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Estrogen is commonly associated with weight gain. But which begets the other? Does the fat cause the estrogen, or is it the other way around?
It’s both. First, fat cells beget estrogen production. But then elevated estrogen levels further slow down metabolism, such that estrogen plays a role in convincing a body to store more weight. For many, this becomes a vicious cycle of accelerating weight gain.
The mechanism by which estrogen causes weight gain is through inhibiting thyroid function. In a normal-weight woman, estrogen and thyroid hormone play off of each other in an intricate balance. Yet when a woman becomes overweight, her estrogen levels drive her thyroid function relentlessly downward. With impaired thyroid function, a woman can feel sluggish and fatigued, and therefore expend less energy, and also subconsciously down-regulate her metabolism such that her body is burning less and less fuel to get by and she is not even aware of it. Up to 10 percent of American women have issues with hypothyroidism.
The enzyme by which a cell converts testosterone into estrogen is called aromatase. Aromatase is the primary source of estrogen in men, as it converts testosterone to estrogen within cells. Aromatase enzymes are present in all types of tissue, yet the aromatase expressed in adipose tissue accounts for the vast majority of non-ovarian estrogen production in men and in women. This is why, in fact, many women suffer estrogen-deficiency symptoms when they lose too much weight. Additionally, the aromatization of testosterone to estrogen increases as a function of body weight and advancing age. This is a problem for men, as well as another compounding factor for menopausal women. It can also lead fairly quickly to estrogen dominance, which causes it’s own slew of reproductive problems.
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