Many women report that changing oestrogen levels affect their weight, particularly around menopause. They may notice that they are gaining weight, or that it is more difficult to lose weight. Some forms of oestrogen are linked with how the body controls weight gain. As such, any changes in their levels could then lead to changes in body weight.
So, what is the relationship between a woman’s oestrogen levels and her weight?
Read on for more information about this phenomenon and what to do about oestrogen-related weight gain.
Menopause, oestrogen and weight
Mature woman outside looking contemplative considering oestrogen and weight gain
Oestrogen levels can be low in women for many reasons.
The most common reason for low oestrogen is menopause. This is when a woman’s reproductive hormones decline, and menstruation stops. Many women notice that they gain weight during this time in their life.
One reason why people might gain weight around menopause is changing hormone levels.
One form of oestrogen called estradiol decreases at menopause. This hormone helps to regulate metabolism and body weight. Lower levels of estradiol may lead to weight gain.
Throughout their life, women may notice weight gain around their hips and thighs. However, after menopause, women tend to gain weight around their mid-section and abdomen.
This type of fat gain tends to build up in the abdomen and around the organs, where it is known as visceral fat.
Visceral fat can be very dangerous. It has been linked with several other medical conditions, including:
- heart disease
- some cancers
As well as changing oestrogen levels, older women may tend to be less active and have less muscle mass, which means that they burn fewer calories during the day.
These factors can all increase a woman’s risk for weight gain during the transition to menopause.
These age-related factors may play a more significant role in weight gain than changes to oestrogen levels.
In line with this, one review of studies from 2012 concluded that weight gain did not appear to be affected by hormone changes related to menopause.
Visceral fat can be very dangerous. It has been linked with several other medical conditions…
Other reasons for oestrogen imbalance
Menopause is not the only reason why a woman might have low oestrogen levels. Other potential causes of oestrogen imbalance include:
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS causes cysts on the ovaries and may affect hormone levels.
PCOS is a condition where a woman has multiple small cysts on the ovaries, as well as several hormonal imbalances. They may have high testosterone levels and an imbalance between oestrogen and progesterone levels.
Women with this condition tend to have an issue with weight gain, insulin resistance, and heart disease.
Oestrogen levels remain low after a woman has given birth and while she is breast-feeding. This hormonal change helps to encourage milk production and prevent ovulation and any further conception right away.
A woman who has had both of her ovaries surgically removed will go through sudden menopause. She will no longer release eggs or produce oestrogen and progesterone.
Anorexia is a serious eating disorder where someone does not take in enough calories. This deficit puts their body in a state of starvation and will reduce the amount of oestrogen their body produces.
Vigorous or extreme exercise has been shown to decrease oestrogen production due to low body fat levels.
What is oestrogen?
Oestrogen is one of the two primary female sex hormones and is involved in the onset of puberty and the menstrual cycle. It has many other essential functions, as well, including:
- helping to control blood cholesterol levels
- promoting bone health
- protecting the brain and mood
The ovaries, which are two small glands in the lower pelvis, are mainly responsible for the production of oestrogen. The adrenal glands and fatty tissue also make oestrogen in small amounts.
There are three main types of oestrogen:
- Estrone, or E1, which the body produces after menopause.
- Estradiol or E2, which women of childbearing age produce.
- Estriol or E3, which the body produces during pregnancy.
Symptoms of low oestrogen
Low oestrogen levels may cause insomnia and night sweats.
Symptoms of low oestrogen include:
- irregular or missed periods
- hot flashes
- night sweats
- vaginal dryness
- low libido
- moodiness or irritability
- dry skin
Women experiencing any of these symptoms should talk to a doctor about them. A doctor can run a simple blood test to measure oestrogen levels and determine if an oestrogen imbalance is to blame.
Women should keep track of their menstrual periods, including when they begin and end, and any other symptoms or problems that they are experiencing. Having this information readily available can help a doctor diagnose potential hormonal imbalances.
How to manage weight gain
Maintaining a healthy weight, even if it is related to an oestrogen imbalance, begins with eating well and staying active.
A healthful diet to manage weight means:
- avoiding processed foods
- staying hydrated by drinking lots of water
- avoiding soda, juice, and alcohol
- including whole grains and lean proteins along with healthful plant-based fats
- eating lots of fruits and vegetables each day
Being active is also very important for managing oestrogen-related weight gain. In addition to regular cardio exercise, such as jogging, swimming, or walking, people should add in strength training to help build muscle and promote healthy bones.
Weight gain is a common complaint among women who reach menopause. Making healthful diet and lifestyle changes are the best way to manage weight gain.
Women should talk to their doctor about any concerns that they may have related to weight gain or hormone imbalances.
Article by Nicole Galan Last reviewed 17 May 2018