Home health remedies Estradiol: The “Other” Male Hormone

Estradiol: The “Other” Male Hormone

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Estradiol
in Men: The Stigma

In the 2014 film The Other Woman, Cameron Diaz, Leslie
Mann, and Kate Upton, portray three jilted females who discover they are being
wronged by the same man. (1) Seeking vengeance, they concoct a plan that in
part calls for lacing the man’s smoothie drinks with ground up estrogen pills.
After an undisclosed amount of time, the man begins to complain to his wife
(Leslie Mann) that he seems to be growing breasts (a condition called gynecomastia).
Hilarity ensues among the women as they revel in the prospect that this
womanizer will be publically shamed. If we delve into the meaning behind what
this scene says socially about American culture, there is something
stigmatizing for a man who is supposed to be masculine that in turn possesses
such a female physical form as breasts. The truth is that this is no laughing
matter. Stereotypical images abound when one mentions the threat of a male
being emasculated. More importantly, this particular issue, not the guy
cheating by the way, but rather the levels of estrogen versus testosterone in a
male’s system is one that leads to an important discussion about the role of
what is called estradiol. Defining what it does exactly, how it affects men in
the long-term, and what this can mean for medical conditions like heart health,
bone density, and decreases in sex drive are all lines of inquiry that should
push one to tune in.

To begin, estradiol is a steroid,
an estrogen, and the primary female sex hormone. It is vital for women because
it aids reproductive health and helps to facilitate sexual development over
time. Also essential for its important effects on tissues such as bone, fat,
skin, liver, and even, the brain, estradiol also impacts females in these areas
as they advance in age. However, estradiol’s story is fascinating because for
decades it was only associated with female sex. As recently as the 1990s, when
doctors started offering comprehensive blood test panels, men did not
understand why they were checking estrogen levels. This stemmed, like the
stereotypes associated with men having breasts, as something only for females.
Several early studies of estradiol began to change this perception. (2) What
they uncovered spread like wildfire in medical circles and in the popular
press. They confirmed that men with even slightly elevated estrogen levels
doubled their risk of stroke and had far higher incidences of coronary artery
disease. Early observations also revealed that men possessing prostate cancer
had higher estrogen levels and often low testosterone (Low T).

Role
of Estradiol in Men: A Long Path to Understanding

After 2012, as doctors and clinical
specialists debated the effects of such studies, it seemed that Low T and low
levels of estradiol could be linked to several degenerative diseases.
Newspapers, like the New York Times, covered
the story by declaring that as men aged, they were not only susceptible to the
effects of Low T, but complaints at midlife including declining muscle
structure, hair loss, sex drive, and a host of other maladies were also
connected to the hormone that no one believed men really needed. (3) The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), the benchmark publication of our
age, declared that “conclusive evidence is rendered to prove that both hormones
are needed for libido.” (4) Dr. Joel Finkelstein of Harvard and Dr. Peter
Snyder at the University of Pennsylvania, just to name a few, were some of the
specialists who conducted the first stage of testosterone studies. Their work
has provided a new road map of the function of each hormone. What they found
essentially was that fat accumulation kicks in at higher testosterone levels,
say 300 to 350 nanograms, thus pushing estrogen levels to sink low enough that
bodily breakdowns ensue. As for the lowering of sexual desires, they pronounced
that both hormones are needed to maintain a “healthy level,” especially after
the age of 65. Despite these breakthrough findings, Dr. Finkelstein did offer a
caveat, a warning if you will, and it pertains to that “healthy level” comment.
There is no consensus or even common ground on what constitutes a proper dosage
of each hormone. (5) The “Testosterone Trial” as it became known has created buzz
yet loads of misnomers. Choosing to focus more on Low T funneled knowledge into
preconceived notions. In the process, estradiol remained a misunderstood topic among
the public. Once new hormone gels and supposed advanced tests hit the market, a
billion-dollar industry was created.

Other teams of medical personnel
and scientists though continued to probe estradiol’s secrets. A group led by
Dr. Ravi Kacker at Harvard under the auspices of the Laboratory for Sexual
Medicine Research produced some findings that were more tempered than the work
of their colleague Dr. Finkelstein. In an influential article they outlined the
role of estrogens in male sexual function and stated, “the pathogenesis of testosterone
deficiency remains controversial and poorly understood.” (6) Their aim was to
review the distribution of estrogens in both normal and deficient men, with an
eye on the clinical implications of elevated estrogen levels. With a broad
brush, they swept through the literature on this subject and with pinpoint
accuracy what they found was intriguing. Estrogens it turns out elicit a
variety of responses in men and can contribute to changes in sexual function.
In the absence of testosterone deficiency, elevations do not appear to be
harmful and it appears that even in castrated men, sexual functions can be
maintained. Estrogen supplements can suppress testosterone levels, but
naturally occurring rises in estrogens, like estradiol for instance, do not appear
to cause Low T. Nor does, and this is major, elevated levels of estrogen during
testosterone replacement benefit male sexuality. This revelation by an
accredited team of specialists speaks to the need for more research, more
studies, and more time in the laboratory for data to be accrued. As they
concluded, “current evidence does not support a role of naturally occurring
estrogen elevations or the treatment during testosterone therapy.”

