Written on March 7, 2023 by Lori Mulligan, MPH. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Too little or too much estrogen answers the question, “Does estrogen make you gain weight?” The right amount of estrogen varies depending on what stage of life you’re in — be it puberty, reproductive years, perimenopause, menopause, or postmenopause.
Estrogen rises during puberty, naturally fluctuates during the monthly menstrual cycle, and declines during menopause.
When estrogen is balanced, the right amount of fat helps carry out female reproductive functions. Consistently high or low levels of estrogen may cause weight gain and signal a condition that may need medical attention.
Before we further explore the connection between estrogen and weight gain, it is important to define estrogen and the three types of estrogen that exist.
As defined by the National Cancer Institute, estrogen is a type of hormone made by the body that helps develop and maintain female sex characteristics and the growth of bones. They may be used as a type of birth control and to treat symptoms of menopause, menstrual disorders, osteoporosis, and other conditions .
The Cleveland Clinic defines the three major forms of estrogen as follows :
According to the University of Rochester, weight gain and fat deposits are similar in boys and girls until puberty. At the onset of adolescence, boys develop higher testosterone levels while girls develop higher estrogen levels. That elevation in estrogen leads to a higher percentage of body fat.
Testosterone, on the other hand, causes higher muscle‐to‐fat ratios and more masculinizing effects. Estrogen causes a typical female fat distribution pattern in breasts, buttocks, and thighs, as well as its more feminizing effects.
Thanks to estrogen, during the reproductive years, women get additional fatty tissue in the pelvis, buttocks, thighs, and breasts to provide an energy source for eventual pregnancy and lactation .
During menopause, a woman's estrogen levels are inversely related to her weight. One study reviewed the 2016 medical literature to explore this relationship and found that loss of estrogen after menopause, independent of aging, increases total fat mass and decreases lean body mass so that there is little net effect on body weight. But the distribution of fat in the abdomen is significant and can lead to adverse health problems.
The researchers suggest broader implications for their findings. The greater weight burden in women makes understanding the diverse effects of ovarian hormones, including estrogen, on eating, energy expenditure, and body fat an urgent research challenge. Further research in both human and animal models can investigate these diverse effects .
Estrogen deficiency results in increases in visceral or belly fat, which has been linked to obesity and its associated health challenges .
HRT is often prescribed to manage the symptoms of low estrogen in menopausal women.
According to the Mayo Clinic, HRT is a good medication that contains female hormones. You take the medication to replace the estrogen that your body stops making during menopause. Hormone therapy is most often used to treat common menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and vaginal discomfort, and has been proven to prevent bone loss and reduce fractures in postmenopausal women.
However, there are risks associated with using hormone therapy. These risks depend on the type of hormone therapy, the dose, how long the medication is taken, and your individual health risks. The risks include:
For best results, hormone therapy should be tailored to each person and reevaluated every so often to be sure the benefits still outweigh the risks .
The OB/GYN Associates of Alabama recommends the following to keep estrogen at optimal levels to prevent weight gain during perimenopause and beyond :
To help you understand the hormonal changes you may be experiencing, Everlywell offers tests to measure hormone levels for perimenopause and postmenopause, as well as a Women's Hormone Test that checks estrogen (estradiol) levels plus several other hormones.