Thursday, May 17, 2012

Remedial Endocrinology, Part II

For Part I of this series, read this.  Continuing from where I left off (sort of)...

To the layperson, estrogen and testosterone are mutually exclusive opposing forces.  One, estrogen, is present in the female body and causes things like boobs, emotionality and over-sensitivity, menstruation, and other delights.  The other, testosterone, is present in the male body and causes things like muscles, anger and aggression, hair, and a faster metabolism.  Sounds about right, doesn't it?  Although testosterone and estrogen are indeed steroid hormones and therefore largely responsible for the development of gender-specific traits, you might be surprised to find out that they are both crucial in muscle growth and that both men and women need them.  The problem that arises from misinformation regarding the necessity of both hormones is usually linked to attempts at manipulation.  The general thought here is "More testosterone is always better, period."  This is not entirely true.

Testosterone doesn't just float around your system waiting to be sucked into your muscles; it breaks down.  As I noted in my previous post on this subject, testosterone is acted on by both 5-alpha reductase (resulting in DHT), and aromatase (resulting in estrogen).  Both these mechanisms affect the negative feedback loop.  In males, estrogen is produced primarily through aromatization--meaning high testosterone levels will lead to high estrogen levels which will cause your body to produce less testosterone.  Increased DHT activity will do the same--DHT can also be very detrimental at higher levels due to its activity in regards to the prostate.  For individuals with over-active aromatase, an aromatase inhibitor (AI) can be prescribed by a doctor.  There are also selective androgen-receptor modulators (SERM's) available for folks with DHT and prostate-related problems.

Additionally, estrogen and testosterone are competitive inhibitors for one another.  This means that they activate some of the same receptor sites, resulting in a "who got there first?" effect.  Think of it as hormonal musical chairs: the estrogen hit the receptor site first, activating the cell's "estrogenic traits."  Now that testosterone molecule has nowhere to go--it has been effectively inhibited by the competition.  This means, for males and females, that manipulating testosterone levels will not only affect the feedback loop, but also cause a reduction in estrogenic effects (to some extent).  This may be desired or undesired, but either way, it happens.  Females can take advantage of this by tipping the balance in favor of testosterone by training hard and reducing their bodyfat. 

Furthermore, because of the feedback properties of testosterone and estrogen, once levels have been manipulated, the inhibition caused by the therapy in question is not entirely reversible.  For instance, once estrogen levels have been significantly modulated for an extended period of time, as is the case with many young females on birth control, even once the therapy has ended, return to normal production levels is significantly slowed or prevented altogether.  Many do not return to normal production levels at all.  Although birth control is "relatively" safe, many women operate at a level lower than their normal production due to the stunting effects of long-term hormone therapy.  The same goes for testosterone.  This is why hormone replacement therapy, used to treat low testosterone in men or post-menopausal symptoms in women, is permanent--once you start taking it, your own production is screwed forever.  In the case of HRT patients, their production already has problems, so permanent therapy has fewer drawbacks.
And one more thing:  Your bodyfat is a hugely powerful endocrine organ as well.  Adipose tissue causes estrogen increases, insulin resistance, and emits chemicals telling your body to put more fat on.  All in all, reducing bodyfat is one of the easiest ways to tap into the competitive inhibition effects of testosterone, not to mention it looks waay better. 

Hope this clears some things up for you guys.  I cannot stress enough the necessity for proper research when it comes to these types of things.  If you think you have low T, see a doc.  Think your estrogen levels are messed up from years and years of birth control?  See a doc.  Always, ALWAYS think before you act--especially when it comes to permanently affecting yourself for years to come.  The bottom line?  Don't mess with something you don't understand.  Don't put your girlfriend on birth control.  Don't pop those tabs your buddies at the gym are taking.

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