"Have you ever experienced tender breasts and irritability before your period? What about heavy bleeding and pain with menstruation? Chances are, that at one time or another, you’ve experiences these – and other – uncomfortable symptoms associated with your cycle. We often think of these symptoms as “normal” and just par for the course when it comes to being a woman. Although common in our society, I’m here to tell you that these symptoms are not normal and a sign that hormones are out of balance."
“When we talk about estrogen dominance, we are really talking about an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone.”
“I’m such an advocate for testing – instead of guessing - when it comes to hormones. We want to understand what case your estrogen dominance falls under along with what is the root cause.”
Have you ever experienced tender breasts and irritability before your period? What about heavy bleeding and pain with menstruation? Chances are, that at one time or another, you’ve experienced these – and other uncomfortable symptoms associated with your cycle. We often think of these symptoms as “normal” and just par for the course when it comes to being a woman. Although common in our society, I’m here to tell you that these symptoms are not normal and a sign that hormones are out of balance.
In my hormone series, I’ve already covered the stress hormone cortisol and the relationship between cortisol and progesterone. Today, in Part 3 of this series, I will cover estrogen and specifically an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone known as estrogen dominance. This is one of the most common hormonal imbalances among women in my practice.
Many women desire to lose weight and estrogen levels, among other hormones, may play a role. Keep reading to learn more about the estrogen and fat connection.
In this article, you will learn more about:
So pull up a chair; let’s dive in!
Before we cover estrogen dominance, let’s back up and talk about what estrogen is first. Estrogen is the sex hormone in women that is responsible for the first half of your menstrual cycle. It builds up the uterine lining and prepares the uterus for a baby.
Estrogen includes three steroid hormones: estrone (E1), estradiol (E2) and estriol (E3). These estrogens, in normal amounts, gives you curves, supports a balanced mood, helps you to have strong bones, improves your memory, strengthens immunity and keeps your skin plump and moisturized. So we don’t want to assume that estrogen is all bad – it’s just like most things in life: we want the right amount.
When we talk about estrogen dominance, we are really talking about an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone. Remember that progesterone is the star of the second half of the cycle. It maintains the uterine lining and supports a pregnancy. You must ovulate to produce progesterone and one of the chief reasons for progesterone is its starring role in balancing out estrogen. Not only does it protect you from estrogen related cancers but it promotes deep sleep (when you have enough of it) and gives you that calm, cool, and collected vibe that makes you feel grounded.
There are two cases where estrogen dominance shows up:
I’m such an advocate for testing – instead of guessing - when it comes to hormones. We want to understand what case your estrogen dominance falls under along with what is the root cause.
Now that we’ve covered what estrogen dominance is from the biochemical perspective, what are the signs of estrogen dominance that you might experience physically?
Estrogen dominance symptoms include:
Chances are you’ve experienced some of these at one time or another. The symptoms women experience around weight gain and stubborn weight loss are often at the forefront of health goals.
What’s the deal with estrogen dominance weight gain? Are these really estrogen fat deposits? Does estrogen cause weight gain?
These are just a sprinkling of real questions I’ve been asked on this topic. Let me break it down for you.
Estrogen, in normal amounts, does not cause weight gain. In fact, it helps with weight maintenance throughout the years that a woman has a cycle. Estrogen actually benefits muscle mass, bone health and insulin sensitivity. When we lose estrogen production, through menopause, that may contribute to weight or fat gain. So remember that estrogen is good when it’s in balance.
When estrogen is out of balance and estrogen is clinically high, or high relative to progesterone, the relationship between estrogen and fat takes on a new challenge.
Estrogen is produced in the adrenal glands, brain, ovaries (or testes) and also by fat tissue. Yes, you heard that right: fat increases estrogen. Estrogen also signals for fat storage, which makes sense because a woman needs a certain amount of fat on her body to be fertile. But, in certain cases, this cycle between fat producing estrogen and estrogen signaling for fat storage can become a cycle, and an unwanted situation if you are trying to lose weight.
Now let’s add to this picture a little. “Estrogen belly fat” as one patient so bluntly referred to it, may contribute to insulin resistance, making blood sugar higher and it harder to effectively use blood sugar to make energy for the body. Fat cells are also a main site where the body stores toxins and many toxins, known as obesogens, make it hard for the body to lose weight. If you’re under stress and have high cortisol or HPA-axis dysfunction, that contributes as well.
I want to take an aside to mention that this is one of the reasons that exercising more and eating less doesn’t work for weight loss, especially sustained long-term weight loss. Hormones play a huge role.
Let’s take a look at some of the research and get a little more precise about too much estrogen and weight gain.
When looking at the biochemistry, research has uncovered that estrogen decreases lipolysis in adipose tissue (fat tissue) through the estrogen receptor called ER-alpha. This is just a fancy way of saying that estrogen prevents the breakdown of fat.
Another study states that: “estrogen’s effect on fat may depend where it’s located,” going on to say that estrogen blunts fat breakdown in the abdomen, but not in the butt. This might explain why estrogen dominance is more associated with weight in the midsection and that apple shape, instead of pear.
Overall, estrogen balance is incredibly important for weight maintenance and weight loss. Addressing estrogen dominance, holistically, is one of the root cause approaches for weight loss. Let’s talk about some ways to do that.
Treatment approaches for estrogen dominance will vary from woman to woman depending on her personal imbalance between estrogen and progesterone and the underlying contributors. Hormones work in concert so it’s also important to consider how other hormones contribute to the whole picture.
Here are some important steps to consider for estrogen dominance:
Although each woman is different, these four areas are foundational when it comes to estrogen balance. They aren’t medication or quick fixes, but real lifestyle change that support hormone balance over the long-term. For more specific guidance, especially for women experiencing estrogen dominance symptoms, please don’t hesitate to reach out for proper testing and personalized support. Remember that even though painful periods, belly fat and mood swings are common, they are not normal. Let’s make your cycle comfortable and easy!
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