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Does Estrogen Make You Fat?
In today’s lesson we’re going to look at why it is tougher for women approaching menopause lose weight from their abdomens. I have worked with a lot of women in my time and a lot of them don’t know what to do about it. They seem to be doing everything correctly but for some reason they have a tough time losing weight in that area.
So, we’re going to look at the role of estrogen today. I am going to explain exactly what happens in the body with respect to estrogen and difficulty losing weight. We’re going to talk mainly about women today but this does apply to men to some degree.
First off, let’s talk about what happens during menopause as women’s hormones start to fluctuate and change. Basically, estrogen decreases by 35% and progesterone decreases by 75%. Both hormones decrease but the balance changes.
Progesterone normally keeps estrogen in check. If there is more estrogen floating around relative to progesterone, it can lead to a condition called estrogen dominance and we’re going to talk about that later.
Women are generally pear-shaped up until menopause. Fat cells and hormones ensure that fat is distributed mainly around the hips and reproductive organs. There is also a tendency to store fat subcutaneously which means that more of a women’s fat is stored just under the skin.
That is why it’s tougher for women to see muscle definition than it is for men because men have a lower subcutaneous fat level than women. We’ll talk about what happens in women and why it happens in a minute.
During menopause, there is a decrease in estrogen and a decrease in estrogen receptor sensitivity. Because of this, women’s bodies tend to become more male-like in terms of fat distribution.
More fat starts to collect around the abdomen, mimicking more of a male, apple shape. The apple-shaped body is linked to type-II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity. That is why abdominal fat is not a good thing. More fat around the viscera; the digestive organs is linked to many diseases.
In general, women have a pear shape and more fat underneath the skin up until menopause. They store their fat in and around the hips.
And at menopause because of a decrease in estrogen, their fat distribution changes and more fat is held within the abdominal area.
A lot of people tend to think that estrogen makes you fat, and that is a misconception. People may think that because women tend to have more body fat than men that it is due to estrogen. That is not the case. Estrogen is actually a hormone which promotes fat breakdown and decreases fat storage.
Estrogen has 2 functions as a hormone in the cell. Firstly, it decreases lipoprotein lipase (LPL). LPL is an enzyme which favours fat uptake into the cells, making the cells fatter. Estrogen decreases LPL activity which means that less fat is taken into fat cells.
Secondly, estrogen increases the activity of another enzyme called hormone sensitive lipase (HSL) and increases the role of epinephrine at the cellular level, both of which increase lipolysis which means fat breakdown.
In summary, estrogen favours fat breakdown and it hinders fat uptake. This is the overall effect of estrogen. There are other effects that occur at the cellular level, but all in all, estrogen does not make you fat in the grand scheme of things.
Engorged fat cells will return to normal size in the presence of estrogen. Normal size fat cells will become fatter if there is a lack of estrogen or if there is a decrease in estrogen receptor sensitivity.
The transition from a normal sized fat cell to a large fat cell is what happens in menopause. Why does this happen? Why do women go from pear-shaped to apple-shaped?
This is a good time to talk about estrogen receptors. The ones I am going to focus on are called ESR1 and ESR2.
There are certain estrogen receptors that are located in the brain. Others are located in the liver and the bones and in the fat cells. All of these estrogen receptors have an impact on how estrogen is used and produced in the body.
For instance, there are estrogen receptors in the brain, specifically in the hypothalamus, which control appetite and hunger. Studies have shown that those estrogen receptors have an impact on food intake.
As estrogen decreases, there is less stimulation of these receptors in the brain which means that there is a tendency to have less appetite suppression when you have less estrogen in the body. Now, this is not black and white.
There are a lot of things going on in the brain and this is not always the case. This has been shown in studies with rats that have been ovariectomized. Where they have basically shut down the rats’ production of estrogen from the ovaries in the body and the food intake of the rats increased thereafter.
This is just one example of what could happen because of these estrogen receptors in the brain if there is less estrogen stimulating them as you age and approach menopause.
There is another really interesting estrogen receptor on the subcutaneous fat cell. When women are young and there is a lot of estrogen in the body, estrogen causes an increase in the receptor known as anti-lipolytic alpha 2A-adrenergic receptor. Anti-lipolytic = anti-fat.
What this means is that estrogen increases the number of anti-fat breakdown receptors in subcutaneous fat; fat just underneath the skin all over the body. Because of the increase in these receptors, they are telling the fat cells not to break down fat.
Therefore, before you get into menopause and estrogen levels are high, there are more of these receptors which mean that more fat has a tendency to be stored in that subcutaneous fat and less fat is stored in and around the abdomen.
However, during menopause when estrogen levels start to fall, even though there is more estrogen relative to progesterone, the balance is shifted and anti-lipolytic alpha 2A-adrenergic receptors become fewer in number.
Because estrogen levels have decreased relative to before menopause, there is more subcutaneous fat that can actually be broken down and there is a subsequent tendency for fat to accumulate in and around the abdomen.
