Health Risks of High Estrogen in Men and Women

Sometimes people think of estrogen as a female hormone, but all human bodies require estrogen to function. It is normal for estrogen levels to rise and fall to a certain extent.

However, if a person has consistently high estrogen for an extended period, this increases their risk of high blood pressure, blood clots, hypocalcemia (low calcium), and some types of cancer.

Read on to find out the function of estrogen in the body, why it fluctuates, what high estrogen levels can do to the body, and what you can do to achieve a balance of estrogen.

Blood sample tube for estrone hormone test

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Estrogen Function

Estrogen impacts more areas of your health than you may realize. It goes beyond fertility and sex-related functions to:

  • Mood
  • Bone strength
  • Heart health

In Women

In women, estrogen helps initiate sexual development. Along with another female sex hormone, progesterone, it also regulates the menstrual cycle and affects the entire reproductive system. In premenopausal women, estrogen and progesterone levels vary from one stage of the menstrual cycle to another.

Estrogen plays an important role in the healthy development of your bones. It also regulates bone turnover in your adult bones and protects against bone loss.

The hormone helps to keep your blood vessels healthy, including decreasing inflammation and controlling your cholesterol levels. In menopause, when the protective effect of estrogen is gone, there is a steady increase in heart disease in women.

The Importance of Estrogen

Estrogen is an important hormone for sexual development, the menstrual cycle, and bone and heart health in women.

In Men 

Estradiol, the predominant form of estrogen, also plays a critical role in male sexual function. Estradiol in men is essential for modulating libido, erectile function, and sperm production.

Types and Fluctuation of Estrogen

Before a female reaches menopause, her body produces four different types of estrogen:

  • Estrone (E1): Estrone is made in the ovaries. E1 production decreases during pregnancy and with menopause. It has weak effects on the body, including maintenance of bone health.
  • Estradiol (E2): Like E1, estradiol is made in the ovaries. It is the most prevalent estrogen in the body during the reproductive years. Its main job is to mature and maintain the reproductive system.
  • Estriol (E3): Estriol is present in small amounts in premenopausal women. It is the main estrogen produced during pregnancy and it is made by the placenta.
  • Estetrol (E4): This hormone is made by a growing fetus, and it is only produced during pregnancy.

Estrogen levels can go up and down depending on the stage of life, menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause.

Puberty 

During puberty, the increased levels of sex hormones (primarily estrogen) result in physical changes, including the development of:

  • Breasts
  • Ovaries
  • Uterus
  • Vagina

During the 28-Day Cycle

During the menstrual cycle, estrogen levels fluctuate throughout the month. Secreted by the developing egg follicle, this hormone aids in thickening the endometrium for ovulation and possible pregnancy.

Pregnancy 

Estrogen levels increase steadily during pregnancy and reach their peak in the third trimester. During the second trimester, it plays a major role in the milk duct development that enlarges the breasts.

During Menopause 

As you approach menopause, the ovaries begin to become physically smaller and begin to slow down their production of hormones, including estrogen and progesterone. After menopause, estrone is the only estrogen hormone that the body continues to produce, albeit in small amounts.

When Is High Estrogen a Concern?

If a person has consistently high estrogen for an extended period, this increases their risk of:

Common Risk Factors

Some women experience a condition known as estrogen dominance, where they have higher than normal levels of estrogen in relation to other hormones.

Many factors may contribute to estrogen dominance, including:

  • Obesity: Fat tissue produces estrone, therefore excess body weight can result in higher amounts of estrogen.
  • Stress: Stress increases cortisol levels. When cortisol levels remain consistently high, this can deplete the levels of progesterone, which can have a knock-on effect on estrogen.
  • Alcohol consumption: Drinking alcohol excessively raises estradiol levels and makes it harder for the body to metabolize estrogen, too.
  • Health conditions: Some health conditions have an association with or lead to estrogen dominance. These include polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), uterine fibroidsendometriosis, and certain cancers. 

In males, estrogen can also become high relative to the amount of testosterone in the body if testosterone levels become low.

Symptoms and Associated Conditions

When your body’s estrogen levels aren’t balanced, you may begin developing certain symptoms. In women, potential symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Breast swelling and tenderness
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Irregular periods
  • Increased symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Weight gain
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Memory problems

Symptoms of high estrogen in men include:

  • Infertility. Estrogen is partly responsible for creating healthy sperm. When estrogen levels are high, sperm levels may fall and lead to fertility issues.
  • GynecomastiaEstrogen may stimulate breast tissue growth. Men with too much estrogen may develop gynecomastia, a condition that leads to larger breasts.
  • Erectile dysfunction. Men with high levels of estrogen may have difficulty getting or maintaining an erection.

