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Testosterone vs. Estrogen (What’s the Difference?)

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: July 4, 2023

Prompted to visit their doctor after experiencing fatigue and not seeing the body composition improvements they expect, many of my fitness clients learn their hormone levels are out of whack.

My female clients are surprised to learn that testosterone can affect this imbalance, while the men are equally surprised to learn estrogen levels is at work with their total testosterone levels.

To better advise a course of fitness activities for these clients, I consulted a medical professional to build upon what I know about testosterone and estrogen levels and how each affects men and women.

Let’s dive in.

Quick Summary

  • The two hormones, testosterone, and estrogen, are the main sex hormones of males and females, respectively, though men have some estrogen in their bodies and women have some testosterone.
  • Hormones can help regulate many bodily functions, including the reproductive cycle, blood pressure, developing mammary adrenal glands (women), and cognitive abilities.
  • Hypogonadism is a condition that causes a lack of hormone production in the testes or ovaries, causing a below-normal testosterone level in men and estrogen in women.

Key Differences Between Estrogen and Testosterone

Comparison between two icons

Sex hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen, play crucial roles in regulating various physiological processes and have distinct effects on the development and functioning of the male and female reproductive systems. Estrogen is typically known as the female hormone, and testosterone is the male hormone, but both men and women have these sex hormones in their bodies.

Estrogens are a group of hormones that play a huge role in sexual life and reproductive development in women and men to a lesser degree, and three hormones make up this group [1].

They are: 

  • Estriol: It is the primary estrogen during pregnancy.
  • Estradiol: It is the primary sex hormone in women during reproductive years and is responsible for sexual functions, female characteristics, and bone health.
  • Estrone: It is the primary estrogen in postmenopausal women.

Testosterone is the primary sex hormone for males, primarily produced in the testes, and is critical to sexual functions, male characteristics, and muscle mass. The adrenal glands and ovaries of women produce small amounts of testosterone.

Understanding the differences between testosterone and estrogen is important, as they have unique effects on the body and can contribute to various health conditions and risk factors. Now that we generally know the roles of these hormones let’s closely examine the key differences in how each affects men and women.

Effects of Estrogen on the Body

Estrogen in a crossword puzzle

Estrogen affects many body functions in both men and women, but women have considerably more estrogen than men.

Here’s how.


The ovaries are responsible for making most of the estrogen, though a small amount comes from the adrenal glands and fat tissue.

Estrogen is also a sex hormone and plays a role in many other body functions of women [2].

Besides regulating the menstrual cycle reproductive system and mammary glands for lactation, estrogen affects the following:

  • Muscle and bone mass
  • Cholesterol levels
  • Blood sugar levels
  • Collagen production
  • Blood flow and circulation
  • Cognitive function (including focus)

We will look at what happens when female hormones are unbalanced shortly.


Couple staring at each other intimately

Estradiol is the predominant form of estrogen and is essential for sexual function in males, including regulating libido, erectile function, and spermatogenesis, the production of sperm in the testes [3].

High estrogen levels in men can significantly impact their bodies and be a sign of underlying conditions, including slower sperm production making it more challenging to produce healthy sperm [4].

Symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Infertility
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Delayed Puberty
  • Swelling of breast tissue
  • Short stature

Possible conditions include:

  • Diabetes
  • Adrenal gland or testicular tumors
  • Hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid
  • Cirrhosis
  • Migraines

Low estrogen levels in men can cause such symptoms as decreased libido, excess belly fat, reduced bone density, and osteoporosis [5].

Effects of Testosterone on the Body

Man with good mood flexing muscles

Men have much more testosterone than women, but its effect on the body for both genders can be huge. Let’s take a look.


For men, testosterone plays an essential role in sexual functions and several other areas of the body [6].

Testosterone can affect:

  • Bone density
  • Fat distribution
  • Lean mass
  • Muscle strength
  • Production of sperm
  • Production of red blood cells
  • Mood
  • Cognitive ability


A woman in bed confused

Testosterone influences the growth, repair, and maintenance of reproductive tissues, bone mass, sex drive, and fertility for women.

As in men with low or high estrogen, unbalanced testosterone levels in women can impact their overall well-being [7].

High testosterone levels in women can cause:

  • Excess body hair, particularly facial hair
  • Acne
  • Enlarged clitoris
  • Balding
  • Increased muscle mass
  • Voice deepening
  • Decreased breast size
  • increased muscle mass
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Reduced libido
  • Mood changes
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Infertility (extreme cases)
  • Significant weight gain/obesity (severe cases)

Low T-levels in women can cause sleep disturbances, reduced sexual desire, irregular periods, infertility, and loss of bone mass [8].

Related Articles:

Estrogen-Related Disorders

Holding an illustration of a female reproductive organ

There could be many reasons estrogen levels fall, like pregnancy failure, PCOS, anorexia, perimenopause and menopause, and extreme exercise.

Estrogen levels could rise due to pregnancy, obesity, tumors of the ovaries or adrenal glands, and some medications like steroids [9].

The following can happen when estrogen levels are not in balance.

