Why do women gain weight more easily than men? Most women are more aware of their diets and ensuring they exercise regularly. Yet many women struggle with weight their entire lives.
The question is,
'Is weight gain a hormonal issue or a caloric one?'
Yes, diet and lifestyle matter, however women have hormonal factors which every women should understand.
We know this as it’s evidenced by the change in a girls body leading into puberty, after child birth, from age forty when hormone production begins to decline, and finally during and after menopause.
Research shows that peri-menopausal women have, on average, a 6% increase in waist circumference and a 10% increase in total fat mass on their body. Menopausal women have a decrease in leg fat of 3.19%, but an increase in trunk fat percentage of 5.49% - demonstrating the redistribution of fat stores.
Oestrogen is largely the guilty hormone. Both in excess and deficiency it leads to weight gain in women. The way your body manufactures oestrogen and excretes it is critical to how the body manages weight throughout your life.
Let us look at the two main situations that cause weight gain associated with oestrogen.
Among several hormones, oestrogen promotes, maintains, and controls the distribution of body fat and adipose tissue metabolism. Unfortunately, we don’t yet fully understand the mechanisms by which this happens; but what we do know is that low progesterone to oestrogen ratios, as well as high levels of unwanted oestrogen, are both directly linked to weight gain and fluid retention.
This condition is commonly known as oestrogen dominance and can lead to other hormonal symptoms such as prolonged and/or heavy periods, fibroids, migraines, mood changes and acne.
Whilst these changes in a woman's menstrual cycle usually occur around the ages of 40 to 50, it can be much earlier than this when a woman first starts to notice changes in her body. Reports of no longer tolerating certain foods, feeling lower on energy, losing muscle and gaining weight around the waist, hips and breasts are not uncommon.
Interestingly, women over forty are not the only ones affected by oestrogen dominance. Girls with Endometriosis, Polycystic ovarian syndrome and other hormonal imbalance also suffer the symptoms, and it’s not only due to a lack of ovulation, but also due to the use of synthetic hormone drugs such as the oral contraceptive pill and intrauterine devices.
In this vein, you can understand part of the reason for the side-effects that come with pharmaceutical hormone replacement treatments. Moreover, some women also have genetic predispositions to poor hormone metabolism via pyrrole disorder and MTHFR genetic defect, which affects methylation - a major process for oestrogen metabolism.
This article details how you can prevent and address oestrogen dominance: 5 Steps to Treating Oestrogen Dominance.
How can high oestrogen cause weight gain and a deficiency as well?
When a woman moves through menopause and into the post menopausal stage of life, she is essentially shifting from a place of high ovarian hormone production that initiates and sustains her menstrual cycle and fertility, to a more passive cycle where the hormones she produces are lower and only for sustaining secondary sex characteristics, skin health, bone density and energy levels.
When the ovaries reduce production of oestrogen, then the natural physiological process for the body is to manufacture the necessary hormones via the adrenals, breast, fat and even brain cells. If the adrenals do not cope well with this process, the body relies more heavily on breast and fat cells for the necessary hormone production. As a result the body expands these fat cells and weight gain is the result; and often no matter what you attempt in terms of diet and lifestyle, the weight will not shift.
There are several other factors at play as well. At the site of breasts, belly and hips, oestrogen starts being synthesised by a process that turns her androgens (DHEA and testosterone) into oestrogen! It’s a pretty incredible process known as 'aromatisation'.
This specific process is relied upon more heavily when a person is under a lot of physical or emotional stress. The reason is because the adrenal glands will go ahead and prioritise the production of stress hormones over sex hormones, knowing that there will be a back-up source - ie. the body will create more fat.
What makes this whole scenario more tricky for women wanting to lose weight, is that high levels of cortisol are already a major cause of abdominal fat. In fact, stomach fat can go on to make it’s own cortisol independent of the adrenal glands!Finally, bear in mind that low oestrogen specifically stimulates appetite, as it uses the same biochemical pathways in the body as leptin - a hormone released by fat that, when activated, pushes your ‘hunger button’ and tells you that you need food. Moreover, as her hormones no longer come from her ovaries, she relies on production from her adrenal (stress) glands, brain and fat tissue.
HOW TO HACK THE SYSTEM
Although what we have discussed above occur naturally, there are natural 'hacks' or ways to minimise the biological tendencies.
Liver and digestive health are critical to maintain healthy oestrogen levels and prevent recirculation which causes the symptoms of oestrogen dominance. Teens can also commonly suffer from excessive hormones during puberty and enhancing these pathways reduces the typical challenges of puberty.
Diet plays a critical role in oestrogen breakdown and clearance. A predominantly unprocessed plant-based diet is ideal. The plant based phyto-chemicals ensure optimal liver function, and the naturally soluble dietary fibre helps to clear hormones via the bowels. Adding as many naturally-fermented foods is another important step to ensure optimal digestion and provide the digestive system with the microbes needed to metabolise hormones. In addition to fermented foods, Happy Greens is loaded with live probiotics and natural substances to assist in clearing hormones.
Many natural medicines exist to stimulate liver function. It's good practice to give your liver a course of these natural medicines every 6 months to ensure optimal function. Amino acids such as methionine, cysteine and taurine are important cofactors for liver function. Herbal medicines such as milk thistle, globe artichoke and dandelion have all been shown to support and improve liver function. Happy Liver contains high grade, practitioner-level ingredients of the above-mentioned natural liver medicines.
Once women enter menopause and beyond, they will be fighting with the natural biological process to increase fat cells and produce the necessary hormones via alternative methods rather than the ovaries.
The HACK here is two-fold.
First is to be prepared. Don't wait till the weight gain occurs. Women should be focusing on improving hormonal balance early in their 40's as peri-menopause kicks in. Following the above advice and adding Happy Hormones early will help navigate peri-menopause and the usual oestrogen dominance symptoms.
Second is to ensure stress is managed well and the adrenal glands can be the primary producer of hormones during and post menopause. Not only will this reduce your menopausal symptoms, it will reduce the likelihood of menopause related weight gain. Happy Hormones is important, as is Happy Calm which contains herbal medicines to improve adrenal function. As an added benefit it will assist you with improved sleep which is another key factor in adrenal and hormonal balance.
Hormones certainly can make life frustrating, however, with a little understanding of what is happening in your body, and some preventative maintenance, you can successfully navigate the different stages in life. We are here to help you along the way so please do not hesitate to reach out to our practitioner team for any advice and information. We even offer 1:1 online consultations for women who prefer a little more support.