Can estrogen levels affect weight gain?

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Many women report that changing estrogen 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 estrogen 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 estrogen levels and her weight?

Read on for more information about this phenomenon and what to do about estrogen-related weight gain.

Menopause, estrogen, and weight

Mature woman outside looking contemplative considering estrogen and weight gain

Menopause causes a drop in estrogen levels.

Estrogen levels can be low in women for many reasons.

The most common reason for low estrogen 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 estrogen 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:

  • diabetes
  • stroke
  • heart disease
  • some cancers

As well as changing estrogen 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 estrogen 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.

Other reasons for estrogen imbalance

Menopause is not the only reason why a woman might have low estrogen levels. Other potential causes of estrogen imbalance include:

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

WOman with PCOS clutching stomach in pain.

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 estrogen and progesterone levels.

Women with this condition tend to have an issue with weight gain, insulin resistance, and heart disease.

Lactation

Estrogen 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.

Ovary removal

A woman who has had both of her ovaries surgically removed will go through sudden menopause. She will no longer release eggs or produce estrogen and progesterone.

Anorexia

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 estrogen their body produces.

Vigorous exercise

Vigorous or extreme exercise has been shown to decrease estrogen production due to low body fat levels.

What is estrogen?

Estrogen 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 estrogen. The adrenal glands and fatty tissue also make estrogen in small amounts.

There are three main types of estrogen:

  1. Estrone, or E1, which the body produces after menopause.
  2. Estradiol or E2, which women of childbearing age produce.
  3. Estriol or E3, which the body produces during pregnancy.

Symptoms of low estrogen

Woman with insomnia

Low estrogen levels may cause insomnia and night sweats.

Symptoms of low estrogen include:

  • irregular or missed periods
  • hot flashes
  • night sweats
  • insomnia
  • vaginal dryness
  • low libido
  • moodiness or irritability
  • headaches
  • 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 estrogen levels and determine if an estrogen 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.

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