by Dr. David Minkoff December 09, 2021 6 min read
Especially as they get older, women can find it easier and easier to gain weight and harder and harder to lose it.
But more and more this is happening with younger women as well — and there is an exact reason for this.
It has to do with hormones, the messenger chemicals in our body that tell our cells how to use the foods we eat, whether to store fat or lose it, increase or decrease energy. They even affect our moods.
And when they get out of control, it can become harder and harder to climb back out of the hole.
So let’s take a look at exactly what’s happening here. First, we’ll define a couple of things.
Estrogen is a category of three different hormones which promote the development and maintenance of female characteristics in the body (though it’s also produced to a lesser degree in men just as testosterone is produced in smaller amounts in women.)
Estrogens help develop and maintain the reproductive system, contribute to cognitive health, bone health, and the function of the cardiovascular system, and assist with many other essential bodily processes.
And they also promote fat storage, and raise insulin levels…
Progesterone is a hormone released by the ovaries and plays important roles in the menstrual cycle and in maintaining the early stages of pregnancy.
It also promotes fat loss.
Progesterone is the hormone that keeps your estrogen levels in balance.
Thyroid is a hormone that regulates your metabolism (all the processes in the body that deal with the production and use of energy).
It works to increase the energy production in each cell and the rate at which energy is used by the body. (And that energy is carbs and stored fat, something we want to be used). It also makes other hormones and helps to regulate other hormones.
Now, these hormones are all very necessary. But… when these hormones are not in balance we have trouble — both in our overall health, but also in our ability to gain and lose fat and muscle. So let’s see how this works.
Estrogen and Progesterone balance each other out. When progesterone levels drop our estrogen levels rise and we get something called Estrogen Dominance. This lowers our ability to lose fat, increases our likelihood to gain fat, and lowers our energy levels (among many other things).
Here’s how it works:
When we consume carbs we release insulin. Consume fast-acting carbs and we get higher levels of insulin.
This insulin triggers the release of cortisol, which we know also increases fat stores and breaks down muscle if in high quantity.
But in women, it gets this cortisol in large part by synthesizing cortisol from your progesterone. It actually takes the progesterone your body produces and changes it into cortisol.
Then, if there is a constant flow of fast-acting sugars, cortisol levels stay high, keeping progesterone levels low.
But progesterone is necessary to keep estrogen levels in check. So now estrogen levels go up.
Estrogen is necessary for many things, but it plays a very large role in fat storage and insulin levels. And it does this in a few ways.
First, estrogen actually gets stored in the fat cells. But, these fat cells also trigger more fat storage because… they synthesize estrogen from other hormones, like testosterone. They convert these hormones into estrogen.
So estrogen levels go up and this pushes fat storage up. And as fat storage goes up, estrogen levels go up.
At the same time, excess estrogen causes an organ called the pancreas to over-produce insulin, so you get even more fat storage, which then synthesizes more estrogen, on and on, back and forth.
It also causes trouble with your thyroid, the hormone that regulates your metabolism — the actual burning of energy (carbs and fats). So if you have low levels of thyroid being produced then your body will have a lower ability to utilize energy — including the burning of fat and the utilization of carbs so they don’t become fat.
And it does this in a couple of ways.
First, there are receptor sites on cells that hormones use to communicate with them. This is how hormones pass on their instructions to individual cells. Well, excess estrogen blocks the receptor sites on cells that the thyroid uses to communicate with them. So even if you have proper levels of thyroid this makes it harder for the cells to see it and for the thyroid to tell the cells to burn energy for use.
But excess estrogen also causes something else. It makes the liver produce high levels of something called Thyroid-binding Globulin, a chemical which decreases the amount of thyroid available to be used by binding to it.
This results in fatigue, brain fog, hair loss, low libido, and weight gain. But, because we now have less thyroid, because of excess estrogen… we get even more estrogen.
This is because excess estrogen must be broken down by the liver. But the liver needs thyroid in order to do this and so the less thyroid we have, the less estrogen is broken down and it further builds up in the body.
So more estrogen equals less progesterone and thyroid and more insulin, fat, and cortisol… which equals less progesterone and thyroid, which equals more estrogen, which equals, which equals, which equals…
You get the point. It really turns into a vicious circle. And this is what we call Estrogen Dominance.
Progesterone balances estrogen. It lowers blood sugar levels, lowers insulin production, and lowers cortisol levels.
And while high levels of estrogen can cause so much excess insulin that this alone can start to build insulin resistance among the cells, leading to greater levels of insulin and fat storage… progesterone does the opposite, making those cells more insulin sensitive, so they require less insulin.
Also, while estrogen lowers the thyroid, progesterone raises it. This is because progesterone lowers that Thyroid-binding Globulin that estrogen makes which gobbles up the thyroid. So we get more thyroid and increased fat burning for energy.
And while high levels of estrogen can make one depressed and anxious more often, make it harder to sleep, and increase inflammation in the body, further raising cortisol… progesterone is calming, lowers inflammation, and helps one sleep better.
Estrogen also increases water retention by up to five pounds, while progesterone lowers water retention.
All of these hormones are important and necessary. But do you see how they have to be in proper balance and also how much each one affects every other one?
So let’s look at what raises and lowers these hormones.
First is obviously sugar, either high levels of sugar or processed sugar. This raises insulin and converts progesterone to cortisol, which then raises estrogen levels.
So we have to keep at least moderate carbohydrate levels and stay away from the processed carbs. We also have to lose the extra fat because that itself increases estrogen production which again increases fat.
Then there’s stress. While cortisol raises stress levels, being stressed raises cortisol levels. Obviously, life happens, but make sure to get enough sleep and some kind of time to unwind at the end of the day. Maybe read a book (not the news) and do it with an actual book. Blue light from our phones and laptops stimulates cortisol release too and can keep you up, making more cortisol…
We also have magnesium and fiber being very important. Fiber helps remove excess estrogen and stabilizes blood sugar levels. And magnesium allows the body to absorb calcium and regulates the pituitary gland, a gland that in turn regulates hormone levels. Magnesium is also very calming, helping to lower cortisol levels before sleep and most people are deficient in it as it’s actually processed out of a majority of our foods these days.
Vitamin B6 also helps reduce estrogen levels in the blood.
And, as the thyroid is made from tyrosine, an amino acid, and iodine, then as long as we’re getting our iodine and PerfectAmino in, our body is more able to produce thyroid, helping all of this.
Lastly, there are chemicals. And those are messing us up big time. But they’re for the next article.
To learn more about this and the real science of fat loss and overall health, get your free copy of the PerfectAmino Guide To Fat Loss & Lean Bulking. It covers much more than the name states.
by Dr. David Minkoff
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