Since testosterone is the precursor hormone for estradiol it is an essential part for men because when the HTP hormonal axis senses that hormones (like testosterone or estradiol) are high, it decreases production; that we do know, and this is undisputed. However, what should also be recognized are the implications of estradiol levels on other portions of the body, including the brain, the heart, and for bone density. First, the brain is impact by levels testosterone and estrogen. Professor Mohamed Kabbaj of the Biomedical Science Pepartment at Florida State University (FSU) discovered that the two hormones actually work in concert to combat Low T in patients and to ward off the effects of anxiety and depression. (7) Since women are more likely to experience depression during their lifetime it could be surmised that depression in men tends to be overlooked, just as estradiol levels were during those early blood tests in the 1990s. The purpose of the FSU Study is so that in the future antidepressants can specifically target some of the mechanisms by which testosterone acts. Since these hormones affect different pathways to the brain the issue is to find pharmacological avenues that will not inhibit other growth potential elsewhere. The other point that becomes apparent is the connectivity between what happens in the brain to what dominos to the heart. According to several studies, the heart is particularly susceptible to lower levels of estradiol because the regulation of body fat becomes strained due to accumulation of cells. (8) Serum concentrations of estradiol were directly linked to mortality in men, especially those that possessed chronic heart failure and reduced left ventricular ejection fraction. One study conducted by the JAMA found that overall increases in estradiol levels were quite effective in reducing the systolic heart failure rates in patients. These types of studies also pushed medical testing facilities to examine the rate of bone loss in their patients. (9) The results were of interest there as well because lower levels, say under 11pg/ml, were associated with increased bone loss. Young men were certainly susceptible to the effects of low estradiol as much as older men over 65 years old, but it is those elder males that are most in need of tests and preventative therapy to stem the tide of bone loss due to their age.

Sensitive
Estradiol Test in Men

The tests that can drive preventative therapy and flesh out the problems of low and high estrogen levels are a delicate matter as well. Some controversy fueled discussions among clinics and online defenders of the faith that the wrong estradiol tests may be overestimating the levels in men. Calls for ultrasensitive estradiol tests in are order by most assessments (E2 test), which are more accurate per se. Yet, the issue becomes one of economics due to the higher price of such an advanced test. (10) Even more concerning for males desiring to pursue the anti-aging race is that many clinics when administering testosterone treatments are now prescribing a blocker for estradiol production called anastrozole. The professional medical opinion behind this choice is that higher estradiol levels will form gynecomastia and edema, as well as erectile dysfunction. Some groups of clinicians have even speculated that low hormone testosterone-to-estradiol ratios may be more closely correlated to these types of issues than estradiol alone. (11)

The Future of Estradiol Research in Men

The key word that demands caution when discussing estradiol levels in men is speculation. Once again, tests and data are designed with flaws built in. After only a couple of decades of research, we are still reactionary when it comes to concern with sexual drives, receding hair lines, and such. At times, this overt concern tends to push us to operate like the drunk under the streetlamp that refuses to look for his keys anywhere outside the light. More studies, the incorporation of algorithmic designs, and good old-fashioned time, might lead us down a new avenue of discovery. Trusting androgen researchers may well be our other best bet, as they work on developing the pathway specific wonder drugs through nanotechnology and time release that could hinder the guesswork that is rampant when discussing the proper balance between testosterone and estrogen levels in men. Stay tuned.  

______________________________

References:

1. The
Other Woman (2014) Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

2. Muller
M, van der Schouw YT, Thijssen JH, Grobbee DE (2003) Endogenous sex hormones
and cardiovascular disease in men. J Clin Endocrinal Metab 88 (11): 5076-5086

3. Kolata
G (2013) Middle-aged men, too can blame estrogen for that waistline. NY Times

4. Finklestein
J, et.al. (2013) Gonaldal steroids and Body Composition, Strength, and Sexual
function in men. NE J Med 369:1011-1022

5.
Kolata G (2013) Middle-aged men, too can blame estrogen for that waistline. NY
Times

6. Kacker
R, et.al. (2012) Estrogens in men: clinical implications for sexual function
and the treatment of testosterone deficiency. Intl Soc Sex Med 9(6): 1681-96

7. Kabbaj
M, et.al. (2015) The anxiolytic and antidepressant-like effects of testosterone
and estrogen in gonadectomized male rats. Bio Psy 78(4): 259-69

8.
Jankowska EA, et.al. (2009) Circulating estradiol and mortality in men with
systolic chronic heart failure. J Am Med Assoc 301(18):1892-901

9.
Khosla S, et.al. (2001) Relationship of serum sex steroid levels to
longitudinal changes in bone density in young versus elderly men. J Clin
Endocrinal Metab 86(8): 3555-61; Vandenput L, et.al. (2014) Serum estradiol
levels are inversely associated with cortical porosity in older men. J Clin
Endocrinal Metab 99(7): E1322-E1326

10.
Kushnir M, et.al. (2008) High-sensitivity tandem mass spectrometry assay for
serum estrone and estradiol. Am J Clin Pathol 129: 530-539; Rosner W, et.al.
(2013) Challenges to the measurement of estradiol: an endocrine society
position statement. J Clin Endocrinal Metab 98(4): 1376-1387

11. Braunstein
GD (2007) Clinical practice, gynecomastia. NE J Med 357(12): 1229-1237; Kacker
R, et.al. (2012) Estrogens in men: clinical implications for sexual function
and the treatment of testosterone deficiency. Intl Soc Sex Med 9(6): 1681-96

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