Men and women gain weight for many different reasons— from age to poor diet. What people don't realize is the strong link between hormones and weight gain. One of those hormones is estrogen. Estrogen is a sex hormone produced in the ovaries and smaller amounts in the adrenal glands. Any imbalance of estrogen may cause unwanted weight gain. In this article, we'll look at what estrogen is, how it affects metabolism, and ways you can fight the estrogen bulge.
Estrogen is one of the main hormones a woman's body produces. Men also produce estrogen, only in smaller amounts. Its role in woman's fertility and reproduction is significant, along with another sex hormone progesterone. Together the hormones fluctuate during a woman's menstrual cycle to help prepare the body for pregnancy and help sustain a healthy pregnancy. Estrogen also helps with maintaining a healthy metabolism. The body produces three different types of estrogen. (1)
Estradiol is the form of estrogen produced during the reproductive years. At the beginning of a woman's cycle, the ovaries begin to produce estrogen and the amount peaks mid-cycle during ovulation. As women age, the amount created decreases, and around menopause levels taper off dramatically. Low estradiol levels are a sign of menopause. Hormone replacement therapy with estrogen cream is a standard solution for easing the painful symptoms of menopause.
Estriol is another type of estrogen found in the body, but at lower levels than estradiol. When a woman conceives, levels of estriol begin to rise to support a healthy pregnancy and birth. If levels are low during pregnancy, it can indicate possible concerns with pregnancy viability.
Estrone, unlike other types of estrogen, circulates in lower amounts in the body. After menopause, levels of estrone are the highest in a woman’s body. If levels become too high, it may increase the risk of developing uterine cancer.
Metabolism is the rate in which you convert food into energy. The metabolic rate can vary from person to person, depending on age, diet, activity level, and hormones. Since metabolism is a natural process, it has many mechanisms to help regulate it. And one of those mechanisms is estrogen.
Normal estrogen levels help maintain a healthy metabolism that burns calories. When there’s an imbalance of estrogen, women can gain weight, find it hard to lose weight, and feel lethargic. Low estradiol levels occur during menopause. Estradiol helps regulate metabolism and body weight, so it’s natural for women to gain weight during menopause. (2)
While women can gain and lose weight at any age, weight gain can be more noticeable in the hips and thighs. After menopause, women tend to put on pounds around the abdomen or mid-section. The fat in this area around the stomach and internal organs is referred to by doctors as visceral fat.
Being overweight or obese can increase the health risk for many dangerous diseases, but visceral fat is even more concerning. Some of these risks include the following:
Besides weight gain, menopause may also make you feel tired and run down. It’s natural to become less active and lose muscle. Strong muscles and an active lifestyle help you burn calories and stay fit. If you’re in the menopausal transition, all these factors play a role in gaining unwanted pounds.
Age-related factors all connect to weight gain, too. Hormonal changes happen as you gain years for both men and women. For men, they lose testosterone and estrogen as well. Both hormones help build muscle and healthy bones.
Yet, research shows that perhaps aging plays a more primary role in weight gain, than fluctuations in hormone levels. (3) And yet again, each person is different. However, age, hormones, and lifestyle all work together to create a healthy metabolism.
Besides menopause, women can have low estrogen for other reasons. Inadequate estrogen levels may cause women to gain weight.
PCOS occurs when a woman has numerous small cysts present on the ovaries. The condition also comes with hormonal imbalances. For example, it's possible to have high testosterone levels and uneven levels of progesterone and estrogen. PCOS can make it hard to conceive, increase the chances of gaining weight, build an insulin intolerance, and heart disease. (4)
Estrogen levels remain low after childbirth, and while she is lactating. This hormonal change helps to encourage milk production and prevent ovulation. Although a woman can become pregnant, it may be a few weeks or months before a woman ovulates or even has her period. (5)
Ovary removal affects women by thrusting them into sudden menopause. Without the ovaries, women only produce small amounts of estrogen in their adrenal glands, which are located above the kidneys. The woman will no longer build an egg and become pregnant naturally is no longer possible. Hormone therapy with progesterone cream or estrogen cream may help balance hormones. (6)
While exercise is always beneficial for the body, overdoing it causes harm. Fat cells increase estrogen levels while low body fat decreases the estrogen.
Eating disorders cause serious health consequences. One type of eating disorder is anorexia. The disease causes you to stop eating and limit calorie intake. As part of reducing calories, your body starts to believe that it's starving and decreases estrogen levels. (7)
In some cases, fighting weight gain may be somewhat out of your control. Menopause is a natural stage of life and one side effect is weight gain. However, proper diet and exercise can help increase your metabolism during menopause. Other options include using a high-quality estrogen cream that's easy to apply. In combination with estrogen cream, a healthy diet, and regular exercise, you can fight the estrogen bulge.