For years, scientists have tried to find out why women have so many problems when it comes to losing fat.
If we ask the women we know why they suffer pre-menstrual mood swings, fluid retention or chocolate cravings, most of them will answer: “Damn estrogens…”
We tend to blame estrogens for all the physiological changes that happen to women. However, the situation is actually very different from this.
It is true that estrogens play a key role in body fat. In fact, it has been proven that women who have a fat percentage under 22% or over 31% have a 25-35% less estrogens3. This makes sense in evolutionary terms, since women with low estrogen levels (menopause) will store fat more easily. On the other hand, women with a low fat percentage will go into “survival mode” and their body will produce less sex hormones (estrogens). This is due to the fact that reproducing is no longer a priority.
The role of said hormone is not just at a peripheral level, by improving the insulin sensitivity in the muscle tissue or burning more carbs. In addition, it binds to specific receptors (ERa, ERb) in the central nervous system (brain). Several studies on animals have proven that “suppressing” these receptors in the hypothalamus increases the body fat significantly4, as we can see in the following image:
Interestingly, it has been observed that mutations of said receptor do not affect the body fat percentage in men. However, this does not happen in women, who see how their abdominal fat suddenly increases5. Consequently, this means that estrogens can even be beneficial when it comes to losing fat.
The role of Leptin
Well, the thing is that estrogens share location with the leptin receptors, which suggests that there is a strong connection between both hormones6. This is proved when we observe how the estrogens regulate the amount of leptin receptors regardless of its levels7. Therefore, estrogens do not only control the amount of calories you burn, but it can make you more sensitive to leptin8.
Now many women may be wondering…
…what can I do to keep the estrogen levels stable? The answer is not that simple, since estrogens change according to the menstrual cycle (losing fat will never be easy for women). If you want more information about the menstrual hormones, here you have an article about this topic.
Hormone Regulation System
We need to understand that the hormonal regulation of the reproductive system is a very complex process. It involves several systems such as the hypothalamus and the hypophysis:
To put it briefly, the hypothalamus regulates the female hormones by releasing GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone). When it reaches the hypophysis, it releases the luteinizing hormone and follicle stimulanting hormone as well.
Even though it may look complex, you can see how simple it is in the following image:
When women follow hamster protocols (eating lettuce and doing cardio), the scenario changes completely. Our body detects that there is something wrong and thinks: “…we do not have energy, we need to stop those processes that spend energy unnecessarily…”. Do you know which process requires a great amount of energy? Exactly, the reproduction, which is why it will send a signal to your gonads so that they stop producing estrogens.
Effects of very restrictive diets
Then…what is the solution?
The answer should be simple…go to the black market and purchase GnRH and control the amount of calories that you eat.
But, let’s be clear, you will need to create a calorie deficit in order to lose fat. Obviously, it is not the same to lose weight with a strength training routine and a high protein diet than seating on your sofa while eating cucumber and apples.
In the first case, you will not only lose more fat and preserve muscle mass, but your hormone environment will be much more stable. Consequently, you will reduce the chances of gaining part of the fat you have lost. However, if your objective is to reach a very low fat percentage, your body will respond aggressively too.
Problems with high estrogen levels
An excess can end up triggering many of the current problems that take us to the doctor. In addition, they tend to be mistakenly diagnosed and treated with remedies that can affect us even more.
According to this new way of understanding medicine, the role of hormones is very important: our endocrine system is altered due to a significant increase in the estrogen levels. Many of us cannot handle this due to our genetic predisposition but we can try to fix it if we are aware of the problem.
Soaps, creams and make up (containing parabens, triclosan and others) penetrate our skin with hormone disruptors that alter the balance by increasing the estrogen levels. Wet wipes increase the histamine. Obviously, contraceptives and the IUD alter and increase the estrogen levels apart from reducing the libido and increasing the risk of heart attacks, among others. Plastics, specially the ones from containers and bottles, can be powerful hormone disruptors when they are heated, as well as teflon pans. Polyester fabric, which is another type of plastic, also has the same effect. Tobacco inhibits the liver detoxification and the proper hormone processing.
We are surrounded by factors that release different hormones in our body, altering our endocrine system.
The exposure to obesogens is one of the most powerful mechanisms when it comes to triggering metabolic alterations
Now we will see what happens and what could happen in detail when a woman or a man have an estrogen excess. Moreover, we will see which foods can partially trigger these alterations (they are not the only factors), and what type of nutrition we should follow to improve our hormone health.
What happens when we suffer an estrogen excess?
- In men, an estrogen excess can result in some disorders that we tend to relate to other causes and which can cause serious problems.
- Gynecomastia, some problems such as prostate hypertrophy, varicose veins in testicles and legs, anxiety, dandruff or even sperm problems: bad motility and amount.
- However, this is not the worst that can happen, since some of these issues can increase the risk of suffering prostate cancer and even a heart attack or becoming sterile.
