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Insulin Resistance & Estrogen

by 
author image Krithika Subramanian, Ph.D.
Based in Atlanta, Krithika Subramanian is a medical writer specializing in science, general health and cancer-related topics. She has more than a decade of research experience, with work appearing in various scientific journals. Subramanian holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology.
Insulin Resistance & Estrogen
Talk to your doctor. Photo Credit: nensuria/iStock/GettyImages

A 2015 study in the Journal of Diabetes Research show that loss of circulating estrogen can start rapid changes in the body's metabolism, fat distribution and insulin resistance.

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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.

Read more: Benefits of estrogen

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.

Read more: The best foods for insulin resistance

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.

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