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Your diet not working? Look at your hormones!

Weight is something that seems to be on the mind of women of all ages on a regular, maybe even daily basis. When we grow older it gets harder and harder to control our body weight, no matter what promising new diet we try. For most women, progesterone production starts to gradually decrease beginning around age 35, resulting in an imbalance of your hormones. The resulting ‘hypothyroidism’ can result in sudden weight gain, even though you are not eating more food. Since your thyroid is part of an intricate hormonal system, this suggests that your weight is heavily influenced by an imbalance of your hormones and not only by how much you eat or how active you are. I will explain more in detail, why diets don’t necessarily work when your hormones are imbalanced and what you can do to regain control of your body weight.

As you pass your mid thirties, the time that is prime childbearing years, your hormones start to decline, a signal of sorts that your body is moving past the need for regular menstrual cycles associated with pregnancies. That decline increases as you reach 40 and it’s then you’re thought to be in perimenopause. Perimenopause can last up to ten years when you finally reach menopause.

So what happens with your body during (peri)menopause and how does this affect your body weight? There is a delicate balance between two important hormones: progesterone and estrogen. Caused by aging (but also for example by stress) the body can decrease its progesterone production. When progesterone levels consequently decrease, estrogen levels increase. This hormone imbalance or so-called ‘estrogen dominance’ can have an enormous impact on how you feel and can also substantially influence your body weight. And there are lots of reasons why.

The first thing we want to address here is a reduced efficiency of your thyroid hormones. When levels of progesterone are low and estrogen high, the liver starts to increase the production of ‘thyroid binding globulin’ (or TBG): a protein that binds thyroid hormone. The hormone is hereby blocked, or tied up by the protein so that it is not able to be utilized properly by your body. This is called ‘hypothyroidism’ and is one of the most common reasons you suddenly start to gain weight even though you are not eating more food or are less active. Fact of the matter is that thyroid function is closely connected with your metabolism as thyroid hormones more or less regulate calorie consumption. Women with a thyroid that is underperforming consequently tend to have a very low basal metabolic rate. Dieting can even make matters worse as a result of the reduced intake of calories that can consequently lower your metabolic rate even further. This is how women with low thyroid can gain weight even when they restrict the number of calories they consume.

Another unwanted weight related effect when your hormones are out of balance is that excessive estrogen actually turns more calories into fat. This consequently causes more fatty tissue growth. Things can even escalate further because these new (and old) fat cells actually produce more estrogen. This results in a vicious cycle that partly explains why women that are going through menopause can have such problems with getting their body weight under control.

But there is even more. Other weight problems that can arise from hormone imbalance are related to insulin. Insulin is a hormone that stores fat. Where progesterone normally lowers insulin levels, a state of estrogen dominance can lead to the release of excess insulin. Too high levels of insulin can however make your cells become resistant to it. The consequence of the resulting so-called ‘insulin resistance’ is that fat is now stored elsewhere, especially around the abdomen where it is ready to be used as fuel for your organs. Higher levels of insulin can lead to sugar cravings that can be hard to control, creating another vicious cycle that only makes matters worse.

So if diets are not necessarily the answer and sometimes even have an opposite effect, what is there that you can do to regain control of your body weight? All the weight related issues that I just discussed, can be linked to estrogen dominance, which is caused by low levels of progesterone.

To sum this up for you: excess estrogen can cause hypothyroidism which lowers your metabolic rate, it can turn more calories into fat and it can result in a state of insulin resistance. This can all substantially influence your body weight during menopause or in times of stress and can be reduced by balancing your estrogen out with proper levels of natural progesterone. Progesterone lowers the production of TBG in your body which gives your body the opportunity to restore your metabolic rate. It additionally breaks the vicious cycle of accumulating fat and estrogen and it finally lowers insulin levels in your body. Getting your estrogen and progesterone back in balance seems to be the key to success here. Almost anyone who struggles with weight loss also battles a hormone imbalance. They both go hand in hand.

The final question should therefore be: how can you get your hormones back into balance in order to regain control of your body weight? There obviously is not one simple answer to this question. Experts in the field have a wide variety of solutions that range from acupuncture to absorbing more vitamin D to simply replacing the missing progesterone in your body. These solutions might have some effect and are definitely worth trying… but the replacement of progesterone is key and has a cascade effect on most everything else.

When you are thinking about progesterone replacement it is very important to understand the differences between bio-identical progesterone and the drugs called Progestins which is synthetic progesterone. Bio-identical progesterone is molecularly identical to what your body makes, and it is therefore able to recognize and use it in the same way as the progesterone your body makes. Progestins on the other hand do not have the same molecular structure and as such they are not treated the same way by your body. Not only do Progestins not relieve the symptoms of Estrogen Dominance, but they can actually worsen or even be the cause of the problems in the first place. The negative effects of progestins are exacerbated by the fact that they actually shut down your body’s production of its own progesterone.

Estrogen dominance can also be effectively treated by using bio-identical progesterone when your body does not produce enough progesterone. Therefore, a trained professional needs to prescribe these hormones after evaluating your health and hormone levels. You will additionally have to continuously be monitored over the period you take these hormones.

This can ultimately help to coax down estrogen when a woman is experiencing estrogen dominance. The resulting improved hormonal balance can lead to better sleep, improved mood, increased energy, better mental function, improved libido, and substantially help you regain control of your body weight!

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