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Estrogen, Diet, and Body Weight Estrogen receptors in the brain and body weight

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Estrogen, Diet, and Body Weight
Estrogen receptors in the brain and body weight

A recent study on mice completed at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found that estrogen is crucial for regulation of energy expenditure, appetite, and body weight. Insufficient estrogen receptors in certain parts of the brain are thought to increase obesity. The mice that were lacking estrogen receptor alpha in certain parts of their brain became obese and developed obesity-related diseases, including diabetes and heart disease. Researchers hope that someday estrogen will go only to the parts of the brain that regulate body weight, while bypassing the full-body estrogen that is linked to breast cancer and stroke.

Further research found that plant extracts from Glycyrrhiza uralensis and Pueraria montana var. lobata bound to the estrogen receptor alpha activated the responsive reporters and prevented weight gain and fat accumulation comparable to estradiol in ovariectomized obese mice who were maintained on a high-fat diet. Unlike estradiol, these plant extracts did not have a proliferative effect on mammary glands or the uterus. These plant extracts are possibly a new class of tissue-selective estrogens that reverse weight gain, fat accumulation, and metabolic syndrome in postmenopausal women.
Estrogen, obesity, and infertility

Estradiol is lipid soluble and accumulates in body fat. Adipose cells convert the weak male hormone androstenedione to the weak female hormone estrone, which is not as potent as estradiol, but still has metabolic effects that alter reproductive function. Slender women metabolize estradiol to 2-hydroxyestrone, which is an antiestrogen. Obese women metabolize estradiol to estriol, a weak estrogen. Obese women will progressively increase their levels of estrone and estriol until ovulation ceases and they become infertile.

A slender woman’s reproductive cycle will turn off if the woman is less than 85% of predicted ideal body weight for height. If a woman’s body weight is less than 95% of predicted ideal body weight or greater than 120% of predicted ideal body weight, appropriate weight gain or loss is the primary therapeutic recommendation for infertility.
Epidemiological data confirm that obesity accounts for 6% of primary infertility; low body weight also accounts for 6% of primary infertility. Therefore, 12% of primary infertility results from deviation in body weight. More than 70% of women who are infertile because of a body weight deviation will spontaneously conceive if their body weight deviation is corrected.
Weight loss and estrogen-sensitive breast cancer

If an obese or overweight woman loses 5% of her total body weight, it could help lower circulating estrogen levels that increase the risk of breast cancer. When researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Study divided 439 overweight or obese women between 50 and 75 years of age into four groups (diet only, exercise only, exercise and diet, and no intervention), they found that people in the diet only and the exercise and diet groups lost the most weight (an average of 10%). These women also experienced the greatest decrease in hormones linked with breast cancer.

Estrone decreased 9.6% in woman who dieted and 11.1% in women who both dieted and exercised. Estradiol dropped 16.2% in women who dieted and 20.3% in women who both dieted and exercised. Levels of sex hormone-binding globulin, which is linked to decreased breast cancer risk, increased by 22.4% in women who dieted and 25.8% in women who both dieted and exercised. Exercise alone did not have much of an effect on body weight or estrogen. All in all, it was determined that losing just 5% of body weight could cut the risk for the most common estrogen-sensitive breast cancers by one-fourth to one-half.
Estrogen and body shape

Too much estrogen (often called estrogen dominance) is believed to cause increased body fat and water retention in men and premenopausal women. Premenopausal women with high estrogen levels tend to have a pear-shaped body, while men and menopausal women are more likely to have an apple shape. Men with an excess of body fat will experience high estrogen levels, because fat cells convert testosterone to estrogen. Women will experience a decrease in testosterone and progesterone with age, which leads to a relative excess of estrogen.

When postmenopausal women put on more abdominal fat, they dramatically increase their risk for health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. Researchers looked at 23 women in the same age range who had a similar body mass index and body fat composition. They found that postmenopausal women are able to store more fat and burned less fat than their premenopausal colleagues. The fat did not accumulate more in the abdominal region than other areas of the body, but more fat storage overall means more abdominal fat as well. The researchers were able to determine specific proteins and enzymes that were more active in the postmenopausal women.
Environmental toxins and estrogen levels

We are exposed to estrogen and estrogen-like compounds from certain foods that contain pesticides, herbicides, and growth hormones. The toxins cause weight gain, the weight gain increases estrogen production from fat cells and leads to insulin resistance, and insulin resistance increases the chances of one developing estrogen dominance. Public water systems do not remove estrogen, and we inadvertently take in estrogen every time we have a glass of water.

Many chemicals have estrogenic effects in the body when ingested (xenoestrogens), including:

  • Atrazine (weed killer)

  • Bisphenol A (found in some plastics)

  • Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA, a food preservative)

  • Erythrosine (FD&C Red No. 3)

  • Parabens (used in lotions)

  • Phthalates (a plasticizer)

  • Propyl gallate (protects fats and oils from oxidation)

Symptoms of estrogen dominance

Premenopausal women with estrogen dominance are likely to have:

  • Abnormal menstrual periods

  • Bloating

  • Breast swelling and tenderness

  • Decreased sex drive

  • Difficulty losing weight

  • Fibrocystic breasts

  • Foggy thinking and memory loss

  • Hair loss

  • Headaches

  • Mood swings

  • Premenstrual syndrome

  • Thyroid dysfunction

  • Too much fat around their hips

They are also more likely to experience:

  • Cervical dysplasia

  • Endometriosis

  • Gallstones

  • Ovarian cysts

  • Uterine fibroids

  • Varicose veins

Men are likely to describe:

  • Low libido

  • Lack of motivation

  • Depression

  • Loss of muscle mass

  • Increased fat in the trunk

It is now thought that many of the changes to physical appearance that are blamed on decreasing testosterone levels in men may result from decreasing estrogen levels at midlife.

