synthesis.
Estrogen Can Help You Gain Muscle Mass
Here is one other reason we don't want to go to low on estrogen that most guys will care about, estrogen can promote muscle gains. Estrogen does not promote muscle gain in the typical fashion you might expect, but rather through increasing levels4 of another anabolic hormone, insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1).
In addition, IGF-1 signals many other growth pathways, including the important GLUT-4 carrier molecules, which are important for shuttling nutrients across cell membranes where they can be used to initiate growth.
However, remember guys that while muscle gains are cool, man boobs (gyno), fat gain, and erectile dysfunction is not. So don't go out thinking you want to increase estrogen for maximum gains. We want OPTIMAL estrogen levels!
So How Can You Regulate and Optimize Estrogen Levels?
Keeping your estrogen levels in the normal range for a male is not difficult, but does require consistency and diligence. While exercise will play a very important role in determining your body composition, your diet is arguably more important.
Consider these tips for optimizing your levels:
Consume Natural Phyto-Estrogens
Remember we briefly mentioned phyto-estrogens above? Well there is some good news- not all of them are bad. In fact, consuming the correct ones (such as those found in red wine) can help control your estrogen levels altogether.
Resveratrol, found in red wine has been shown to have potential testosterone boosting effects, while simultaneously reducing estrogen by binding to the receptor, according to a study5 conducted on the compound.
Progesterone Is Your Friend
Though classically considered as another female only hormone, progesterone may actually help in your quest to keep estrogen levels normal6, according to results of a study. The problem however, arises when you are under a lot of stress.
Related: Top 10 Testosterone Boosting Foods
Progesterone is involved in the biosynthesis of cortisol, or primary stress hormone, and may explain the hormonal surge in estrogen and fat retention that occur when under stressful times when progesterone is depleted.
Know what’s also very interesting? Progesterone and Testosterone share a similar pattern of cyclic rises and falls, as evidenced in a study, so using a supplement that can improve your progesterone levels may translate well for testosterone levels too.
At Anabolic Health we have good experiences using progesterone cream to boost testosterone and lower estrogen, however be sure to monitor your levels and adjust dose accordingly.
Furthermore is the fact that another study7 was able to determine that progesterone levels were lower in obese men, a testament of the way estrogen and progesterone wrestle for suppression of each other.
Eat Cruciferous Vegetables
Vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, contain a unique phyto-nutrient known as DIM. In small doses, DIM is able to act like a natural aromatase inhibitor, preventing the conversion of testosterone into estrogen, and at the same time break down estrogen into less potent forms8.
Drink Pomegranate Juice
If there was one fruit whose sole mission was to destroy estrogen, the pomegranate would be that fruit. Numerous studies have demonstrated its ability to reduce estrogen by inhibiting the aromatase enzyme9, as well as its potential testosterone boosting effects.
What are you waiting for? Get drinking that pomegranate juice!
Should Supplements Be Used?
Absolutely. In fact, if you need to get a grip on your estrogen levels fast, an effective natural estrogen blocker can work wonders. Depending on your relative levels of estrogen, the need for a mild or stronger blocker can be employed.
As much as possible, avoid prescription strength estrogen blockers or aromatase inhibitors (AIs) as these can come with serious side effects like increased risk of bone fractures, joint pain, and sexual dysfunction.
Most commonly, estrogen blocking supplements fall into two categories:
- SERM: These selectively block estrogen from interacting with their receptor at specific locations. Such locations may include the breast, whereas in another location it may stimulate the receptor itself.
- Aromatase Inhibitors (AIs): Arguably more effective than SERMs, as they prevent the production of the estrogen in the first place, eliminating the possibility of a rebound increase occurring after stopping supplementation.
Take advantage of both worlds, and combine a mild SERM with a stronger AI for faster action with longer lasting suppression. And the best part? Most natural inhibitors are easy on adverse effects and generally do not promote an absurd level or estrogen reduction.
Estrogen could be the missing link to explaining why your muscle gains have plateaued, yet you continue to gain body fat.
Just keep in mind, that some amount of estrogen is needed for normal male sexual characteristics, as well as general health.
What you need to avoid, are artificial xenoestrogens, while being sure to consume natural anti-estrogenic foods and the occasional supplement for extra support.
- Imbalance of testosterone/estradiol promotes male CHD development.[ Bio-medical materials and engineering.2012]- PubMed - NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22766718
- Gynecomastia: Clinical evaluation and management.[ Indian journal of endocrinology and metabolism. 2014]- PMC- NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3987263
- Low prolactin is associated with sexual dysfunction and psychological or metabolic disturbances in middle-aged and elderly men: the European Male Aging Study (EMAS). [ The Journal Of Sexual Medicine. 2014]- PubMed- NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24345293
- Estrogen effects on skeletal muscle insulin-like growth factor 1 and myostatin in ovariectomized rats. [Experimental biology and medicine. 2007]- PubMed- NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17959844
- trans-Resveratrol, a natural antioxidant from grapes, increases sperm output in healthy rats. [The Journal Of Nutrition. 2005]- PubMed- NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15795430
- Progesterone blocks the estradiol-stimulated luteinizing hormone surge by disrupting activation in response to a stimulatory estradiol signal in the ewe. [Biology Of Reproduction. 2002]- PubMed- NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12080007
- Circulating progesterone and obesity in men.[ Hormone and metabolic research. 2006]- PubMed- NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16718630
- Ah receptor binding properties of indole carbinols and induction of hepatic estradiol hydroxylation. [Biochemical Pharmacology. 1993]- PubMed- NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8384853Short-duration
- Pomegranate juice intake enhances salivary testosterone levels and improves mood and well being in healthy men and women [Endocrine Abstracts. 2010]- Endocrine Abstracts. Retrieved from http://www.endocrine-abstracts.org/ea/0028/ea0028p313.htm