Estrogen weight gain is a problem that affects many menopausal women. A lot if not all women going through menopause report and complain about sudden weight gain. Even after menopause, many find it harder to lose weight and in some instances the weight can keep piling on. While there are many factors that can cause women to pile on the extra kilograms, many may not be aware about the relationship between low estrogen levels and weight gain.
In today’s article, we are going to shed a light on estrogen deficiency and weight gain. We shall be discussing why and how does lack of estrogen cause weight gain and also tackling the matter of estrogen dominance weight gain (high estrogen causing weight gain), among other factors.
What Is Estrogen?
Estrogen is one of the two main sex hormones in biological females, with the other hormone being progesterone. While these two hormones are usually automatically assigned to women, they can also be found in men, albeit in small amounts; in the same way that small amounts of the main male sex hormone, testosterone, can be found in women.
An important fact to note is that estrogen is not one hormone, but instead, it is an entire class of different but chemically related hormones. They are as follows:
1. Estrone (E1)
This is a weaker variation of estrogen that is often found in postmenopausal women. Estrone is produced by ovaries, the adipose tissue, and adrenal glands.
2. Estradiol (E2)
This variation is found in both men and women and is the primary sex hormone for women, especially in their reproductive years.
3. Estriol (E3)
While some traces of Estriol can be found in a woman’s body, the levels of the variant spiked during pregnancy as it is specifically produced by the placenta. This hormone is usually at its highest right before birth and is used by the woman’s body to promote the growth of the uterus and to prepare her body for delivery.
Of these two ‘female’ sex hormones, estrogen is the more likely culprit when it comes to weight gain and obesity. While some sources claim the progesterone can cause weight gain, WebMD refutes these claims by suggesting that there is insufficient evidence to support such claims (9).
How Does Progesterone Affect The Body?
So then, what does progesterone do in the body? Before determining what progesterone does, we must first acknowledge that like estrogen, progesterone is mostly known as a female hormone, but it is also present in men.
In men, the predominant type of estrogen – aka estradiol – works to help with controlling arousal and sex drive, erectile function and spermatogenesis (the production and development of mature sperms). On the other hand, progesterone in men is mostly produced in the testes and is linked to the production of testosterone and spermatogenesis (8).
This, however, is not all what this hormone is good for. According to a 2004 review, progesterone affects the central nervous system in men by blocking gonadotropin secretion, sleep improvement, and effects on tumors in the CNS (meningioma, fibroma). It also has effects on their immune system, cardiovascular system, kidney function, adipose tissue, behavior, and respiratory system (10).
Estrogen Weight Gain:
In women, this hormone helps regulate their menstrual cycles but its main job is to prepare the uterus for pregnancy. During ovulation, this hormone helps thicken the lining of the uterus to prepare for a fertilized egg. If fertilization doesn’t happen progesterone levels drop and menstruation begins (7).
Some research also suggests that progesterone creams and gels can be used to treat and help control endometrial hyperplasia, mastalgia (aka breast pain), reduce some menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, and reduce the risk of premature birth in some women at high risk of premature birth (8).
Please note that while progesterone may not cause weight gain directly, it can be a catalyst to weight gain. Progesterone and estrogen are complementary hormones; this means that is progesterone levels drop, you may experience estrogen dominance weight gain among other symptoms like decreased sex drive, irregular menstrual cycle, heavy bleeding, breast tenderness, fibrocystic breasts, fibroids, mood swings, and depression, among others (7).
What is estrogen dominance? This is basically a state of hormonal imbalance. Estrogen dominance occurs when the levels of estrogen and progesterone in a woman’s body are out of balance (15). As previously stated, these two hormones are complementary and thus if progesterone levels fall, it creates an imbalance where estrogen is too high.
Some symptoms of estrogen dominance or high estrogen include, depression, anxiety, fatigue, too heavy or too light periods, aggravated premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, fibroids, low sex drive and more. In relation to estrogen dominance weight gains, too high levels of this hormone will often cause women to pile on extra pounds around their waist, hips, and thighs (15).
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How To Prevent/Control, Or Manage High Estrogen Weight Gain?
Before taking any of the following steps, you must be certain that you are dealing with high estrogen weight gain and not some other type of illness. You must have first taken an estrogen test either at home or at the hospital.
If you speak to your doctor about your concerns, he/she can do a hormone test via your blood or urine. The blood test usually takes five minutes or less, while a urine test takes about 24 hours – Because you need to hand in 24-hour old urine. A home test is done using your saliva – speak to your doctor about your concerns and if they feel that you might be dealing with this issue, they can advise you on what kit to use and how to use it (5).