Symptoms of estrogen dominance are similar to the symptoms correlated to low testosterone, because estrogen dominance often is paired with suboptimal testosterone.
It is believed that estrogen dominance is one of the leading causes of breast cancer, uterine cancer, and prostate cancer. Estrogen dominance also is linked to allergies, autoimmune disorders, breast cancer, uterine cancer, infertility, ovarian cysts, and increased blood clotting, and is associated with acceleration of the aging process.
Tips for naturally decreasing estrogen levels

Note: These tips come from naturopathic doctors. For more information regarding naturopathic medicine, please visit
Tips for naturally decreasing estrogen levels:

  • Take 1 milligram folic acid and B complex to decrease the negative effects of alcohol consumption (if you regularly drink alcohol)

  • Take a probiotic daily to help assure proper elimination of estrogen from the body

  • Consume enough insoluble fiber to help assure binding of estrogen in the digestive tract:

    • A non-psyllium supplement, such as ground flaxseed or chia seed may help

  • Choose organic dairy products, meat, and poultry

  • Emphasize omega-3 fatty acids in your diet by consuming sardines, wild salmon, flaxseed, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, and hemp seeds

  • Avoid saturated fats found in:

  • Increase consumption of cruciferous vegetables, such as:

    • Bok choy

    • Broccoli

    • Brussels sprouts

    • Cabbage

    • Mustard greens

  • Increase consumption of garlic and onions, which have sulfur-containing amino acids that help the liver detoxify estrogen

  • Eliminate:

    • Sugar

    • White flour

    • Refined foods

  • Avoid unfermented soy foods, such as:

    • Soy milk

    • Tofu

  • Know that the following foods, according to the University of Minnesota, inhibit estrogen:

    • Berries

    • Broccoli

    • Buckwheat

    • Cabbage

    • Citrus

    • Corn

    • Figs

    • Grapes

    • Green beans

    • Melon

    • Millet

    • Onions

    • Pears

    • Pineapple

    • Squash

    • Tapioca

    • White rice

    • White flour

  • Learn stress management techniques to avoid the use of progesterone to manufacture cortisol

  • Try to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night

Symptoms of estrogen deficiency

Estrogen deficiency is thought to cause:

  • Crying easily

  • Decreased libido

  • Depression

  • Difficulty falling asleep

  • Emotional instability

  • Fatigue

  • Forgetfulness

  • Headaches

  • Hot flashes

  • Incontinence

  • Irregular bleeding

  • Night sweats

  • Osteoporosis

  • Painful intercourse

  • Tachycardia

  • Urinary tract infection

  • Vaginal and/or bladder infections

Tips for naturally increasing estrogen levels

According to the University of Minnesota, the following foods contain natural estrogen:

  • Alfalfa

  • Animal flesh

  • Anise seed

  • Apples

  • Baker’s yeast

  • Barley

  • Beets

  • Carrots

  • Cherries

  • Chickpeas

  • Clover

  • Cowpeas (black-eyed peas)

  • Cucumbers

  • Dairy foods

  • Dates

  • Eggplant

  • Eggs

  • Fennel

  • Flaxseeds

  • Garlic

  • Hops

  • Licorice

  • Oats

  • Olive oil

  • Olives

  • Papaya

  • Parsley

  • Peas

  • Peppers

  • Plums

  • Pomegranates

  • Potatoes

  • Pumpkin

  • Red beans

  • Red clover

  • Rhubarb

  • Rice

  • Sage

  • Sesame seeds

  • Soybean sprouts

  • Soybeans

  • Split peas

  • Sunflower seeds

  • Tomatoes

  • Wheat

  • Yams

References and recommended readings

Bates GW. Abnormal body weight: a preventable cause of infertility. American Society for Reproductive Medicine Web site. Accessed April 23, 2014.

Estrogen regulates energy expenditure, appetite and body weight. News Medical Web site. Published October 20, 2011. Accessed April 23, 2014.
Foods that contain natural estrogens. University of Minnesota, School of Public Health Web site. Accessed April 23, 2014.
Foods that inhibit estrogen. University of Minnesota, School of Public Health Web site. Accessed April 23, 2014.
Hormonal health and balance information. Jace Wellness Center Web site. Published August 29, 2004. Accessed April 23, 2014.
Kaye J. Xenoestrogens. Web site. Published October 14, 2011. Accessed April 23, 2014.
Kolata G. Estrogen weight men? Herald Tribune Web site. Published September 12, 2013. Accessed April 23, 2014.
Miller M. Mayo Clinic study on low estrogen and weight gain unclear. Healthline Web site. Published May 10, 2013. Accessed April 23, 2014.
Northrup C. Estrogen dominance. Web site. Updated September 4, 2012. Accessed April 23, 2014.
Santosa S, Jensen MD. Adipocyte fatty acid storage factors enhance subcutaneous fat storage in postmenopausal women. Diabetes. 2013;62 (3):775-782. doi:10.2337/db12-0912.
Saunier EF, Vivar OI, Rubenstein A, et al. Estrogenic plant extracts reverse weight gain and fat accumulation without causing mammary gland or uterine proliferation. PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e28333. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0028333.
Turner N. Are you pear-shaped? What you need to know about estrogen. Huffington Post Web site. Published April 30, 2013. Accessed April 23, 2014.
Weight loss could decrease estrogen, a known risk factor for breast cancer: study. Huffington Post Web site. Published May 22, 2013. Accessed April 23, 2014.

Contributed by Elaine Koontz, RDN, LD/N

Review Date 4/14


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