Functions of Estrogen
Of all the essential functions estrogen performs in the body, one of the most critical is optimizing the action of insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Therefore, low estrogen levels (like during menopause) may lead to increased insulin resistance or impaired insulin action.
According to the Mayo Clinic, insulin resistance is associated with metabolic syndrome; a medical condition that can increase the risk of health problems like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke. Insulin resistance due to low estrogen levels can adversely affect health, and a medical professional may be the best guide for learning how to manage and treat this condition.
Metabolic Syndrome and Heart Disease
Metabolic syndrome affects about 35 percent of U.S. adults, according to a study published in the May 2015 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.
A 2017 study in the journal Translational Research explains that metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that can include elevated blood sugar levels, a symptom of both prediabetes and type 2 diabetes (T2DM). Elevated blood sugar has been linked to obesity, high blood pressure and elevated triglyceride levels (a risk factor for heart disease).
However, according to a 2013 article from the National Institute of Oncology, Surgical and Molecular Tumor Pathology Centre, Hungary the relationship between metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and estrogen is complex, and more research is needed to clarify the interplay of these hormones in health and disease.
Estrogen and Insulin Resistance
A review of animal and human studies published in the March 2016 Journal of Diabetes Research discussed the known association between estrogen and insulin action.
Besides impairing insulin action, low estrogen levels may also hinder the insulin production from the pancreas, suggest the study authors. Insufficient insulin causes the liver to secrete excess glucose, raising blood sugar levels. According to a 2007 study in Endocrine Reviews, estrogen deficiency may also cause inflammation, which can also impair insulin action.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Estrogen can be created synthetically, and is used in contraceptive drugs and for hormone replacement therapy (HRT), an approved treatment for menopause and osteoporosis. HRT has been investigated as a possible treatment to improve insulin action and negate the consequences of insulin resistance.
According to a 2016 study in the Macedonian Journal of Medical Science, HRT could help treat insulin resistance due to low estrogen levels, although more research is needed before HRT can be said to effectively treat insulin resistance in women with low estrogen levels.
Signs of Insulin Resistance
According to Diabetes.co.uk, the signs of insulin resistance can include excessive fatigue, hunger, difficulty concentrating and weight gain. Low estrogen levels may be associated with insulin resistance, which is also more likely to occur if you have gained excess weight or tend to carry fat in the belly area.
Diabetes.co.uk also states that insulin resistance can be improved by doing things like eating less carbohydrates, reducing calories, getting more exercise, reducing stress or even having weight loss surgery.
If you are postmenopausal, suspect you have low estrogen levels, or experience the symptoms of elevated blood sugar, speak with a doctor to be sure.
- Hormone Molecular Biology and Clinical Investigation: Estradiol Regulates Insulin Signaling and Inflammation in Adipose Tissue
- Journal Of Diabetes Research: Estrogen: An Emerging Regulator of Insulin Action and Mitochondrial Function
- Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental: The Association of Elective Hormone Therapy with Changes in Lipids Among Glucose Intolerant Postmenopausal Women in the Diabetes Prevention Program
- Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism: Estrogen and Androgen Receptors: Regulators of Fuel Homeostasis and Emerging Targets for Diabetes and Obesity
- National Institutes of Health: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Insulin Resistance and Prediabetes
- JAMA: Prevalence of the Metabolic Syndrome in the United States, 2003-2012
- Journal of Diabetes Research:Estrogen: An Emerging Regulator of Insulin Action and Mitochondrial Function:Anisha A. Gupte, Henry J. Pownall,Dale J. Hamilton1:(2015)
- Mayo Clinic:Metabolic Syndrome:(N.D.)
- Translational Research:Cardiovascular consequences of metabolic syndrome:Johnathan D.Tunea, Adam G.Goodwill,Daniel J.Sassoona,Kieren J.Mather:(2017)
- National Institute of Oncology, Surgical and Molecular Tumor Pathology Centre:Low Estrogen Exposure and/or Defective Estrogen Signaling Induces Disturbances in Glucose Uptake and Energy Expenditure: Zsuzsanna Suba: (2013)
- Endocrine Reviews:The Complex Role of Estrogens in Inflammation: Rainer H. Straub: (2007)
- Macedonian Journal of Medical Science:Effects of Hormone Replacement Therapy on Insulin Resistance in Postmenopausal Diabetic Women:Iskra Bitoska, Branka Krstevska, Tatjana Milenkovic, et al:(2016)
- Diabetes.co.uk:Insulin Resistance