Hormones are enormously responsible for weight gain. They behave differently depending on which tissue they are acting in and never work in isolation.
Estrogen acts different in the brain, in the uterus, and in your fat cells. Other hormones may accentuate or block estrogen’s actions, i.e a large amount of testosterone may decrease estrogen’s impact on female fat storage.
Estrogen is a tricky hormone when it comes to fat loss and it’s equilibrium is a necessity – very high or very low levels can be equally as bad. Normal levels of estrogen can complement body composition and overall health.
The main job of fat tissue is to produce estrogen since it is a very active part of the hormonal system. Fat tissue contains an enzyme (aromatase) which converts testosterone to estrogen. Estrogen comes from other places as well (e.g. the ovaries).
This means that the fatter you are, the more estrogen you’ll have, and vice versa. For example, estrogen overload can exacerbate hypothyroid issues, slowing metabolism and causing weight gain (read research here).
If that “estrogen overload” comes from obesity in the first place, this can very quickly become a vicious cycle (you’re overweight because you have thyroid problems, and you have thyroid problems because you’re overweight).
Studies also show that it’s also possible that high levels of estrogen promote fat gain by preventing the oxidation of fats (this means using fats for energy).
Women gain fat early in pregnancy (when estrogen levels are high), even if they aren’t “eating for two” yet. This suggests that “more estrogen = more calories being stored as fat”. Women whose ovaries are removed lose weight but when they are put on estrogen therapy, they gain weight.
Higher estrogen levels during puberty drive fat gain as an energy reserve in case you get pregnant. During early pregnancy, they go into overdrive to “stock up” for the approaching challenge.
Your body still hasn’t caught up to the 21st century; it still thinks its job is to keep you (a) alive, and (b) fertile in an environment of extreme food scarcity and a constant threat of famine.
The problem begins when you take a body adapted to scarcity and plunk it into a world of fast food. That’s when the normal and healthy preservation of essential body fat goes out of control.
Like most things in life, you’ve got to find an equilibrium and food can help you find the right balance. Here’s how your macros can help normalize estrogen levels:
Fiber seems to be anti-estrogenic. Research shows that by raising fiber levels by 15 grams per day (that’s a little less than one avocado) estrogen levels were successfully reduced in premenopausal women.
The available evidence shows that moderate carb restriction is effective in treating any female hormonal problems that might be driving weight gain. On the other hand, extreme carb restriction can cause problems of its own, including hormonal dysfunction, amenorrhea (loss of normal periods), and infertility.
Getting enough protein is important for hormonal healing.
Fat is important for hormonal health because saturated fat is the backbone of testosterone and estrogen. Saturated and monounsaturated fat is generally good for you, whilst polyunsaturated is not so good. You should also try to get more Omega-3 rather than Omega-6.
Final words on estrogen & weight loss
When it comes to weight problems, insulin (sugar) and cortisol (stress) hormones are the biggest culprits. This means that in order to manage our weight effectively we need to control our carb intake and actively try to reduce stress.
Overeating (even on healthy food) is also a big no-no. A high calorie diet will remove any of the beneficial fat burning effects of any hormone.
Remember to watch your consumption of animal based and plant based estrogen and be mindful of your exposure to environmental sources of estrogens such as plastic, pesticides, cosmetics, and caffeine.
If you have symptoms of estrogen dominance, look into seeing an holistic physician who can give professional help.