The body needs a suitable balance of estrogen and other sex hormones for health. High estrogen levels may cause weight gain, low mood, and severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in females. In males, it may lead to erectile dysfunction.

Estrogen is considered a female sex hormone. It is also present in males but in smaller amounts.

Estrogen levels fluctuate over time, but consistently high levels can lead to health problems. The effects can be different in males and females.

Read on to learn more about the symptoms and causes of high estrogen levels in males and females.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Estrogen is a hormone. It is essential for male and female health and sexual development.

Estrogen regulates cholesterol levels, maintains bone health, and affects mood. In females, it also influences puberty, the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause.

There are three main types of estrogen:

  • Estrone (E1): This is the primary type of estrogen in males. It is also the primary form of estrogen in females after menopause. The ovaries, placenta, testicles, and fat tissue produce estrone from androstenedione or androgens.
  • Estradiol (E2): This is the most potent form of estrogen, and its concentration is highest in females of childbearing age. Doctors use this form of estrogen as a marker for ovary health.
  • Estriol (E3): The placenta produces this type of estrogen, which reaches peak levels during pregnancy. The amount of estriol increases as the fetus grows.

Changes in estrogen levels can affect many areas of the body, including the reproductive system, skin, hair, bones, muscles, brain, and breast tissue. Fluctuations can also have these effects in males, as everyone has some breast tissue.

When females have high levels of estrogen relative to progesterone, this is known as estrogen dominance.

Estrogen levels can become high for several reasons, including:

  • an overproduction of estrogen
  • changes in how the body breaks estrogen down
  • changes in how the body excretes estrogen

Any of the above might lead to a hormonal imbalance. In females, estrogen dominance happens when estrogen levels are high compared with progesterone, another female sex hormone.

Factors that may contribute to estrogen dominance include:

  • Obesity: Having excess body weight can result in higher estrogen levels because fat tissue synthesizes estrogen.
  • Stress: Stress increases cortisol levels. Consistently high levels of cortisol can deplete progesterone levels, with a knock-on effect on estrogen.
  • Alcohol consumption: A high alcohol intake raises estradiol levels and makes it harder for the body to process estrogen.
  • Dysbiosis: Intestinal dysbiosis is when there are too many harmful species of bacteria, or not enough beneficial species, in the large intestine. Some types of gut bacteria can reduce how well the body gets rid of excess estrogen, leading to higher levels in the body.
  • Xenoestrogen exposure: These chemicals mimic estrogen if they enter the body. Examples include bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, which are present in some plastics. Phthalates are also present in some soaps, shampoos and other products.
  • Medications: Some medications may elevate estrogen or suppress progesterone.
  • Health conditions: Some health conditions have an association with or lead to estrogen dominance. These include polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and certain cancers. Insulin resistance also increases estrogen levels.
  • Tumors: In rare cases, feminizing adrenocortical tumors or adrenal tumors can secrete estrogen, leading to high estrogen levels in males and children. The main symptom is breast enlargement. They can be benign or malignant.
  • Genetic conditions: Some genetic or inherited conditions, such as aromatase excess syndrome, can cause the body to produce more estrogen than usual. It can affect males or females.

In males, estrogen can also become high relative to the amount of testosterone in the body if testosterone levels become low.

Learn more about low testosterone.

In females, having too much estrogen may cause:

Additional possible symptoms include:

In males, having too much estrogen may cause:

According to a 2018 study, high estrogen levels are also associated with increased rates of depression in males.

If a person has consistently high estrogen for an extended period, this increases their risk of:

High estrogen may also worsen preexisting conditions, such as asthma or epilepsy.

A 2017 study in South Korea found an association between high levels of free estriol and an increased risk of gestational diabetes in pregnancy.

Females with signs of estrogen dominance may not need tests to show their estrogen ratio is out of balance. This is because many of the recommendations for reducing estrogen levels are beneficial to overall health and unlikely to cause harm.

However, if a doctor suspects an underlying medical condition, they may do tests to determine whether there is an imbalance and confirm the root cause. Doctors also monitor estriol levels in high risk pregnancies.

In females, doctors can measure all three types of estrogen via blood testing. In males, they only measure estradiol and estrone.

Estrogen levels in females vary with age, menstruation, and pregnancy status.

The following chart, based on Mayo medical laboratories, shows the normal ranges of estrone and estradiol at different stages of life in pictograms per milliliter (pg/mL).

Estrone (E1)Estradiol (E2)
Before pubertyundetectable to 29 pg/mlundetectable to 20 pg/ml
During puberty20–200 pg/mlundetectable to 350 pg/ml
Before menopause17–200 pg/ml15–350 pg/ml
After menopause7–40 pg/mlless than 10 pg/ml

What happens if estrogen levels are low?

During childhood, estrogen levels in males are around the same as those of females, but they do not increase with puberty.

Usual levels are as follows:

Estrone (E1)Estradiol (E2)
Before pubertyundetectable to 16 pg/mlundetectable to 13 pg/ml
During pubertyundetectable to 60 pg/mlundetectable to 40 pg/ml
Age 18 years and over10–60 pg/ml10–40 pg/ml

Learn more about estrogen in males.

The treatment for high estrogen depends on the underlying cause.

For estrogen dominance that is not due to a specific medical condition, doctors may recommend lifestyle changes to reduce the levels.

People can try:

If high estrogen may be due to a medication or supplement, a person can speak with their doctor about alternatives. It is important never to change the dosage of a medication or stop taking it without consulting a doctor first.

If a doctor believes it is important to lower estrogen levels — potentially to avoid long-term damage — they may prescribe aromatase inhibitors, such as arimidex (Anastrozole). Aromatase is an enzyme that the body uses to help convert androgens into estrogen.

Doctors may also prescribe a synthetic form of luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) to lower estrogen. LHRH stops the signal that initiates estrogen production in the ovaries. They may recommend LHRH if estrogen is exacerbating a potentially life threatening condition, such as metastatic breast cancer.

If there is a high risk of cancer due to the presence of estrogen, a doctor may recommend surgery to remove the ovaries. This could affect people with genetic changes in BRCA1, BRCA2 or other genes. It may also be suitable for those with a personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer.

Here are some questions people often ask about high estrogen levels.

What causes high estrogen levels in females?

Levels fluctuate over time and according to factors such as menstruation and pregnancy. However, various health conditions, obesity, alcohol consumption and other factors can also raise estrogen levels.

What causes high estrogen in males?

In males, it is natural for estrogen levels to rise at times, but some factors can make them unusually high. Certain genetic features, obesity, stress, and age can all cause levels to rise in comparison with testosterone.

Lifestyle remedies, such as weight management, dietary choices, and avoiding high stress levels may help reduce estrogen levels. In some cases, however, a doctor will also prescribe medication.

High estrogen levels can cause symptoms such as irregular or heavy periods, weight gain, fatigue, and fibroids in females. In males, they can cause breast tissue growth, erectile dysfunction, and infertility.

A doctor can diagnose high estrogen levels by taking a medical history and, in some cases, performing blood tests. The cause of high estrogen levels will determine the treatment options.

Lifestyle and dietary adjustments may help lower estrogen levels, but anyone with persistent or concerning symptoms should speak with a medical professional.