What Is the Difference Between Estrogen and Testosterone?

The two primary “sex hormones” are estrogen and testosterone. One (estrogen) is naturally associated with females while the other (testosterone) is viewed as the male sex hormone. What is the difference between estrogen and testosterone other than female vs. male?

There are many differences, just as there are similarities. Estrogen is actually a grouping of three different hormones, with the primary type being estradiol. Both estradiol and testosterone increase significantly during puberty and lead to the physical changes that turn adolescents into young adults.

The chemical difference between estrogen and testosterone is relatively similar in structure, with only a few slight variations. However, those differences influence the following:

Testosterone
Lower male voice
Facial and body hair
Development of sex organs
Increase in lean muscle mass

Estrogen
Breast tissue growth
Development of reproductive organs
Pubic hair growth
Onset of the menstrual cycle

The next difference is how testosterone and estrogen influence the adult body:

Testosterone
Bone density
Red blood cell production
Sex drive
Muscle mass
Protein metabolism
Brain functions
Reduces inflammatory markers

Estrogen
Aids some cardiovascular functions
Protects the brain
Protective role against oxidative stress and muscle damage
Helps regulate carbohydrate and lipid metabolism
Aids in muscle strength
Influences bone-turnover

What many people do not realize is that testosterone begins as cholesterol, which undergoes a series of conversions that lead to testosterone. Following another transformation, this time by the enzyme aromatase, testosterone becomes estradiol.


How Do Estrogen and Testosterone Impact the Female Body?

The ovaries produce both estrogen and testosterone. Smaller amounts of these hormones also come from the adrenal glands. Body fat is another producer of estrogen as it converts testosterone into estradiol.

Any exploration of the difference between estradiol and testosterone focuses attention on aromatase. If too much aromatase is present in the body, then a higher degree of testosterone will become estradiol. The amount of aromatase is determined by belly fat – its producer. The more belly fat a person has, the greater the risk of developing a condition called “estrogen dominance.” This occurs when higher levels of estrogen go unopposed by testosterone and progesterone. Both males and females are at risk of estrogen dominance that can lead to testosterone deficiency.

What is the difference between estrogen and testosterone in a woman’s body?

Due to much lower testosterone levels to start with, women are increasingly sensitive to even the slightest decrease. The female body will react to a lower circulatory level of testosterone in the bloodstream.

Testosterone influences sex drive, cognitive functions, emotions, bone mass, muscle, and sleep in women. It helps maintain proper vaginal lubrication crucial for comfortable and enjoyable intercourse.

Estrogen levels can decline as much as 80 percent during menopause. The loss of estrogen, which also accompanies a decline in testosterone can account for an increase in fractures due to decreased bone density. Estrogen is crucial for controlling the activity of bone-forming osteoblasts while inhibiting the action of bone-resorbing osteoclasts. By reducing bone turnover, estrogen helps slow the process while allowing testosterone to increase bone mineral density.


What is Different about the Way Estrogen and Testosterone Affect the Male Body?

Testosterone is the primary androgen sex hormone in the male body. Production of testosterone begins to decline towards the latter end of the twenties or the early thirties. The decrease continues at a rate of about 1 to 2 percent each year. Part of the difference between estrogen and testosterone is how the decline impacts estradiol production. If a man is overweight, primarily with excess belly fat, he may find that his testosterone levels lower due to increased estradiol conversion.

Males have estrogen receptors in the brain, testis, and penis. The brain synthesizes estradiol to stimulate sexual arousal. Higher levels of estradiol in men can lead to erectile dysfunction. Both testosterone and estradiol are necessary to induce spermatogenesis – the maturation of sperm cells.

Testosterone protests muscle mass, strength, bone mass, and libido. A decline in testosterone levels can increase the incidence of obesity, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.

When we look at what is the difference between estrogen and testosterone in males, we must also talk about the protection of bone mass. Low estrogen levels increase the risk of men developing osteoporosis in later years.

Estrogen dominance may also play a role in prostate growth and an increased risk of prostate cancer. Testosterone has protective benefits for the prostate, and men who undergo increased testosterone conversion into both estradiol and dihydrotestosterone (DHT), have an increased risk of prostate disease.

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