What happens in the body regarding weight gain and loss when estrogen and progesterone are out of balance?
Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone. It gives women hips and breasts, buffers mood, and keeps you on task by regulating serotonin. Estrogen is responsible for the first half of your menstrual cycle, it boosts sex drive and gets you obsessing about babies until about age forty-five or fifty. Progesterone is important for your overall sense of equilibrium or well-being – it’s the hormone that allows you to soothe yourself. Progesterone raises body temperature (making it “thermogenic” and a boost to metabolism) and helps your thyroid perform efficiently. It is a natural diuretic, which means it helps you release excess fluid in your body. Ideally, you have a rhythm between these two hormones, which should function like well-matched dance partners. Estrogen dominance is when you have too much estrogen compared with progesterone. Having a little bit too much estrogen in the body causes a number of symptoms, including weight loss resistance, and makes losing weight very challenging, if not impossible.
To lower your estrogen levels and help you lose weight, I recommend eating a pound of vegetables per day, divided between meals. The fiber from the vegetables will help excrete estrogen so it doesn’t keep circulating in your body like bad karma. Aim for 35-45 grams of fiber per day for women, and 40-50 grams per day for men, but slowly increase in 5-gram increments each day to get to the goal without gas or bloating.
What might be some signs that estrogen and progesterone are out of balance?
Normally you have 100 to 500 times more progesterone than estrogen in your body. If your ratio is off, you may have symptoms of estrogen dominance, including weight loss resistance, depression, fatigue, breast tenderness, painful periods or heavy periods. Many women report feeling like they have PMS, or that they fly off the handle more easily than they used to, particularly the week to 10 days before menstruation. Progesterone that’s either too high or too low can cause a range of problems. When progesterone is too low, you’re more likely to develop endometriosis and problems with uterine bleeding, possibly even cancer. When you have too much estrogen, you have a greater risk of infertility and endometrial cancer, a malignancy arising in the lining of your uterus, and breast cancer. Proportionate balance is the goal.
When is it time to head to the doctor for a blood test? Are there other tests that can be performed to determine hormone levels?
When your hormones are in balance, neither too high nor too low, you look and feel your best. But when they are imbalanced, you feel miserable, with a range of symptoms that include fatigue, sugar cravings, weight loss resistance, bloating, belly fat, trouble sleeping, anxiety or irritability, and constant stress. I suggest that you assess your hormones with my free questionnaire: http://saragottfriedmd.com/hormone-quiz-web.
You won’t really know if your hormones are to blame for your symptoms until you get some basic blood work done. Record your symptoms and check in with your physician. Most traditional doctors only recognize the merits of blood testing, yet the latest testing techniques to determine hormone levels include saliva and dried urine testing.
What other hormones affect weight loss/gain? How would one know if these are unbalanced and how would one correct the unbalance?
Other hormones that affect weight loss and gain are cortisol, insulin, leptin, testosterone, and thyroid. High leptin causes weight gain and excessive hunger. Leptin is nature’s appetite suppressant. When you’ve had enough to eat, leptin signals your brain to stop eating. When you are overweight your fat cells produce excess leptin. When your brain gets bombarded with leptin signals from too many fat cells, it shuts down from overwhelm. Leptin levels keep rising, receptors stop functioning, your body doesn’t get the leptin signal, and you don’t feel full. You keep eating the wrong foods in an addictive pattern, and you keep gaining weight. One way to reset leptin levels is to remove or reduce the amount of fructose in your diet.
Insulin resistance means your cells can’t absorb the extra blood glucose your body keeps generating from the food you eat, and your liver converts the glucose into fat. Insulin resistance causes weight gain and sugar addiction. To reset your insulin levels, I recommend drinking filtered water with apple cider vinegar. A recent study found that consuming two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before a high carb meal significantly reduces blood glucose levels in people with insulin resistance. In fact, apple cider vinegar might work as well as prescription drugs at fixing your blood sugar regulation.
Cortisol is the main stress hormone and is released in response to stress, but most of us run around stressed all the time. All those stress hormones wreak havoc over time, and make you store fat—especially in your belly. High cortisol is also linked to depression, food addiction, and sugar cravings, so that you overeat the wrong foods like cookies and processed foods. What’s the net result? You get fat. To reset your cortisol, you need to hit the pause button on your caffeine intake. Slowly wean off of caffeine over three days, and notice how your sleep and stress levels improve!
Is it true that if hormones are out of balance, high intensity exercise can have the opposite effect it normally does and that more moderate activity is more effective when hormones are out of whack?
While exercise is an essential part of managing health and balancing your hormones, it can also throw them further out of whack if not managed properly. Most exercises place stress on the body that cortisol shoots up, such as endurance running. If you’ve got imbalanced cortisol and chronic stress, high intensity exercise can be depleting and worsen adrenal fatigue. Most people with this situation feel worse or tired after exercise, not energized. These folks sometimes develop mitochondrial fatigue too.
Some dedicated female athletes may see body fat drop to such a low number that they stop having menstrual cycles, or can’t produce enough estrogen and progesterone and other sex hormones to properly manage their mood, appetite, and sleep.
My advice if exercise is depleting is to exercise smarter, in a way that fits your adrenal function. Burst training can make you stress resilient and raise growth hormone, and I’m a big fan of measuring heart variability to assess your nervous system and capacity for training. In cases of adrenal fatigue, adaptive exercise can be a better choice, such as yoga or Barre class or Pilates. Consider adding meditation, or guided visualization several times a week.
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