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Vital Signs: Worried About Low T, Guys? Look Out For Low E (Estrogen)


Your own lifestyle habits aside, belly fat and other body changes in middle-aged men has been attributed to low testosterone. But a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests a hormone more associated with women may be the real culprit. In this installment of KERA’s Vital Signs, Dr. Bradley Jones, an internist with Baylor Health Care, explains the value of this new information about estrogen.

Three things to know about estrogen in men:

It’s a good thing, in the right amount. Estrogen is actually made from the circulating testosterone in the body by an enzyme called aromatase. As men age, they tend to make increasing levels of estrogen with decreased production of testosterone. Physicians thought of estrogen in men as a negative – something to get rid of when there’s too much (breast enlargement is a common side effect of excess male estrogen). The NEJM study now shows men actually do need some amount of estrogen, but too little increases body fat, so Jones says physicians now have to learn more about estrogen to determine the right amount.

Testosterone therapy patients should stay the course. Jones advises against changes. Treat your testosterone, let your body convert the right amount to estrogen, and then consider options if excessive estrogen occurs. He says it’s too early in research to consider prescribing estrogen for men.

Steps to keep male estrogen in check. Keep your weight down. Exercise. Limit alcohol and marijuana. And get enough sleep. It helps increase testosterone, which in turn, increases estrogen.

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Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.