Estrogen actually refers to a collection of hormones that affect sexual function and reproduction, metabolism, mood, development growth and tissue health and development. Researchers have found a correlation between estrogen and weight, particularly during menopause, when estrogen levels drop, but weight tends to rise. But since fat cells can produce estrogen, the issue facing researchers is how to target the estrogen receptors that will boost energy and manage hunger and not contribute to menopause-related weight gain.
Sources of Estrogen
Estrogen is produced by the ovaries, the liver, adrenal glands and fat tissue, primarily in the breasts. Before menopause, the ovaries are the primary source of estrogen production. After menopause, the reduced estrogen production occurs in the liver, adrenal glands and the fatty tissue in the breasts, which makes estrogen replacement therapy such a threat to breast cancer.
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati found in animal experiments that when estrogen receptors in the hypothalmus were destroyed, the animals began to overeat and burn less energy. The thinking is that estrogen produced by fat cells does not inhibit appetite and consumption. Researchers who pinpointed hypothalmus-produced estrogen as a key to weight gain believe that this kind of research can help scientists develop special targets for hormone replacement therapy that provides benefits without the higher risks associated with hormone therapy and breast cancer.
Changes in estrogen receptors in the hypothalmus, a sign of menopause, means it can be harder to lose weight. In turn there is a greater burden on women to eat a healthy diet and exercise more to help their metabolism make up for the loss of estrogen, which helped regulate weight gain and appetite. Interestingly, fat cells produce estrogen, along with other hormones and proteins. But estrogen produced in fat cells will not help regulate obesity and metabolism. Instead, estrogen that accompanies weight gain, especially in abdominal fat, puts women at a higher risk for breast cancer, because estrogen stimulates cell growth. That growth can include cancer cells, making the spread of the disease even more dangerous.
As Nancy Holmes, NP, a nurse practitioner at the Women to Women Health Care Center in Yarmouth, Maine, notes, the key to losing weight during the hormonal changes accompanying perimenopause and menopause is to get healthy first. Once you are getting regular exercise, getting enough sleep, adhering to your medications and starting to change your diet for the better, you can start to get serious about losing weight and keeping it off.
Adjusting the Dosage
Water weight gain is a common side effect of estrogen therapy. Cleveland Clinic experts suggest talking with your doctor about adjusting your dosage during hormone replacement therapy if weight gain becomes a problem. If you want or need to lose weight while on hormone replacement therapy, Cleveland Clinic doctors suggest getting regular aerobic and weight-bearing exercise, making sure you do something physically active every day, and limiting fat to no more than 30 percent of your calories at mealtime.