Written by: Caitlin Evans
Let’s face it, weight loss is extremely difficult at the best of times. It requires conscious and persistent changes to your lifestyle and even when you’re fully committed, disciplined and doing everything “right”, you may find that you don't see any significant results. Needless to say, this can be beyond frustrating.
However, before you throw in the towel, it’s important to consider the crucial role that hormones play in weight maintenance.
The female hormone, estrogen, is notorious for causing excessive weight gain or weight retention when its levels are thrown off balance. While estrogen imbalance can affect men, it’s much more common in women and can cause all sorts of unpleasant symptoms. We’ll talk more about fluctuating estrogen levels and what you can do about it later in the article.
How female hormones work
Estrogen and progesterone (the female sex hormones) work together to regulate numerous functions. The two hormones are present in a defined ratio which ensures that the entire system runs smoothly.
Estrogen directly affects weight because it works to increase fat storage by regulating the receptors in female fat depots – mainly in the hips and thighs. These receptors (called alpha-adrenergic receptors) accelerate or decrease the body's ability to utilise fat as energy. If the balance is thrown off, the bodily functions are disrupted, causing different symptoms – one of which is weight gain or weight retention.
Low estrogen levels
During Premenopause, hormone levels fluctuate and a woman’s body slowly begins to change as it nears the end of menstruation.
After menopause, estrogen and progesterone levels are significantly lowered. Although their ratio is not “off-track” during this phase of a woman’s life, the low estrogen levels are normally the main cause of hot flashes, trouble sleeping, and a reduced sex drive. They’re also the reason why it’s difficult for postmenopausal women to maintain their physique. As estrogen levels plummet, women no longer store fat in the hips and thighs, but instead begin storing fat in the abdominal region.
The effect of estrogen on choline production
There is another way in which estrogen impacts weight loss and it has to do with the body’s production of choline. Choline is an essential micronutrient which ensures the proper function of the metabolism, liver, and nerves. It’s part of the B-vitamin complex family and the body produces it naturally to burn fat.
Now, here lies the trick: choline is obtained through diet and catalysed by enzymes which are induced by estrogen. When your estrogen levels are low, you need to get more choline in your diet because a certain amount of it won’t be processed by the body as it would be when estrogen is at optimal levels. This is especially important for postmenopausal women, and not just for maintaining weight, but for proper organ function as well.
Additionally, excessive exercise and calorie restriction can cause estrogen levels to plummet, in the case of anorexia most notably. These dangerous methods of weight loss not only cease the menstrual cycle but can also inhibit the body’s own mechanisms for burning fat naturally, setting off a vicious cycle of strict dieting regimes.
The excess build-up of estrogen in the body leads to an imbalance called estrogen dominance. This is a very common condition and the elevated estrogen causes more prominent fat storage in the hips and thighs. However, it doesn’t only cause increased fat storage - water retention and bloating are other common symptoms of estrogen dominance. Both of which can make weight loss efforts seem ineffective.
The reason that this condition is so common in women (and an increasing number of men) lies in lifestyle factors and the synthetic chemicals we’re exposed to. These chemicals, called xenoestrogens, disrupt the hormonal balance because they mimic estrogen in the body. These nasty chemicals are most notably found in processed foods, pesticides, non-organic skincare products, plastics (BPA and BPS are xenoestrogens), laundry products and many more.
Most conventional farms feed their livestock estrogenic drugs in order to fatten them up, so meat and dairy coming from these farms largely contribute to the widespread hormonal imbalance.
It is possible to get rid of excess estrogen because estrogen is excreted through the bowel. In order to detoxify the body, it’s crucial to eat clean and maintain a healthy digestive system. Avoid xenoestrogens and choose organic produce whenever possible. A healthy exercise regime also ensures optimal hormonal balance and helps your body break down estrogen.
Both lowered and heightened levels of estrogen in the body directly impact weight and your ability to lose it. They also share some other symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety, depression, irregular periods, headaches, increased fatigue, concentration problems, trouble sleeping, and a decreased sex drive. If you experience any of these symptoms or feel that despite your best efforts to stick to a healthy diet and exercise plan, you just can’t lose weight, don’t hesitate to pay a visit to your doctor. You can run some simple tests to find out if your hormones are imbalanced. While in some case you may require treatment to get your hormones back on track, more often than not, making small but significant lifestyle changes can work enormously to help regulate a healthy hormonal balance, improve wellbeing, and consequently weight loss.