By Rebecca Haight
Last week’s blog post focused on the relationship between body fat and testosterone in men. We learned that obesity impairs testosterone production and that lower testosterone levels also make it easier to store body fat.
So what’s the relationship between body fat and estrogen?
As you know, estrogen is the primary sex hormone in women, just as testosterone is in men. Estrogen levels begin climbing upon puberty in young girls and drop drastically when the female body stops ovulating during the onset of menopause.
After menopause, as estrogen levels shift, the way fat is stored in the body changes as well.
Changes to Fat Storage
Before menopause, women tend to store fat in their hips and thighs. However, after menopause, to counter-act the drop in estrogen, the body produces more of the male hormone androgen. Because of this, women’s fat storage patterns begin to resemble those of men and there is a redistribution of weight to the belly, where men typically store fat.
Note from Luke: In men, testosterone helps to decentralize fat storage, i.e spread it out evenly throughout the body. When men tend to put fat on the belly it can simply be from excess calories, stress or chronically high insulin. The reason men don't put fat on the lower body is because of lower estrogen levels and they generally don't put much fat on the arms and chest because of higher androgen (muscle building hormone) receptors. Thus, distribution shifts towards the middle.
In women, just like men, cortisol (from stress) centralizes fat deposition. Estrogen combats cortisol but when cortisol is high all the time it shifts the fat storage from lower body towards the middle. Chronically high insulin (just like in men) reinforces these effects, making the fat shift to the middle even more pronounced.
So we can see that in men, testosterone shifts fat away from the middle just like estrogen does in women. The main culprits of fat gain around the middle are A. Cortisol and B. Insulin. in both men and women.
But even after menopause, your body still needs estrogen for other metabolic functions. This means estrogen has to be found elsewhere. When fat cells aren’t able to produce estrogen, the brain sends a message to your body to preserve fat and produce more by converting excess calories to fat. The adrenal glands can produce some estrogen but not enough to meet the levels pre-menopause.
So basically, cells are not only storing more fat, but they also less willing to part with it. For this reason, post-menopausal women have a harder time burning fat than pre-menopausal women.
Another negative side is that body fat around the abdomen puts us at a higher risk for heath problems such as heart disease, stroke and arthritis than fat stored in our hips, thighs or bottoms.
So how do post-menopausal women combat estrogen depletion?
Combating Estrogen Depletion
First, exercise at a moderate or high intensity can balance things out by burning some of the excess fat. It will also help build metabolism-boosting muscle that will make you burn more calories throughout the day.
Secondly, on a nutritional level, avoiding processed foods, an excess of saturated fats, chemical-laden foods, and low-quality animal proteins can help minimize unwanted fatty weight and promote lean muscle.
Matte, Michelle. "Estrogen & Fat Metabolism." LIVESTRONG.COM. Leaf Group, 15 Oct. 2015. Web. 16 July 2017.
"Obesity and Hormones." Better Health Channel. Victoria State Government, n.d. Web.
"Study Indicates Link between Estrogen and Body Fat Storage." News-Medical.net. N.p., 28 Mar. 2013. Web. 16 July 2017.