Estrogen Imbalance and Weight Gain
Irregular cycles and menopause have both been associated with weight gain but their physiological mechanisms appear to be different. How can an experience of high estrogen levels and low estrogen levels both be associated with weight gain?

In today’s show we cover the details. You can listen to the show below. If you have experiencing balancing your hormones and have had success with weight loss because of it let us know in the comments!



Irregular Cycles and Weight Gain

Throughout the last few years many integrative medical professionals have discussed the topic of “estrogen dominance” or high estrogen and its effects on the body. Most of the associations have been with debilitating premenstrual symptoms or PMS. Now correlations with weight gain are being documented.

The pain, cramping, bloating, water retention, breast tenderness, acne, stress and irritability associated with estrogen dominance are symptoms that Naturopathic Doctors have great success in reducing. The side effect? Weight loss.

If the hormone estrogen is relatively high in the monthly cycle compared with what would be considered regular levels insulin resistance can occur. This means the cells become less sensitive to insulin release and the pancreas can then release increased amounts.

This phenomenon is associated with increased fat cell development and weight gain around the hips, waist and thighs.

Fat cells “aromatize” (an enzymatic process) testosterone into estrogen. Therefore the more fat cells we have the more likely we are to make more estrogen from testosterone levels. This can reduce our ability to recover from exercise, develop lean muscle and burn fat. The cycle continues.

Menopause and Weight Gain

In menopause the hormone effect is opposite. Levels of estrogen drop. With this reduction a common decrease in metabolic rate can be seen. Metabolism relies on a stable supply of estrogen.

Because estrogen suppresses insulin release this decrease now means that insulin levels are naturally higher. This means that the body can potentially go into fat storing mode. With an increase in fat storage estrogen levels will then rise.

How to balance estrogen

The absolute best way to balance estrogen is to live an optimal, lean, holistic lifestyle. This involves stress reduction, proper sleep, adequate nutrition (including fiber and water) and exercise. These healthy actions all contribute to balanced blood sugar, insulin release and estrogen detox.

Beyond these lifestyle changes Naturopathic Doctors use supplementation to reset estrogen levels (in both situations – the treatments are different).

1) Initially a healthy lifestyle must be achieved. Again, I cannot stress enough the value of stress reduction and sleep optimization.

2) Diet modifications – following a holistic nutrition program (like the one here) is essential. The value of extra fiber from things like whole grains, flax and psyllium has been shown to reduce high levels of estrogen. Consuming adequate protein and maintaining a low sugar intake is essential in moderating the effects of low hormones in menopause.

3) Testing – Saliva or dried urine testing is the gold standard for hormone assessment. As their are other imbalances possible in PMS and menopause it is important to see severity and significance on hormone irregularity. Testing helps us gain this knowledge. In my clinic we review which test is most appropriate for your symptoms (We do testing all over North America – for information contact us here).

4) Supplementation and tracking – in high estrogen we use products like I3C, Calcium d-glucarate and DIM to balance the cycle. In menopause I will often recommend a herbal approach using black cohosh prior to discussing bio-identical hormones. Everyone’s situation is unique and treatments will vary accordingly.

Testing Options:

Hormone testing can be done via saliva and dried urine. In a recent article I wrote for our clinic (Finlandia Health Centre) I discussed the hormones and metabolites assessed in dried urine (see a snippet below).

In the DUTCH (Dried Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones) test the following hormones are evaluated:

  • Estrogens – Discovering the differences between E1 (Estrone), E2 (Estradiol) and E3 (Estriol) can be important in cancer prevention, bone health, menstrual cycle changes, heart function and brain health.
  • Progesterone – Levels of progesterone are important to know when balancing the effects of estrogen on the body. It is essential to maintaining pregnancy and is a key hormone in many body functions.
  • Androgens – Testosterone, androstenedione, DHT and DHEA are all reported with the DUTCH panel. These hormones can tell us much about how our hormone metabolism affects our energy, bone, muscle development and libido.
  • Cortisol – Inflammation, immune function, energy and cellular metabolism are all affected by the stress hormone cortisol. Seeing how cortisol is released is an important step in treating anxiety, mood changes and weight gain.
  • Melatonin – When sleep/wake cycles are erratic knowing your melatonin level is invaluable.

This panel really is the gold standard for evaluating weight gain due to hormonal imbalance. It is able to show us how testosterone is being metabolized relative to estrogen levels while at the same time giving us an overview of cortisol release and physiological responses of the body to stress.

If you have had difficulty losing weight for a long time and have been living a clean, consistently healthy lifestyle hormone testing may be the appropriate next step.

Living a healthy lifestyle is the best way to manage hormone levels. This should include avoiding environmental exposures of estrogen, participating in stress hormone reduction techniques and providing the body with the resources it needs for optimal functioning.

Hormone testing is extremely valuable in determining the extent of imbalance present and intensity of treatments required. For more information about testing contact us here.

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Dr. David Duizer is a co-founder of and a Naturopathic Physician practicing in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is a passionate, driven, motivated leader in integrative medicine focused on optimal wellbeing, holistic healing and natural health.

To learn more about Dr. David Duizer Click Here. Connect with David on Twitter @davidduizer, Facebook, and Google+.