It's no surprise that obesity is a growing problem. When it comes to women, it seems that many are struggling with gaining weight as they age, especially at earlier ages than would be expected.
One key culprit is hormonal imbalances, particularly the issue of “estrogen dominance.” Estrogen is a hormone produced in the ovaries which promotes cell division and cell growth, but in excessive amounts, it contributes to the formation of fat tissue. Another hormone, progesterone, acts as antagonist to estrogen and protects against the pro-growth effects of estrogen. Normally, estrogen and progesterone work in synchronization to achieve hormonal balance. While both hormones decline gradually with age, women in perimenopausal and menopausal years experience rapid declines in hormonal production. However, the decline in progesterone occurs much faster than the decline in estrogen, and this inequality is what causes the problem of estrogen dominance and the growth of excessive fat tissue.
While this hormonal decline is a normal, expected part of aging, the weight gain that it causes is significantly increased by certain lifestyle or dietary factors. These factors can increase the amount of estrogen in the body, along with other “estrogen-like hormones” which can mimic the effects of the natural estrogen produced in the ovaries.
Here are some factors that contribute to estrogen dominance and weight gain, along with what you can do about it:
- Pesticides and herbicides. Check out the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables so you know when to buy organic. For any of your non-organic produce, soak and wash in a vinegar and water solution.
- Poultry or beef raised on hormones. As much as possible, eat free-range or grass-fed animals that are raised without hormones. When you’re eating out at restaurants, opt for the fish unless you know the beef and chicken is hormone-free.
- Chemicals found in consumer products like creams, lotions, soaps, shampoos, perfumes, hair sprays and deodorizers. The Silent Springs Institute has created a fabulous research report on which consumer products are safe and which are not. You can read the details here. Clean out your medicine cabinet and make-up drawer, and start over with a clean slate.
- Industrial solvents found in products such as glues, paints, varnishes, fingernail polish and fingernail polish remover. This can be a tough one for women, but limit your exposure to places that smell like chemicals, including styling salons and nail spas, and try to use any chemicals in fresh air and open spaces (i.e., do your nails on the back porch).
- Stress and lack of sleep. This factor actually decreases progesterone output. Easy ways to reduce stress include yoga, deep breathing and taking nature walks. Also, try planning out your day in advance so you have as much hectic-free time as possible to accomplish your daily tasks. For better sleep, limit all computer, phone and TV use before bed, stop snacking after dinner, and keep your bedroom dark and quiet.
- Calorie overconsumption. Ingesting too many calories can cause body fat which converts steroids to estrogens. Choosing foods that are higher in proteins, healthy fats and fiber can keep your appetite satiated.
- Poor liver function due to history of high alcohol intake or use of pharmaceuticals. Estrogen is metabolized primarily in the liver, so take care of it. Limit yourself to no more than one alcoholic drink per day, don’t use pharmaceutical drugs unless absolutely necessary, and introduce liver-supporting supplements into your diet, such as cucumber juice, milk thistle extract, calcium d-glucarate, folic acid and taurine.
- Magnesium deficiencies from low vegetable and fruit consumption combined with high consumption of processed foods. Magnesium is necessary for metabolizing estrogen in the liver. Use a magnesium powder before you go to bed at night, and spray topical magnesium on any sore muscles after you exercise.
For over a decade, I’ve worked with aging women who just can’t seem to stop gaining weight. The strategies I’ve outlined in this article have successfully helped my clients reach their weight loss goals, and not only beat the weight, but also reduce the brain fog, appetite cravings and rapid mood changes that can occur with estrogen dominance.