the truth about estrogen curl

The Truth About Estrogen

If you spent any time building muscle you’ve been privy to the negativity surrounding estrogen.

The bad rep in the body building community for estrogen is thanks to its association with subcutaneous fat. Since the hormone is predominantly attributed to women who end to have higher body fat, it’s naturally assumed that estrogen is bad and wrecks body building efforts.

There’s some truth to the hate and a bucket’s worth of fabrication.

In this post I will attempt clearing the air around it.

Let’s begin with the basics. Estrogen a hormone.

Like all hormones what it simply does is act like a chemical messenger of sorts instructing our body at the cellular level on what to do. Understanding how hormones work can help us exert better control over our health, muscle mass and overall fitness levels.

Despite the vilification estrogen comes with its set of benefits.

Bodybuilders are frequently advised from taking drugs that block estrogen activity for longer periods since that can cause heart problems. According to this Harvard Health article— younger women owing to their youth have estrogen levels at their peak and report fewer heart problems or strokes courtesy of the protection that estrogen provides.

By allowing the synthesis of nitric oxide which is important to maintain vascular flexibility and prevent stiffening of blood vessels it keeps the heart pumping well. There’s also antioxidant properties. Estrogen oxidises bad cholesterol called the LDL (Low Density Lipo Proteins ) and increases protective HDL( high-density-lipoprotein ) cholesterol.

There’s also the fact that in women muscle damage is low even after exercise. The effect has long been cited due to the presence of estrogen.

Estrogen is essential for basic functions and body upkeep

The first myth I’d like to dispel is estrogen is not a single hormone but a group or hormones. Contradictory to popular opinion it’s present in both males and females and produced by the adrenal glands, fat tissue, the ovaries in females and testis in males.

In women estrogen functions as the sex hormone driving puberty and fertility. It also helps keep cholesterol in control. There are three kinds of estrogen called  estradiol, estriol and estrone. The first two are found in both sexes.

Estriol is the primary estrogen found in women during their fertile years. It is produced in the adrenal glands, ovaries and placenta.

Estradiol in men promotes healthy libido, erectile function and sperm production.

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Problems with too little estrogen

Insufficient estrogen can lead to the following problems in women- insomnia, headaches, decreased labido, irregular periods, and hot flashes.

Men with reduced estrogen levels experience low libido, erratic moods and become fatter around their bellies.

Too much estrogen

Excess of estrogen and lack of estrogen both are cause for worry. In women if they have too much of it this can result in a slew of problems ranging from sporadic periods, fatigue, low sex drive, and extreme mood swings building up to clinical depression. It can contribute to cyst formation and consequently result in much higher than normal period pain.

In men too much estrogen production can drive pronounced secondary female sexual characteristics like big breasts, decreased libido, mood swings and weight gain. In some cases it can lead to prostate cancer.

A balance and right amounts of both hormones are needed to maintain physical fitness.

Particularly so since hormone imbalance can damage our health. And put in jeopardy all our efforts building muscle.

Now that you know that both low and high estrogen levels are harmful it’s time to understand something else. Not all estrogen’s bad. Specifically the by-products of estrogen metabolization.

In the section below I’ll highlight different types of estrogen the different kinds of estrogen metabolites and what we can do to reap the most benefits.

Good and Bad Estrogen

During aerobic metabolism estrogen is broken down into metabolites. These metabolites can either be beneficial or harmful. Hence they are classified as good and bad.

Beneficial metabolites differentiate themselves with their high antioxidant properties helping mend cell damage in nerve cells in the brain and cardiac cells in the heart. They are known as 2-hydroxyestrone (2-OHE).

Bad metabolites are associated with cancer and weight gain, known as 16-hydroxyestrone (16-OHE).
By increasing the level of beneficial metabolites and decreasing the ratio of harmful ones i.e increasing 2-OHE in comparison to 16-OHE we can set ourselves to get all the benefits from estrogen. Just by skewing the ratio we eliminate the possibility of most estrogen-responsive cancers.

There are a number of natural compounds that can help with this.

How to balance your hormones?

It’s not uncommon to see a great percentage of the population suffering from estrogen and testosterone imbalances. Many are not even aware of that. Problems can also arise from presence of specific estrogens in both blood and fatty tissues.

Synthetic hormone replacement therapy also skews estrogen levels in favor of the bad ones. As you age and come under physical and mental stress testosterone decreases and estrogen increases in ratio and higher estrogen can counteract the good effects of the remaining testosterone levels.

One big problem is alcohol consumption. As it enters the blood stream, it prevents the body from expelling estrogen from the blood.

Something as simple as grapefruit too can inhibit your liver’s ability to breakdown estrogen.

So what can be done?

Fat cells due to virtue of containing large amounts of aromatase store high quantities of estrogen. Reduce body fat levels and you can reduce estrogen production. If you’re not exercising you will have to resort to supplements to cull down on estrogen.

