We almost all know somebody who has suffered from the negative effects of Menopause and it’s almost accepted that women will gain weight after they go through the change. But why does this happen and does it need to be that way? Is there a way to get relief from the symptoms and prevent the metabolic disturbances that cause menopausal weight gain?
This can be a difficult subject to understand and even the best in medicine struggle with this complex area. The jury is still out on many counts as to how to control or reduce the symptoms of menopause.
In saying that, let’s investigate!
Types of Estrogen
“There are different types of estrogen. Low levels of one type can lead to a host of health issues, while high levels of another type raise the risk for cancer.
Estrogen is a group of female hormones comprising estrone, estradiol, estriol:
- Estradiol is the estrogen that keeps us looking and feeling youthful. It’s produced by the ovaries in women and derived from testosterone in men. It promotes our libido and helps protect us from cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and cancer. Levels beginning waning in your 30’s. It’s virtually depleted in women by menopause, but it varies in men.
- Estriol and estetrol are pregnancy estrogens. Your body releases estriol during pregnancy to provide nourishment to the placenta. Recent studies credit it with anti-inflammatory properties and link it to gut health. The fetus’ liver produces estetrol, though its function is unclear. After giving birth, levels of both these hormones vanish completely.
- Estrone is known as the menopause estrogen. It’s secreted by ovaries, converted by testosterone, or produced by fatty tissues. Although it helps protect the heart and brain in women and men, it can cause weight gain, raise the risk for estrogen-driven cancers, and has been linked to type 2 diabetes and atherosclerosis in men. (4)
Weight Gain and Menopause
Virtually all mammals and many other vertebrates undergo declines in reproductive capacity during the aging process. However, menopause is unique to species with menstrual cycles such as women and higher primates. Ultimately, the loss of a woman’s limited pool of ovarian follicles causes declines in circulating levels of the steroid hormone estradiol. Many of the major postmenopausal symptoms reported in women, such as osteoporosis, vasomotor symptoms, and vaginal dryness, are directly attributable to low circulating estradiol concentrations. (3)
The hallmark of the early menopausal transition is this dramatic reduction in estradiol levels. With this reduction, there is a progressive shift toward androgen dominance in the hormonal mix. Available studies suggest a link between increased androgens and cardiovascular disease risk (CVD) factors. (2)
You can see what happens to the different menstrual hormones during menopause summarized in this diagram. In theory, the estrogen levels during, and after menopause should diminish significantly, and therefore, in healthy women, the symptoms of menopause in a healthy woman should be negligible if not none at all. So why are estrogens still found in excess, and causing symptoms in so many women? We will find this out soon, so keep reading.
There is also evidence that specific reproductive hormones are associated with CVD risk factors in premenopausal and postmenopausal Caucasian women. Increased testosterone and decreased sex hormone-binding globulin levels are strongly associated with central adiposity (abdominal weight gain), increased triglycerides (blood fats), and decreased HDL (good cholesterol) levels in most women. Even after age and BMI were adjusted for. These hormonal changes are significantly linked with the presence of metabolic syndrome. (2)
The menopause transition, which also includes alterations in the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian (Brain-Ovaries) axis, is a contributing factor to women’s obesity risk. Fat gain and lean mass loss increase prior to menopause. At the start of menopause, the rate of fat gain doubles, and lean muscle mass declines. These gains and losses continue until 2 years after the final menstrual period. After that two years, the trajectories of fat gain and loss of lean mass eventually decelerate to normal rates. (1) The problem is that for some women this ‘Menopause transition’ can drag on for several years.
What Causes Estrogen Dominance?
In males and females, estrogen is an important hormone. High levels of estrogen can cause a variety of symptoms and may increase the risk of developing certain medical conditions.
Estrogen dominance is a type of hormonal imbalance in which the body produces too much estrogen. There are different schools of thought about estrogen dominance, but the theory behind it is that during the transition into perimenopause, the body will produce less progesterone but keep producing the same levels of estrogen. This causes an imbalance that causes unpleasant symptoms.
Another direct correlation is that Estrogen dominance is more common with general metabolic imbalance such as metabolic syndrome i.e. Weight gain, high blood sugars, cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure. (2)
The general population is exposed to a number of hormonally active compounds on a daily basis. These compounds were introduced in the living environment during the last few decades, the majority of which are xenoestrogens. Chemicals like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), dichlorodiphenyl-trichlorethane (DDT), some drugs (e.g., antiepileptic drugs), fungicides, cotinine, phytoestrogens, mycotoxins, bisphenol A (a plastics additive), phthalates, alkylphenols, and metalloestrogens mimic oestrogen action, affect oestrogen levels, or bind to oestrogen receptors. Xenoestrogens are present in a number of substrates such as cigarette smoke, automobile exhaust, chemical industry pollutants, grilled meat, volcano dust, forest fire smoke, milk, water, and cosmetic products. This means that all human population may be exposed to them. (13)
This constant exposure can be partly responsible for the array of menopausal and post-menopausal estrogenic excess symptoms.