If the tests show that you have a hormonal imbalance and your doctor believes that this is what is causing all the extra weight, here are some things that you might be asked to do:
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Also known as menopausal hormone therapy, it is a hormonal treatment option that is offered to as they near or during menopause. Women doing HRT take a combination of the hormones estrogen and progestogen through tablets, skin patches, gels and vaginal creams, pessaries or rings.
While this HRT treatment has been show to be effective against menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, vaginal dryness, and reduced sex drive, women are warned to be very cautious before starting it as it has some serious side effects and risks. For example, women doing HRT have a higher chance of breast cancer than women who never use HRT, especially if they have been on the treatment for more than a year.
The treatment also puts you at a higher risk of ovarian and womb cancer, blood clots, heart diseases and stroke and the side effects include vaginal bleeding, nausea, bloating, acne, indigestion, leg cramps, mood changes, depression, and migraine (6).
According to a 2004 article by the Fred Hutch Organization, three hours of moderate exercise per week has been shown to significantly reduce circulating estrogens in postmenopausal women (11). Working out supports your body’s natural metabolic processes, helping to shift the breakdown of estrogens toward the 2-hydroxy or “good” estrogens.
These estrogens are easier for your body to break down and are less likely to cause negative symptoms. Exercise is widely known to help with weight loss and thus not only will you be burning the extra fat as you workout, but you will also be balancing your hormones in the process, helping prevent and manage estrogen weight gain.
Reduce your stress levels
Cortisol – the body’s stress hormone -has been linked to weight gain mostly due to its intricate relationship with insulin. Increased levels of cortisol in the body leads to insulin resistance which often leads to blood sugar, weight gain and potentially Type 2 Diabetes.
What most people don’t know is that the relationship between the stress hormone, estrogen dominance, and estrogen weight gain. Progesterone is cortisol’s building block; which means that when you are stressed and your body is using up cortisol, it has to keep stealing progesterone to produce more of this stress hormone (3).
As we said before an imbalance caused by less progesterone equals estrogen dominance. Some ways to reduce stress include listening to music, dancing, practicing meditation, working out, and hanging out with friends, etc.
Read your product labels
In the same way you would read food packaging to make sure that it was free of gluten, added sugars and salts, the right number of calories, etc., is the same way that you should be reading the labels of products such as shampoos, skin care products, household cleaners, and insecticides, among others.
It is said that some of these products contain xenoestrogens – a type of xenohormone that imitates estrogen. When you come into contact with or consume products and foods with this chemical compound, it can trigger increased estrogen which will further lead to estrogen weight gain (4).
Watch your diet
Some foods are said to help reduce the body’s production of estrogen and can help counter this hormone’s dominance. These foods include cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale, mushrooms, red grapes, flaxseeds, whole grains. Be sure to consume:
- Fiber as it promotes the breakdown and elimination of estrogens in multiple days
- B vitamins, particularly B6, folate, and B12, play an important role in hormonal balance. Vitamin B6 promotes progesterone production, further aiding estrogen-progesterone balance.
Lack Of Estrogen And Weight Gain: Why Does Estrogen Loss Cause Weight Gain?
On the other side of high estrogen lies low estrogen. As seen above high levels of this hormone will cause weight gain but this is not a good thing. Like estrogen dominance, estrogen deficiency and weight gain go hand in hand.
Menopausal and postmenopausal women often suffer from a lack of estrogen and weight gain in one of their biggest complains. At this stage of life, the levels of estradiol – a type of estrogen that regulates metabolism and body weight – decreases, and this is why low estrogen often leads to weight gain.
According to a 2013 study, estrogen deficiency promotes metabolic dysfunction predisposing to obesity, the metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. The researchers in this study, looked at other studies and they realized that a deficiency of this hormone in both male and female mice lead to increased body weight and adiposity predominately through reduced energy expenditure and slight increases in food intake (14).
Estrogen Weight Gain:
Your metabolic rate is very important in weight gain, loss, and management. A high metabolism means that you burn energy/calories quickly, which makes it harder for you to gain weight and means that you need more food than other people to help maintain your weight.
For someone with a slower metabolism, they burn calories at a slower rate, which means that most of the food they consume is not used by the body as energy and is turned and stored as fat in the body. These people tend to gain weight very quickly and have to put in the extra effort of exercise and counting calories to help them lose weight.
