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Estrogen, Like Androgen, Can Affect Muscle Strength

from By Dawn Lowe, Ph.D., FACSM

Estrogens and androgens are the primary sex hormones of females and males, respectively, and these hormones are quite different. Right? We recognize androgens as anabolic steroids that influence the response of skeletal muscle to exercise in males. But what about estrogen’s influence on exercise and skeletal muscle in women? If you are not so sure about this answer, you are not alone.

The literature on women is mixed, with some studies finding benefits of estrogens on skeletal muscle and exercise responses while many others not. Animal models are often used in research to address questions related to exercise and muscle adaptations, but thus far they have not added clarity to these estrogen questions. A main reason for this is that the preponderance of rodent studies are conducted on male rats and mice. This is particularly true when the scientific question revolves around aging. I remember as a post-doctoral associate causally asking senior investigators, “Why do you use male mice/rats?”, and inevitably the answer would be something like, “So that we don’t have to deal with fluctuating/changing hormones that would add variability to …” This seems reasonable given that a big advantage of using rodents in the first place is to reduce biological and environmental heterogeneity that is inherent to studies on humans. Then again, fluctuations and age-related changes in the sex hormones are biological reality. more

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