- In the case of women, an estrogen excess can trigger the onset of diseases which are thought to be normal. However, this is not the case whatsoever.
- Many women suffer acute menstrual pain, menstrual syndrome and a flow that lasts for a long time. The headaches or migraines can be due to a estrogen excess and histaminosis. On the other hand, joint and muscle pain can be due to hypothyroidism and an estrogen excess.
- The belly pain, irritable bowel and chronic constipation (except when menstruating) can be due to a hormone excess.
- Other symptoms of an estrogen excess could be: tiredness, being too cold, swollen eyes after waking up, insomnia, low blood pressure, sinusitis, spring allergies, dermatitis… There are many other pathologies that we tend to associate with other issues and treat with remedies that can cause other problems.
Do you want to purchase supplements to control and reduce the estrogens? Click here.
Foods that alter the estrogen levels
Many of the foods we eat can increase our estrogen levels. This specially happens with those foods whose sugar content increases the insulin levels. Consequently, this produces an imbalance in our endocrine system. These two are the most common and the ones that should be avoided:
- It is one of the products that is causing more damage to our health. Unfortunately, many of the meals we eat tend to contain this ingredient: bread, pasta, pastries, biscuits, etc. This product can increase the blood sugar levels even more than sugar itself.
- It increases the blood sugar levels, followed by an insulin increase that also increases the estrogens. Moreover, this also happens with sugary drinks and refreshments, sweeteners such as saccharin (not stevia). Even red meat produces this effect when it is not combined with vegetables.
- These type of products and milk can increase the insulin and estrogens. The alternatives do not make things better, since soy milk as well as soy itself contain estrogens (phytoestrogens) that increase its levels in our body.
What can we eat to avoid an estrogen excess?
Avoiding an estrogen excess is complicated, specially if we take into account all the foods that affect us as well as other factors. Some products that can lower their impact are:
- Natural stevia or panela sugar are good substitutes for sugar, syrup and artificial sweeteners like saccharine.
- Passionflower, green tea, cinnamon and licorice can slow down the estrogen production.
- Kombucha tea, a fermented drink, supports the liver in the glucuronidation (bile production and estrogen elimination).
Fruit and Nuts
- Apple, grapes, pomegranate and forest fruits can also block the aromatase and the excessive estrogen production.
- Nuts such as walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds or Brazil nuts are the best alternative to bread, pastries ad biscuits.
Cheese and milk
- Sheep or goat cheese is better than cow milk, while almond milk would be a better choice than cow or soy milk.
- Bread made of buckwheat or sourdough, also known as “Ezekiel bread” is the best one. It blocks the estrogen production and supports the sulphitation. Buckwheat can also be used to cook crepes and other dishes.
- All the vegetables from the cabbage family (broccoli, red cabbage, cauliflower, radish) help the liver to get rid of the estrogen excess.
- Mushrooms are also a great ally.
- Beetroot can remove environmental toxins and stress hormones.
- Artichoke can also help us lower our estrogen levels.
- The best are adzuki beans, lentils, beans and peas.
Octopus, squid and cuttlefish
- They are a great protein source that support the sulphitation and the elimination of environmental toxins by the liver.
- Small fatty fish, seafood and some seaweeds, such as the cochayuyo seaweed, ideal for soups and stews.
- J Cardiovasc Pharmacol. 1992;20 Suppl 8:S26-8.Abdominal fat distribution and the metabolic syndrome. Björntorp P1.
- Ann Med. 1992 Feb;24(1):15-8.Abdominal fat distribution and disease: an overview of epidemiological data. Björntorp P1.
- Body fat, energy balance and estradiol levels: a study based on hormonal profiles from complete menstrual cycles. Ziomkiewicz A1, Ellison PT, Lipson SF, Thune I, Jasienska G.
- Silencing of estrogen receptor α in the ventromedial nucleus of hypothalamus leads to metabolic syndrome
Sergei Musatov,*†‡ Walter Chen,† Donald W. Pfaff,†§ Charles V. Mobbs,¶ Xue-Jun Yang,¶ Deborah J. Clegg,‖ Michael G. Kaplitt,†‡ and Sonoko Ogawa†**††
- Association of polymorphisms in the estrogen receptor alpha gene with body fat distribution.Okura T1, Koda M, Ando F, Niino N, Ohta S, Shimokata H.
- Leptin receptors in estrogen receptor-containing neurons of the female rat hypothalamus.Diano S1, Kalra SP, Sakamoto H, Horvath TL.
- P.A. Bennett, K. Lindell, C. Wilson, L.M. Carlsson, B. Carlsson, I.C. Robinson, Cyclical variations in the abundance of leptin receptors, but not in circulating leptin, correlate with NPY expression during the oestrous cycle, Neuroendocrinology 69 (1999) 417–423.
- D.J. Clegg, L.M. Brown, S.C. Woods, S.C. Benoit, Gonadal hormones determine sensitivity to central leptin and insulin, Diabetes 55 (2006) 978–987.