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When female hormones surge in a man.

High levels of estrogen in men can result in the development of breasts, flabby muscles and aflagging libido

WE TEND TO think of hormones such as estrogen and testosterone as exclusively ' female' and ' male' respectively and to a large extent this is true. Estrogen is predominant in a woman's body and is responsible for healthy skin, hair as well as a regular menstrual cycle. Similarly, testosterone is vital for maintaining muscle mass in men and regulates virility. Men and women have both these male and female hormones in their bodies. Good physical and emotional health depends upon the right quantities and balance of these.

" There is no absolute level of either for men and women; it's the relative levels that matter. Health problems begin when an imbalance occurs and men are especially affected," says Dr Dheeraj Kapoor, consultant endocrinologist, Artemis Hospital.


ESTROGEN explains why men tend to be taller than women. During puberty estrogen helps the bones fuse, preventing men and women from becoming giants. To achieve this, the level of this hormone increases. This happens to girls around the age of 12, and to boys a couple of years later. The extra two years given by nature to boys facilitates more natural growth before estrogen helps fuse their bones. This explains why they tend to be taller than their female counterparts. Over a lifetime, the testosterone levels in men decline and the ratio of testosterone to estrogen falls. Too much estrogen is bad news for a man, as it raises his risk of blood clots and encourages middle aged spread. This, in turn, is bad for heart health and induces diabetes and possibly even affects the prostate gland. " Although estrogen dominance in men is most commonly caused by factors such as obesity, alcoholism, or exposure to a form of environmental estrogen called xenoestrogens, other serious medical problems including pituitary diseases and testicular tumours may also be to blame," says Dr Kapoor.


DESPITE their different effects, estrogen and testosterone are more closely connected than imaginable. In fact, estrogen is made from testosterone. What makes men and women different is that women convert more of their testosterone to estrogen than men. The balance between estrogen and testosterone doesn't usually cause problems in men until middle age when their testosterone levels go into a downward spiral. "As a man grows older he produces less testosterone, some of which is converted into estrogen. If he gains weight, this fat also pumps out estrogen. Too much estrogen adds to his body fat," says Dr Rakesh Prasad, endocrinologist, Fortis Hospital.

Apart from age-related changes in the testosteroneestrogen balance that affect men, the environment and diet may also contribute to estrogen levels. "Today we are continuously surrounded by new environmental compounds called xenoestrogens.

These compounds have a very potent estrogen-like activity. They are in the air, fuels, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, plastics, clothing, insect sprays and personal care products," says Dr Prasad. Most of us ingest hormones in our daily food. Synthetic estrogens are now used to fatten chicken and cattle and to increase milk and egg production.

Birth control pills are not bio- degradable and can contaminate the water supply and soil for decades. Estrogen- based vaginal lubricants can also be absorbed by the male body and create an imbalance. " Synthetic hormones have molecular structures that are incompatible with our physiology. We do not have enzymes designed to modify their effects, nor can we excrete them efficiently. Therefore, these synthetics can have an unnatural and far more potent hormonal effect on our bodies than natural hormones," says Dr Kapoor. " This extra estrogen in our environment is also responsible for the early puberty attained by girls these days," says Dr Ila Gupta, consultant, reproductive unit, Artemis Hospital. Alcohol consumption and obesity are other factors responsible for estrogen dominance in men.


" Even though estrogen levels are minimal in men, an imbalance can cause all kinds of health problems," says Dr Kapoor. Rising levels of estrogen ( estrogen dominance) encourages the development of male beer bellies. " Estrogen encourages fat to accumulate around the central part of the body," says Dr Prasad. A vicious cycle ensues if a man is overweight, as fat cells produce an enzyme that encourages testosterone to be converted into estrogen, which leads to further fat deposition.

Fat in turn leads to tiredness, flabby muscles and reduced libido. Age- related hormone fluctuations in men causes fatty deposits to settle in the breast area resulting in a condition known as gynecomastia or ' manboobs' as they are more popularly called. " An enlarged prostate, urinary problems, low sex drive, depression, fatigue, infertility, rapid increase in weight and osteoporosis, are the usual results of estrogen dominance in men," says Dr Gupta.

" Raised estrogen levels also increase the viscosity of blood increasing the chances of blood clot formation. A low level of estrogen in a man's body is also problematic. Estrogen is important for bone health and men with lower than normal levels tend to develop osteoporosis or brittle bone disease. A link has also been established between low estrogen and prostate cancer.

The concept of hormonal treatment for men as in women is still considered highly controversial so the only way to tackle this problem is to make certain changes in lifestyle and habits.

" Treating any underlying problem, which causes excess estrogen production like diseases including hyperthyroidism and cirrhosis of the liver is also necessary," says Dr Kapoor.

A man should look out for tell tale symptoms of estrogen dominance and report them to a doctor who will then prescribe a blood test to determine the quantity of estrogen in the body.

" Reduced frequency of shaving, development of breasts, flagging energy and libido are common signs of estrogen dominance in men," says Dr Prasad.

rituparna. mukherjee@ mailtoday. in

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Dec 1, 2009
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