You Need Oestrogen

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You Need Oestrogen

Oestrogen tends to be perceived as a hormone only needed in higher quantities by women. However, this notion is harmful, especially to men (most of whom perpetuate this stereotype) and even more so to athletes. We will focus on the role on oestrogen in men (especially on oestrogen control in bodybuilders) since its role in males is commonly misunderstood. Oestrogen is vital to fitness and health in everyone. Here is why.

How is oestrogen made?

In women oestrogen is chiefly produced by the ovaries and tissues such as adipose (fat) and the adrenal gland (glands on the top of the kidney) also contribute to its formation.

In men, oestrogen is made by the principle of aromatization. Aromatization is where an enzyme (aromatase) converts testosterone to oestrogen. This enzyme exists in adipose (fat) tissue, the liver, the gonads, muscle, and central nervous system. Oestrogen has a structure very similar to that of testosterone. There are two aspects of the benefits of oestrogen to males that I will introduce. The first is its benefits to health and the second being its benefits to athletes.

How does oestrogen impact our health?

Without delving too deeply into the science, two important benefits received from oestrogen are its cardioprotective and neuroprotective abilities. It is cardioprotective because it is beneficial regarding cholesterol values. Oestrogen has been shown to be neuroprotective in studies by promoting neuron (brain cell) survival, regenerative responses, enhanced synaptic transmission (essentially improving transmission of a message from one neuron to the next) and enhanced neurogenesis (rebuilding of the brain or nervous system). There are multiple benefits not mentioned regarding one’s health, however, its benefit in sport is quite unique and unknown.

How does oestrogen benefit athletes?

Athletes have known for a long time about the great benefits oestrogenic steroids give them. In fact, oestrogenic steroids are the best ‘mass builders.’

Glucose Utilisation
Oestrogen improves glucose utilisation in muscle cells. It does this by influencing an enzyme called glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD). G6PD uses glucose to help muscle growth. G6PD also aids in cell membrane repair (especially important after exercise). Oestrogen increases the amount of G6PD after exercise.

Growth Hormone and Insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1)
Oestrogen has been shown to help produce growth hormone and IGF-1. IGF-1 is released from the liver and other tissues in response to growth hormone. IGF-1 is the anabolic proponent of growth hormone. In multiple studies, anti-oestrogens have been shown to decrease IGF-1 levels. Furthermore, oestrogen converting steroids like testosterone have been linked to higher IGF-1 levels than oestrogen non-converting steroids such as nandrolone.

Androgen Receptors (ARs)
Oestrogen has been shown to increase the concentration of androgen receptors and binding affinity of androgen receptors in tissues, specifically muscles. The caveat to the study supporting this claim is that the levator ani muscle was used as the reference muscle and this muscle is linked to the reproductive system and already has increased androgen receptor density. Furthermore, fast twitch muscle fibres in the study did not show as great a response.

Fatigue
Oestrogen is an important hormone in promoting wakefulness and mental alertness. Since the introduction of potent aromatase inhibitors (inhibit the enzyme responsible for converting testosterone to oestrogen in males) in bodybuilding, a new term has been developed called ‘Steroid Fatigue.’ This is when a bodybuilder on a steroid that converts to oestrogen tries to reduce their oestrogen to prevent unwanted side effects (see later) and as a result they crash their oestrogen. The result is a loss of vigour in the gym and thus the inability to train efficiently. Furthermore, oestrogen supports the role of serotonin and thus a lack of oestrogen can contribute to chronic fatigue.

Oestrogen’s Negatives
Although oestrogen is vital, if it is too high it can contribute to the development of gynecomastia, water retention (which is why bodybuilders prepping for a competition will crash their oestrogen before the show to drop water weight and improve definition) and it can increase body fat accumulation.

Optimal oestrogen control in Athletes
The control of oestrogen depends on the individual’s goal. If gaining as much muscle/mass is the goal, then a cautious approach not to crash oestrogen is advised. This is different, however, if the goal is to cut weight. Different individuals have different responses to oestrogen. The only way to know if one is prone to oestrogenic side effects of steroids is through experience. An anti-oestrogen should only be used if the unwanted negatives are experienced. The most accurate way to gauge oestrogen control is through blood tests. If blood tests are not an option, only use anti-oestrogens once experiencing negatives (dosing protocols will be discussed later). In someone new to steroids, side effects of oestrogen are experienced transiently even though the levels may not be out of range. This is due to the oestrogen being higher than the body’s baseline. This is transient and should disappear after 1 to 2 weeks. If the goal is size, hold off anti-oestrogens until negatives are experienced.

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