Because estrogen deficiency affects your metabolic rate, it explains why a lack of estrogen and weight gain is such a common thing in menopausal and post-menopausal women.
Here are some foods that can help women and some men increase their estrogen levels and hopefully prevent and manage estrogen weight gain
Please note that most of the foods mentioned below are high in phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are compounds that naturally occur in plants. Because they have the same chemical structure as estrogen, they attach to your estrogen receptors and may mimic its actions and effects in the body.
Because not all phytoestrogens work the same, there has been some controversy concerning these compounds and thus it is best to ensure that you are consuming the correct kind of phytoestrogens.
Phytoestrogens have been linked to multiple benefits including providing relief from hot flashes, preventing osteoporosis in older women, providing relief from uncomfortable menstrual symptoms and irregularities, and possible acne treatment (2).
Some foods and herbs that contain this compound include (1):
- Soybeans and other soy products such as tofu, miso, and edamame
- Sesame seeds
- Chaste tree berry
- Coffee and tea
- Dong quai
- Evening primrose
- Licorice root
- Red Clover
- Black cohosh
Other than these foods and herbs, you are advised to increase your intake of the following vitamins and minerals:
They play an important role in the creation and activation of estrogen in the body.
It helps with estrogen synthesis, and thus people with low levels of this hormone could benefit from taking vitamin D supplements.
This mineral influences estrogen receptors by allowing the body to more easily use the estrogen available. Foods high in boron include coffee, milk, apples, dried and cooked beans, and potatoes.
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Like weight gain, some signs and symptoms of high and low estrogen tend to look very similar. Due to this, you should avoid self-diagnosing as you may end up mistaking one problem for the other. Some symptoms that can be found in women from either low or high estrogen levels include (17, 12, 16):
- Breast tenderness
- Insomnia and other sleep related problems
- Irregular periods
- Headaches and increased frequency of migraines
- Memory and concentration problems
- Mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.
- Amenorrhea (13)
Symptoms unique to low estrogen levels include:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Pain during sex. Once estrogen drops it causes the vagina lining to thin, shrink, dry out and become less elastic which makes penetration painful.
- This hormone is important to the production of new bone because it supports osteoblasts, which are bone-producing cells. Without estrogen, osteoblasts can’t produce enough new bone, and eventually, osteoclasts (bone-absorbing cells) overpower them, increasing your risk of osteoporosis.
Some symptoms unique to estrogen dominance in women include:
- More severe PMS symptoms
- Light spotting
- Cold hands or feet
- Non Cancerous breast lumps
- Fibrocystic lumps in your breasts
- Uterine fibroids
How To Gain Weight Low Estrogen?
Low levels of this hormone are known to cause weight gain, not prevent it. If this is something that you are struggling with, please consult your doctor to find out what the problem is.
The Bottom Line
Estrogen weight gain is a complicated matter and is an issue that affects both men and women, albeit it happens mostly in women. What makes it a bit tricky is that it can be caused by both estrogen dominance and an estrogen deficiency. Due to this, it is best not to try and self diagnose.
If you have been suspecting that your weight gain could be as a result of imbalanced hormones, be sure to first consult your doctor, listing down all your issues and they can make an informed decision on the next possible steps to help manage your estrogen weight gain.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 12 Natural Ways to Boost Estrogen in Your Body (2019, healthline.com)
- Are Phytoestrogens Good for You? (2020, healthline.com)
- Estrogen Dominance, Cortisol, and Trauma (2016, medium.com)
- Estrogen Dominance – What it is, how to recognize it, and what you can do about it (2020, thorne.com)
- Estrogen Levels Test (n.d., medlineplus.gov)
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) (2019, nhs.uk)
- Low Progesterone: Complications, Causes, and More (2018, healthline.com)
- Low Progesterone: What It Means, Why It Matters (n.d., medicinenet.com)
- Progesterone (n.d., webmd.com)
- Progesterone: the forgotten hormone in men? (2004, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Regular exercise lowers estrogens (2004, fredhutch.org)
- Signs and Symptoms of High Estrogen (2018, healthline.com)
- Secondary Amenorrhea (2018, healthline.com)
- The Role of Estrogens in Control of Energy Balance and Glucose Homeostasis (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Role of Estrogen in Endometriosis (2020, webmd.com)
- What are the symptoms of high estrogen? (2018, medicalnewstoday.com)
- What Women Should Know About Having Low Estrogen (2020, verywellhealth.com)