The relationship between weight and oestrogen in women

Annica Rust expands on the role of oestrogen and the important part it plays in weight management.


What is oestrogen?

Oestrogen is a sex hormone in women that initiates puberty in girls and plays an important role in fertility. It’s also important for cardiovascular health, healthy bone density and mood. Oestrogen further influences body fat distribution and weight.2 

Breast cancer and oestrogen

Some types of breast cancers are affected by hormones, such as oestrogen and progesterone. Breast cancer cells have receptors, if oestrogen and/or progesterone attaches to it, it can cause the cancer cells to grow. Cancer treatment will aim to:4

1. Block the oestrogen receptors to prevent these hormones from attaching to the receptors, thus stopping oestrogen from fuelling the cancer cells to grow. 

2. Lower oestrogen levels to prevent hormone receptor positive breast cancers to grow. By lowering oestrogen, it can slow down the growth of cancer or prevent reoccurrence.

Oestrogen decline

Oestrogen production will normally decline at the age of 50 which in turn starts menopause.1 Other reasons for low oestrogen levels include: polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), lactation, vigorous exercise, some eating disorders and ovarian suppression (removing or shutting down the ovaries with luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) analogues or chemotherapy drugs). Pre-menopausal women who have undergone ovarian suppression will become post-menopausal.4

What happens if oestrogen levels decrease?

A decrease in oestrogen can negatively impact blood lipid levels. It’s characterised by an increase in total cholesterol and low-density lipoproteins (LDL), also known as bad cholesterol, whilst further causing a decrease in high-density lipoproteins (HDL), also known as good cholesterol. 

High cholesterol levels have been associated with a deterioration in brain functionality.1 Lower oestrogen levels may also impact glucose and lipid metabolism negatively and lead to the development of metabolic disease.1 

Oestrogen and weight

Oestrogen plays an important role in storing fat around the thighs and buttocks for childbearing and lactation, resulting in a pear-shaped figure. As oestrogen decreases, which occurs with menopause or gonadectomy (surgical removal of ovaries which results in a loss of oestrogen and progesterone), fat will be deposited around the abdomen creating an apple-shaped figure. 

Abdominal fat may be an indication of increased fat around the internal organs, known as visceral fat. High visceral fat increases the risk for insulin resistance, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, stroke and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. 1

How to combat the weight gain? 

A holistic approach, which includes: stress management, improving sleep patterns and being more active. However, following a well-balanced dietary intake with portion control, remains the best way to combat weight gain.

Tips for following a balanced diet:

  1. A plate is considered healthy if: ½ of the plate consists of non-starchy vegetables, ¼ plate protein and ¼ plate starchy vegetables or starches (Figure 1 below).
  2. Fat intake should be limited. 
  3. In addition, try to consume 2-3 fruits and 2-3 dairy portions per day. 
  4. Avoid processed and refined foods; focus on whole foods.
  5. Drink 6-8 glasses of water per day.
  6. Avoid sugar sweetened items.

Figure 1: Healthy plate (Cancer Research UK)3

Oestrogen plays an important part in weight management. Low oestrogen levels will make losing weight more challenging, but it can be well-managed with the assistance of a registered dietitian. Contact your local registered dietitian for individualised advice.


References

  1. Mahan, L.K. & Raymond, J.L. (eds).2017. Krause’s food and the nutrition care process. 14th ed. St Louis. MO: Elsevier Saunders.
  2. Lizcano, F & Guzman, G. 2014. Estrogen Deficiency and the Origin of Obesity during Menopause. Biomed Research International:1(1).
  3. Cancer research UK. 2020. What is a healthy plate? [28 February 2021].
  4. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/treatment/hormone-therapy-for-breast-cancer.html
Annica Rust is a registered dietitian practicing at the Breast Care Unit at Netcare Milpark Hospital, as well as in Bryanston. She assists with medical nutritional therapy for cancer prevention, treatment, survivorship and palliation. She gives individualised nutritional care to prevent or reverse nutrient deficiencies, nutrition-related side effects and malnutrition to maximise quality of life.

MEET THE EXPERT – Annica Rust

Annica Rust is a registered dietitian practicing at the Breast Care Unit in Netcare Milpark Hospital as well as in Bryanston. She assists with medical nutritional therapy for cancer prevention, treatment, survivorship and palliation. She gives individualised nutritional care to prevent or reverse nutrient deficiencies, nutrition-related side effects and malnutrition to maximise quality of life.


Header image by Adocbe Stock

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