Dear Pharmacist: I am debating whether or not to fill the prescription for Estradiol, and I want more information on this drug, and estrogen in general. I need it for hot flashes. — M.G., San Diego
Dear M.G.: Estrogen is a highly misunderstood hormone that both men and women have. Some men don't even realize they have estrogen. And, likewise, women have testosterone, the "manly" hormone. It's the amount of each that helps shape us.
When the word "estrogen" is used, it's really defining three different hormones: estrone, estradiol and estriol. Estrone, or "E1" as we call it, is the predominant estrogen post-menopausally. It's important because there's a strong correlation between healthy levels of estrone and your bone health, as well as proper insulin and BMI (body mass index) values, which translate to diabetes risk.
Estradiol, or "E2," is the most potent estrogen, and it's what you have most of before menopause hits. Estradiol in a drug version, as you have been prescribed, is considered bio-identical (because we make estradiol). But if it's a prescription cream or tablet, the dosage is much higher than what you need physiologically. It may help reduce hot flashes, but I worry about long-term use (unless you test your levels).
Now, contrast that with estradiol that is sometimes put into compounded bio-identical creams; they are using a fraction of the prescription dose and it's customized based upon your lab work. Keep in mind, the higher your serum estradiol, the greater the risk of certain cancers. Estradiol, in normal physiological amounts, assists the body in many good ways. It's not to be feared, it's to be respected and dosed only according to your needs.
Estriol, or "E3," is derived from the other two estrogens. It's the least potent of all three estrogens, and considered the safest.
Estrogen levels that are erratic or low can cause menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, urinary leakage, chronic anxiety and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Low estrogen in a man can result in bone loss, high insulin, elevated blood sugars and abnormal cholesterol ratios. They don't get the hot flashes!
What about high estrogen? Termed estrogen dominance or progesterone deficiency, it can cause heavy, painful periods (bad PMS), uterine fibroids, endometriosis, fibrocystic breasts, higher risk of breast cancer, and increased Th1 immune activity, which increases the risk of autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto's or Lupus.
In men, high estrogen tilts the hormone see-saw such that testosterone goes down and estrogen goes up! That may cause low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, shrinking muscles, increased fat tissue (remember, estrogen causes weight gain), a disappearing six-pack, enlarged prostate, diabetes and higher risk of cancer.
For an expanded version of this column, sign up for my free newsletter at DearPharmacist.com.
This is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose your condition. Go to DearPharmacist.com.