Correct eating could be the biggest contributor to good hormone balance. Fatty fish in small amounts can release dopamine and boost testosterone levels.  Fatty fish are rich in omega 3 fatty acids and maintain heart health. I stress on small amounts because higher amounts can cause an uptick in LDL levels.

Isoflavones like genistein and diadzein found in soy and soy based products prevent estrogen from binding to cells and limit estrogen accumulation in the body.

Extract from red grapes i.e. their red grape skin extract and not juice extract improves the liver P450 system removing excess estrogen.

Fruits and vegetables like gooseberry and oranges that are rich in vitamin C reduce aromatase reductase activity. Aromatase is response for converting androstenedione and testosterone into estrogen.

Di-Indolin also called indole 3 carbonol present in cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and broccoli helps estrogen metabolism.

Di-Indolin has dramatic effects on estrogen and can increase the levels of 2 hyrdoxy estrogens by 75%. The good estrogens bind blood proteins and free up testosterone supply in the blood.

When indolin 3 carbonol is processed by the body it gets converted to Diindolylmethane or DIM.

Doctors Michael Zeligs and Scott Connelly in their book “All About DIM” state that DIM acts as restorer and works at restoring the balance of sex hormones estrogen and testosterone.

The beneficial estrogen metabolites have antioxidant properties and reduce free-radical damage. DIM not only ups the levels of good estrogens but reduces harmful estrogens and thus reduce the risk of breast cancer, uterine cancer, breast pain and low libido.

Zelig and Scott also states that DIM helps in achieving a lean body. And with exercise it has  a positive effect on muscle mass.

It’s true that cruciferous vegetables can give us a natural supply. But they’re not nearly enough to have the effects stated above.  You can either eat a large number of vegetables or or purchase the absorbable form that are available dietary supplements. Just make sure that you take supplements in the range of under 200mg. At higher doses it can cause headaches.

Zinc inhibits the functioning of aromatase the enzyme responsible for converting testosterone to estrogen.

The effect of zinc is two fold. One it helps in proper working of thyroid. When thyroid gland doesn’t work properly one can bulk up on fat.

Zinc also helps in thyroid hormone metabolism.

Zinc additionally helps thyroid hormone receptors located inside the hypothalamus to function in the right way. Hypothalamus is what controls thyroid hormone levels and if it functions properly your body will have the right levels of the hormone. Any deficiency in zinc leads to improper production and can lead to weight gain when thyroid activity is suppressed.

A study examining the effects magnesium and zinc supplements found the 30 mg of zinc per day increased free testosterone levels.

And if you’re already getting enough zinc in your diet supplements won’t be necessary.

Beef and shrimps are rich in zinc. Spinach is also rich in zinc.

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What about more potent supplements?

You should be careful with them.

Androstendedione  is a commonly taken supplement that can boost testosterone and increase muscle strength, muscle size and and endurance.

However since it can raise testosterone levels quite high, even at levels as low as 300 mg. The risk factor is the testosterone produced can catalyze in the opposite direction. This means you’ll have an excess of estrogen.

There’s a common belief that cryslin can improve levels of testosterone and block estrogen. Chrysin is the poster boy among purported estrogen blockers.

In a 1993 study on  fat cells it was found the chrysin’s anti estrogen activity was reduced by a tenth of its power since they couldn’t enter the cells. The cell membrane in animal cells was a pretty strong barrier that prevented chrysin from entering the cells. In vitro studies also showed the intestinal absorption of chryslin was poor.

The researchers then approached the next question if chrysin can reduce estrogen production in humans. Chrysin was injected to mice and orally fed to see if it had any effect on serum estrogen levels. First 10 mice didn’t receive any chrysin. The next group of mice took 5mg orally, the third group was injected with chrysin. When blood samples were drawn none of the groups showed any change in estrogen levels.

In fact chrysin treated rats were fatter than the rats would received no chrysin. Chrysin disrupts thyroid function and disables it from properly metabolizing by inhibiting enzyme deiodinase.

In another studying in Finland scientists administered chrysin to rats at a dose of 50 mg/kg body weight. An amount that’s much higher than what we consume as dietary supplements. If a similar dose based on mg per kg weight was prescribed for humans we’re talking about at least 3.5 grams of chrysin. The scientists found that chrysin had no ability to inhibit aromatase in animals even at these high levels.

Where did the myth come from?

The popularity of chrysin stems from a research study done back in 1984 where it was noted that chrysin extracted from passion flower plant in large quantities inhibits the activity of aromatase enzyme.

What the perpetrators forgot to tell you is that the study was conducted in vitro, meaning in a test tube and not inside a body either mice or human.

Animal cell membranes present a great barrier stopping effective catalyzation. In fact, the impact on thyroid functioning is so pronounced that you’d do well to avoid the supplement all-together.


What do you think of estrogen now?

Estrogen isn’t bad but the literature around it and existing sludge of poor information has turned into an antagonist of sorts in body building circles.

Apart from body building one should also look at the quality of life they’re building and that comes with understanding how your body functions, eating healthy and exercising well.

About the Author

George is a health food freak and covers the relationship between sleep and health on his website.