Estrogen is a very well known hormone important for bone density, menstrual cycle regularity and brain function. But when it comes to weight loss this essential hormone can often be working against you. From fat deposition in the abdomen to thyroid dysfunction, there are many avenues to explore how this hormone affects your weight.
Estrogen and Fat Deposition
The effect of estrogen on fat deposition depends on the location of the body. Research has found that adequate estrogen levels along with exercise helps to reduce fat deposition in the abdomen while maintaining fat in the buttocks. This fact has generated thought that estrogen can help to maintain the pre-menopausal pear shape in post-menopausal women and is also thought to be the cause as to why post-menopausal women tend to distribute more fat in the abdomen.
Adipose distribution and estrogen is not exclusive to women. Men are also responsive to estrogen in similar ways, inadequate estrogen increasing abdominal fat distribution.
What is also interesting to note is that not only does estrogen deficiency seem to increase adipose deposition in the abdomen but also the same is true for estrogen excess. The body seems to react similarly in both situations.
Fat cells produce their own estrogen in addition to being the perfect storage hub for excess circulating estrogens. The more fat cells in the body the more estrogen produced and circulated. Obese women have increased risk of estrogen sensitive cancers due this increase in circulating estrogens, especially obese post-menopausal women.
In men, breast development can be a physical sign of estrogen excess. In addition to physical changes, emotional changes, lack of muscle mass and fatigue can also be signs.
Estrogen and Satiety
Receptors for estrogen in the brain seem to play a role in balancing energy expenditure and food intake. When estrogen receptors were destroyed in the hypothalamus (area of the brain) of test rats, there ceased to be a moderator on food intake and subsequently the rats became overweight. Another study evaluating the effect of estrogen on meal size found that animals with proper amounts of estrogen circulation exhibited better control over their food intake.
When estrogen is out of balance in the body it can stimulate appetite when not necessary. Pre-menstrual cycle increases in estrogen can trigger increased appetite that can often lead to excessive food intake.
This is a condition in which estrogen is out of sync with the hormone progesterone, making it the dominant hormone. Estrogen and progesterone work in tandem to support many processes in the body including regulating menstrual cycles, enhancing fertility, regulating emotions and reducing inflammation. Estrogen excess is often the consequence of inadequate detoxification due to poor digestion, chronic stress, use of synthetic estrogens from oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy, increased body fat mass that produces excess estrogen and exposure to environmental xenoestrogens (compounds in detergents and plastics). Estrogen dominance has been linked to increased fat in the abdomen and thighs, infertility, PMS, low libido, fibrocystic breasts and increased risk of fibroids and endometriosis. Autoimmune conditions including hashimotos thyroiditis and lupus have also been linked to estrogen dominance due to the inflammatory nature of estrogen excess.
Estrogen and Thyroid Suppression
The epidemiological evidence that women are more likely to develop thyroid disease than men between puberty and menopause lends itself to estrogen playing a role. Estrogen indirectly effects thyroid function by increasing thyroxine-binding globulin. When thyroxine, also known as Free T4, is bound to thyroxine-binding globulin, it is made inactive. Free T4 normally supports healthy metabolism and energy, encouraging weight loss. Therefore, too much circulating estrogen can hinder thyroid function.
Autoimmunity is on the rise and excess estrogen could play a key role. Estrogen excess is known to promote inflammation and autoimmunity is often fueled by inflammation causing dysregulation of the immune system, making it more difficult for the body to determine between self and non self. The most common cause for thyroid dysfunction is due to autoimmunity, another reason to keep estrogen in check.
How to Balance Estrogen
To start, it is always helpful to have baseline lab work to know where your levels stand. It is also helpful to know how estrogen levels relates to other hormones including progesterone and thyroid hormones. This will help to determine if you are truly estrogen dominant and better provide information as to what types of intervention are most necessary.
Diet modifications can be done to reduce estrogen excess, starting with animal meats. It is common practice to inject animals with growth hormones including estrogen to bulk the animal. In turn, we end up eating these extra hormones which adds to our total hormone burden. It is very important if you are eating animal products to choose antibiotic and hormone free meat due to the risk of hormone disruption. Additionally, alcohol, particularly beer, can increase estrogen levels due to the hops acting like a phytoestrogen, estrogen mimicker, in the body.
Reducing exposure to xenoestrogens, environmental estrogens, is a difficult but necessary practice. Avoid heating food in plastics, use glass instead. When heated, plastic can leach estrogen like material into food. Beauty products often have hidden sources of xenoestrogens from nail polish to shampoo. When possible, try to use more natural versions of beauty products to reduce your overall exposure.
Detoxification is a big piece of reducing bodies total estrogen burden. Exercise and sauna are a great way to detox extra hormones via sweat and reduction of fat mass. The digestive tract is common organ of elimination for extra estrogen. The liver processes the hormone and packages it up for elimination through the bowels. When the liver is bogged down due to other toxic exposures like medications, inflammatory diet or alcohol, estrogen is not efficiently removed from the body. Increasing liver detoxifying foods in the diet like dandelion and beet greens and other bitter herbs and ensuring adequate B vitamin intake can help kick-start a sluggish liver.
Furthermore, constipation is another roadblock for estrogen detoxification. The longer fecal material stays in the colon, the greater the likelihood you are reabsorbing toxic metabolites including estrogen. Bulking the stool by increasing dietary fiber or simply ensuring adequate hydration can circumvent constipation.
While working on lifestyle factors that can lead to estrogen dominance including poor diet and exercise habits, there are several herbal preparations and supplements that can be utilized when appropriate to help improve balance to maximize weight loss results.
For health in general it is important to keep estrogen levels in check, especially when it comes to maintaining proper weight. Estrogen should not be looked at as the enemy; instead we should be focusing attention on the balance of estrogen with other hormones in the body. With the plethora of ways to prevent imbalance and promote hormonal harmony it is essential to keep your estrogen in equilibrium.