That is one of the primary reasons why more women store fat in their stomach during and after menopause. When estrogen levels fall, anti-lipolytic alpha 2A-adrenergic receptor levels fall so that fat under the skin can more easily be broken down and the tendency shifts to fat storage in the abdominal area.
Now, we’re only talking about estrogen. We haven’t even touched on testosterone or progesterone. This is fascinating stuff.
Remember, estrogen receptors are one of the key reasons why the distribution of fat shifts as you enter menopause. Now, you may be thinking that if estrogen is meant to keep you thin that you might want high estrogen levels in the body. Not necessarily.
When you have high estrogen levels in relation to progesterone, it can lead to a condition called estrogen dominance. We are seeing a lot of estrogen dominance nowadays, not only in women but in men as well. This is something of which most people are not aware.
There is nothing wrong with estrogen or progesterone by themselves. The problem occurs when their balance in the body is thrown off.
This is a bit off the topic of fat distribution, but you do not want to be taking in high amounts of estrogen during menopause because as has been shown with hormone replacement therapy (HRT) there is an increased risk of breast cancer and other issues related to high estrogen levels.
The big thing about estrogen is that it promotes cell growth and cell division and that is not good where cancer is concerned. If there are any trace of cancer or pre-cancerous cells in your body when there are high levels of estrogen, the estrogen is going to further the cancer’s development. That is why estrogen dominance is something to worry about whether you are a man or woman.
How does estrogen dominance occur?
There are endogenous sources of estrogen which are sources of estrogen that are produced in the body from the ovaries, the fat cells, and the placenta during pregnancy, etc.
The adrenal cortex produces a precursor that produces estrogen as well. There are exogenous sources of estrogen, sources of estrogen that come from outside of the body such as xenoestrogens which are basically chemicals that mimic estrogen in the body. Xenoestrogens are a big concern.
They come from plastic bottles, artificial foods, and processed foods. There are a lot of things that lead to xenoestrogen creation. Drugs such as birth control pills get flushed down the toilet along with human waste and stay in our water supply and contribute to our estrogen issue. The problem with xenoestrogens in the body is that they contribute to estrogen overload and that is not a good thing at all.
Phytoestrogens on the other hand are good in most cases. They are very weak estrogens. In the body, phytoestrogens displace xenoestrogens. They take up space on estrogen receptors so that xenoestrogens and the main estrogen in the female body (estradiol, estriol, and estrone) are not able to attach to the estrogen receptor.
This is good because pytoestrogen decreases the actions of estrogen in the body. Phytoestrogens are natural estrogens that come from plants. They are very weak and have a minimal negative effect on the body. Flax is a source of phytoestrogens which is talked about a lot. Any kind of whole foods diet will have phytoestrogens. The one thing that you want to be careful of is soy.
Soy is a very powerful phytoestrogen. It basically mimics estradiol in the body and its effect is potent. So not only will it take up the estrogen receptor sites, but it will also further the estrogen load in your body. There is a difference between flax and soy. Flax is a very weak phytoestrogen and most plants are.
Soy is a very strong phytoestrogen and actually increases the estrogen load in your body, so it is something you want to stay away from.
To reduce estrogen dominance, you should eat a predominantly whole foods diet. Eat a mostly vegetarian diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables. The fiber in fruits and vegetables will help bind the estrogen and remove it through the colon.
Make sure that your liver is healthy because it processes estrogen. And make sure that you are eliminating regularly. You should be passing 2-3 bowel movements per day. If estrogen sits in your colon for days on end it will be reabsorbed into your blood stream and auto-intoxicate you.
Those are just some things to think about when it comes to lowering estrogen in the body. The last thing you want to do is pump your body full of estrogen, even if you think it’s going to keep you thinner because it will throw your hormonal balance.
Another reason why women tend to gain weight during menopause is because the ovaries produce less estrogen. Fat cells, which produce estrogen as well, start to pick up the slack. Fat cells are now needed to produce more estrogen as the ovaries produce less. The body has a more difficult time getting rid of volume in the fat cells in general because of this need to produce estrogen. It is tougher for women to lose weight during menopause.
Having said that, I do not want you to think that menopause is the end of the world when it comes to fat loss because it is not. You just have to realize that the distribution of fat within your body will be different and that you will just have to be a bit more diligent with respect to your diet and exercise regime.
Strength training is important. Interval cardio training to burn maximum calories in a short period of time will be very beneficial. Food intake will have to be minimized, but really, that just means that poor nutrient-void food must be minimized.
Hormonal changes will affect each woman differently with respect to their appetite so it is important to pay attention to how you feel. Be aware of your body and feed your body good whole foods that will not pack on the pounds. The key again is calories in vs. calories out. The best diet to lose fat around the abs is one very high in whole foods.
That is your in-depth lesson on the role of estrogen during menopause and before menopause and why it is tougher to lose fat around your abdomen. Now you know what is going on in your body, you can overcome it. It takes hard work. No one said it was easy to lose abdominal fat.
Remember, it’s going to be the last place fat comes off and the first place that it goes on. Just stay committed and keep a long-term vision. Keep up the great work and make sure you are using the right workouts!
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