Symptoms of estrogen dominance can be similar to those of perimenopause, menopause, or even PMS. Diagnosing estrogen dominance requires precisely timed testing, so if you have several of the symptoms below, schedule an appointment with your doctor to get tested.
The good news is that many women report relief from many of the symptoms of estrogen dominance after completing our herbal detox program. I will talk about this detox program later in the article.
Signs of Estrogen Dominance
High levels of estrogen can lead to a wide range of physical and emotional issues, and can also cause weight gain, plus a range of menstrual problems. These symptoms include:
- Weight Gain – Particularly around the hips and waist. This symptom may also present itself as an increase in body weight, or just carrying your weight in different places than before.
- PMS symptoms worse – Another sign of estrogen dominance is worsening PMS symptoms. Breast tenderness, headaches, acne flare-ups.
- Irregular Menstrual Periods or Spotting – Menstrual periods can occur less frequently or more frequently. They may also change in duration.
- Heavy Periods – Women with too much estrogen may have heavy and painful periods. This can happen to both, women who are still getting their period regularly, or those who are experiencing irregular periods.
- Bloating – Most women who get regular periods can estimate when in their cycle this will occur. In cases of estrogen dominance, you might be bloated at a different time. Irregular and heavy periods may also cause unexpected bloating.
- Hot Flushes and Night Sweats – Just like with menopause, hot flashes and night sweats can be signs of estrogen dominance. Hormone replacement therapy can help alleviate these symptoms.
- Memory Loss – If you have problems recalling details or putting your thoughts together, then you may have an imbalance in hormones.
- Fatigue – Unfortunately, estrogen dominance can cause fatigue. This symptom can occur whether or not you have insomnia. If you experience persistent tiredness or feel more drained of energy than usual, talk to your doctor about being tested for hormonal issues.
- Hair loss – As women age, they may experience some hair loss. This can happen during perimenopause or menopause. But if it happens before menopause it might be one of the signs of estrogen dominance.
- Insomnia – Trouble sleeping is a common symptom of many problems involving hormones. If you toss and turn and can’t get to sleep even when you’re tired, then you should make an appointment to see your doctor.
- Low sex drive – Women with estrogen dominance may have a lower libido than normal. This is due in part to the imbalance in estrogen and progesterone.
- Mood changes, depression, or anxiety – In addition to noticeable changes in mood, women experiencing estrogen dominance may also be more irritable in general. There’s a difference between anxiety and worrying about the things that most people do. Anxiety is more of a general feeling while worries are about specific things.
- Swollen or tender breasts or Noncancerous breast lumps – These tissues are very sensitive to Estrogen levels and swell when the hormone is high.
- Uterine fibroids – These are noncancerous growths that develop on, in, or around the uterus
High Estrogen in Males
Males can also get high Estrogen. Symptoms can include:
- erectile dysfunction
- enlarged breasts, or gynecomastia
Hot Flushes and The Brain
Due to the depletion of ovarian function, estradiol secretion ceases at menopause and is followed by very low levels of circulating estradiol generating the typical menopausal symptoms. However, the end of ovarian estradiol secretion does not induce an overall loss of estrogen production: After menopause, sex steroids continue to be produced by other body tissues, including adrenal glands and fatty tissues, plus estrogens can be obtained from the diet. (5)
One of the common and stressful symptoms of menopause is hot flushes (HF), which occur in > 75 % of menopausal women. The episodes include sensations of heat, intense sweating and flushing can recur with varying frequency and intensity. Likewise, the age at onset of HF is varying from woman to woman. Even though the physiology of HF is not entirely understood, several authors propose that HF is due to a changed ‘temperature control’ set point of the hypothalamus in the brain, triggered by the lowered estrogen levels during menopause. (5) Therefore supporting brain health can be central to reducing hot flushes.
The Liver and Estrogen Dominance
The main forms of endogenous estrogens estradiol (E2, predominant in nonpregnant women prior to menopause), estrone (E1, predominant after menopause), and estriol (E3, highest during pregnancy) circulate in the blood in free or protein-bound form and exert diverse biological effects. (5)
In the liver, estrogens and their metabolites are broken down into pieces to allow for excretion through the gall bladder into the gut. They are then are excreted in both urine, and feces. Studies of injected radioactively labeled estradiol, estrone, and estriol in women indicate that approximately 65% of injected estradiol, 48% of injected estrone, and 23% of injected estriol are recovered in bile. (5)
This means a healthy liver function is central to stimulating the elimination of excess estrogens.