Infertility And Irregular Cycles

Estrogen is the primary hormone that regulates a woman’s menstrual cycle, so any abnormal hormone levels can cause irregular cycles, sometimes months-long absences.

Estradiol, the estrogen of childbearing years, is necessary for conception as the body uses the hormone to signal the ovary to release an egg. Low estradiol can mean no ovulation, and no ovulation means infertility [10].

Painful Intercourse

Hormone imbalances can lead to vaginal dryness, which can cause itching, pain, and irritation during intercourse and decrease sexual desire [11].

Weight Fluctuations

Hormone imbalance can cause weight gain and obesity because estrogen plays a critical role in metabolism and fat distribution. Menopausal women tend to carry more fat in their abdominal area, and because the body does not effectively use it, it can be challenging to get rid of [12].

Poor Cardiovascular Health

Research links levels of estrogen to cardiovascular health by increasing HDL (good cholesterol), decreasing LDL (bad cholesterol), promoting blood clotting, soaking up free radicals that can harm arteries, and dilating blood vessels to improve blood flow [13].

Boosting Estrogen Levels

Taking and pouring pills on hand

Estrogen therapy can help rectify hormone imbalances, particularly in menopausal women; however, there is a link to increased risk of uterine cancer, heart disease, breast cancer, blood clots, and stroke [14].

Your primary care doctor must determine if the benefits outweigh your risks.

They will usually base it on factors such as age, health history, the severity of symptoms, and the type of hormone therapy.

You may boost estrogen naturally by consuming foods rich in phytoestrogens, which are plant-based estrogen [15].

Some good sources of phytoestrogens include:

  • Legumes: soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts
  • Berries: strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries
  • Seeds: flaxseeds and sunflower seeds
  • Fruits: Plums, pears, apples, and grapes

“High fiber, plant-based, and Mediterranean dietary patterns may help promote healthy estrogen regulation.”

- Amy Richter, RD

Low Testosterone-Related Disorders

A man having a headache

Testosterone is a hormone that plays a huge role in sexual functions and participates in numerous bodily processes. A hormone imbalance can significantly impact a man’s overall health.

Let’s take a look.

Poor Cognitive Health

Low testosterone levels can inhibit cognitive abilities, specifically memory and recall. Studies show that men with higher testosterone have better working memory [16].

Mood Disorders

The link between depression and testosterone levels continues to be studied, but evidence suggests a higher rate of depression among men with low testosterone levels.

Studies show an improvement in clinical symptoms of depression with testosterone replacement therapy [17].

Researchers also established a connection between supplementing with testosterone and improved symptoms of depression like chronic fatigue and loss of appetite [18].

Bone Density Loss

Testosterone levels slowly reduce with age making bone degradation less noticeable for men with normal T-levels.

However, individuals with hypogonadism or low levels of testosterone can be at a higher risk of bone-degenerative diseases like osteoporosis [19].

Sexual Dysfunctions and Low Sperm Count

Couple in bed unsatisfied

When people hear low testosterone levels, difficulty with sexual functions, like ED, usually comes to mind.

Low testosterone negatively affects many sexual development and function areas, including erectile dysfunction, suppressed sperm production, and decreased libido [20].

Research shows younger males who have low testosterone due to conditions of the testes, and pituitary gland, which produces other reproductive hormones like Luteinizing Hormone (LH), or hypothalamus, finds that hormone replacement therapy improves sexual function [21].

However, researchers studying the effects of testosterone treatment and improvement of sex drive and function in older men find the answer a bit less clear [22].

Boosting Testosterone

Beyond testosterone replacement therapy, there are a few things you can do to give lower testosterone levels a boost [23].

You can:

  • Perform exercises to boost testosterone, particularly weight training or high-intensity interval training (HIIT)
  • Eat a nutritious diet rich in healthy protein, fats, and carbs
  • Manage stress and minimize cortisol levels
  • Increase vitamin D by getting some sun or supplementing
  • Try having more sex
  • Get quality sleep
  • Reduce alcohol consumption
  • Consider taking a natural testosterone booster

“Zinc supplements could support healthy testosterone levels, especially for people who have a testosterone deficiency. Other herbal supplements like saw palmetto, ginger, and ashwagandha may also be beneficial, but more studies are needed.”

- Grant Tinsley, Ph.D.


Does Higher Testosterone Mean Higher Estrogen?

Higher testosterone generally means higher estrogen because the two hormones relate mutually.

A reaction to higher testosterone in the body involves an enzyme, aromatase, that converts some testosterone into estrogen [24].

Does Estrogen or Testosterone Build Muscle?

Both estrogen and testosterone may build muscle, but testosterone has a more significant effect on the process.

Final Thoughts on Testosterone and Estrogen

I have clients of many different ages, and I see hormonal imbalances across each age group and gender, which throws a curveball into their fitness routines.

One symptom of deficient testosterone is fatigue making it difficult for many of my clients to feel motivated to meet me at the gym.

In my extensive testing, I have found that a testosterone booster has dramatically helped these clients’ motivation, fatigue, and body composition, even for women.

Check our lists to see which product can help you regain hormonal balance.


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