Testing and Diagnosis 

If your healthcare provider suspects that you might have high estrogen, they’ll likely order a blood test to check your hormone levels. You may have further tests including scans to determine if there is an underlying cause of your high estrogen such as PCOS or uterine fibroids.

In females, healthcare providers can measure all three types of estrogen via blood testing. In males, they only measure estradiol and estrone.

Possible Course of Treatment

The treatment for high estrogen depends on the underlying cause. Doctors may recommend lifestyle changes to reduce the levels. Such as:

  • Maintaining a moderate weight
  • Reducing stress
  • Limiting or stopping alcohol consumption
  • Avoiding any natural or herbal remedies that may increase estrogen

Balanced Estrogen Levels Chart

Blood estrogen levels are measured in pictograms per milliliter (pg/mL). The following estrone and estradiol levels are considered within the normal range:

Balanced Estrogen Levels in Women
Estrone Estradiol
Prepubescent female Undetectable–29 pg/mL Undetectable–20 pg/ml
Pubescent female 10–200 pg/mL Undetectable–350 pg/ml
Premenopausal adult female 17–200 pg/mL 15–350 pg/ml
Postmenopausal adult female 7–40 pg/mL <10 pg/ml

In premenopausal women, estradiol levels vary widely throughout the menstrual cycle.

Balanced Estrogen Levels in Men
   
Prepubescent male Undetectable–16 pg/ml Undetectable–13 pg/ml
Pubescent male Undetectable–60 pg/ml Undetectable–40 pg/ml
Adult male 10–60 pg/ml 10–40 pg/ml

Preparing for Changing Estrogen During Menopause

During perimenopause, the period leading up to a woman's last menstrual period, estrogen levels fall. You may be offered hormone replacement therapy by your healthcare provider to counteract the side effects of menopause.

Benefits vs. Drawbacks of Using HRT

Research is beginning to show what the risks and benefits of menopause hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are, but there is still a lot to learn about the effects of estrogen and progesterone on our bodies.

The main benefit of HRT is that it can help relieve most menopausal symptoms, such as:

  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Mood swings
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Reduced sex drive

HRT can also help prevent thinning of the bones, which can lead to fracture (osteoporosis).

The benefits of HRT usually outweigh the risks for most women.

The risks are higher for some women, depending on their personal health history and their family health history. The most well-known risks are:

  • Blood clots
  • Cardiovascular events, including stroke and heart attack
  • Certain types of breast cancer
  • Gallbladder disease

Risks Vary

Since your risk depends on your personal combination of risk factors, it’s important to discuss this decision carefully with your healthcare provider.

Natural Ways to Increase Estrogen

There do not appear to be many scientifically proven methods for increasing estrogen levels using natural remedies. However, a few diet and lifestyle changes may help.

  • Maintaining a healthy weight: Because being extremely underweight can cause reduced estrogen levels, maintaining a healthy weight may help.
  • Soy: Some studies have been conducted on the benefits of soy supplements for treating low estrogen symptoms. In a 2012 analysis of 19 studies, soy isoflavone supplements reduced the severity of hot flashes by just over 26%, compared to a placebo.

Increasing soy may not be appropriate for all women. Before adding more soy or taking a soy supplement, you should talk to your healthcare provider.

Summary

Estrogen is thought by many to be a female hormone, but everybody has some amount of estrogen in their body. Estrogen impacts more areas of your health than you may realize. It goes beyond fertility and sex-related functions to mood, bone strength, and even heart health.

Estrogen levels fluctuate during the life of a woman, particularly during puberty, the menstrual cycle, and menopause. But consistently high levels of estrogen can cause health issues that need to be addressed.

A Word From Verywell

If you’re experiencing symptoms that may be related to high estrogen, make an appointment to see your healthcare provider. It’s important to treat high estrogen and any underlying cause. Treatment can help reduce your symptoms and your risk of complications.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which foods are good for low estrogen symptoms?

    Phytoestrogens, also known as dietary estrogen, are naturally occurring plant compounds that may act in a way similar to that of estrogen produced by the human body.

    Foods especially rich in phytoestrogen include:

    • Seeds: flax, pumpkin, sunflower, poppy, and sesame
    • Whole grains: rye, oats, and barley
    • Bran: wheat, oat, and rye
    • Beans and lentils
    • Fruits: especially apples and berries
    • Soybeans and soy products: tempeh, soybeans, and tofu
    • Vegetables: especially cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts
  • How does birth control affect estrogen levels?

    Birth control pills are a synthetic form of the hormones progesterone and estrogen. They prevent ovulation by maintaining more consistent hormone levels.

  • What’s an effective way to lose weight with high estrogen?

    Certain diets have been shown to promote healthy estrogen levels and body weight while significantly reducing disease risk.

    Studies show that diets that focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods, especially vegetables and fruits, like the Mediterranean diet help encourage healthy levels of estrogen, as well as other hormones.

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