Excess weight is a major contributing factor in postmenopausal women. Obesity and excess fat levels may lead to increased circulating estrogens through the peripheral synthesis of androgens but also can induce insulin resistance, and suppress the production of liver hormone-binding proteins, thereby increasing total and bioavailable estrogens. (5) An eating plan that encourages weight loss will therefore be beneficial in reducing estrogen excess.
Strict vegetarians have increased fecal excretion of conjugated estrogens compared with nonvegetarians, leading to decreased plasma estrogen concentrations. An American study compared 10 premenopausal women consuming a “Western diet” that included high fat (40% of calories) and low fiber with 10 age-matched vegetarians consuming a high fiber and moderate fat (30%) diet; the vegetarians had triple the estrogens in feces and 15% to 20% lower serum estrogen levels. (5)
Low Saturated Fat
Because sex hormones including estrogens are synthesized from cholesterol a low saturated fat diet can be helpful. It has been found that Asian populations consuming a low-fat diet (20%-25% of calories) have systemic estrogen levels 30% lower than Caucasian women eating a high-fat diet. (5)
Alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer tumors in postmenopausal women. A recent study showed a positive association between alcohol consumption and estrogen levels and breast tissue density in premenopausal women. Among healthy postmenopausal women who were not on HRT and who consumed 15 to 30 g of alcohol per day, concentrations of serum estrone sulfate were increased by 7.5% and 10.7%, respectively, compared with levels in postmenopausal women who did not consume alcohol. (5) An alcohol-induced rise in estrogens is a consequence of alcohol catabolism in the liver (8)
Brassica reduces Estrogen
Vegetables of the Brassica genus, such as broccoli, contain a phytochemical, which may shift estrogen metabolism, and future research should consider Brassica vegetable consumption as a potentially effective and acceptable dietary strategy to prevent breast cancer. (6) Indole-3-carbinol, obtained from cruciferous vegetables (e.g. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, kale, turnips, collards and cauliflower) is a known inducer of oxidative P-450 estrogen metabolism by the liver. (7)
High Fibre Diet
a high-fiber diet diminishes estrogen absorption from the intestinal lumen and that the binding of unconjugated estrogens to fiber in the gut impedes their reabsorption. Increased fiber intake has been associated with less bioavailable estradiol. (8) All fresh fruits and vegetables are high in fiber.
Demographic evidence indicates that women in Asia have significantly lower serum estrogen concentrations and about a 3-fold lower breast cancer risk compared to US women, independent of body weight (BW). Asian women who have migrated to the US appear to lose this low-risk estrogen profile and acquire comparable rates of breast cancer to US women, suggesting that specific lifestyle factors may strongly influence breast cancer risk related to estrogen exposure.
One such factor is dietary soy, which is an important component in a variety of traditional Asian diets but scarce in typical Western diets. Soyfoods such as tofu, tempeh, miso, and soy milk are rich in phyto-estrogenic compounds called isoflavonoids. Regular intake of soy/soy isoflavonoids has been associated with reduced breast cancer risk, particularly in postmenopausal women with higher endogenous estrogens. (9)
Long-term daily treatment with soy isoflavonoids (for the human equivalent of 9 years) resulted in 21–26% lower serum Estrogens, a finding consistent with prior evidence in postmenopausal women.
Herbs have a long history of supporting general hormonal health, but especially by way of encouraging a healthy digestive system and liver metabolism. People who complete our Ultimate Herbal Detox and BodiClenz program report reduced menopausal symptoms, including weight loss and better energy levels. This is due to the combination of 24 herbs and recommended detox recipes.
Cleansing the Gut and Liver
Because the gut and liver are primarily responsible for removing excess estrogen the full intestinal and liver cleanse with herbs and food is recommended. Learn more about the benefits of Detoxing
Herbs for the Brain
As noted above, the brain-ovarian axis is central to regulating temperature and hot flushes can be the result of this being disturbed. Supporting good brain health can be very helpful at reducing hot flushes while simultaneously completing the detox programs above.
I would suggest a blend of these herbs in liquid form.
Bacopa, Gotu Kola, Ginkgo, Feverfew, Withania, Turmeric, Saffron, and Ginger.
Click here to buy this mixture
The power your mind can have over your body is well documented and the effects of energy healing are also well recognized. Applying the power of healing energy and your mind should never be underestimated when it comes to healing any health condition. (10)
Research suggests a potential association of practicing meditation with alleviations in menopausal symptoms and changes in blood chemistry. (11) Meditation training can effectively alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression and improve the quality of sleep in perimenopausal women, and the frequency of the exercise is positively correlated with the improvements. (12)
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