What caused the excess elevation in oestrogen levels?
Oestrogen and testosterone production increase naturally in males and females as a consequence of reaching puberty and the physical changes leading to adulthood. During these years males generally increase their bone density and lean muscle tissue and experience a reduction in body fat mass whilst testosterone levels are increasing.
Females increase in bone and muscle tissue, but also increase the storage of adipose tissue at particular sites, the main ones being the gluteofemoral region and around the breasts.These physical changes, including the increase in body fat around the hips and thighs, are driven by rising oestrogen during this period. The same pattern can also be observed during pregnancy when oestrogen levels increase to stimulate and support the growth of the uterus and foetus, but also serve to increase the storage of adipose tissue in the gluteofemoral region even more. This acts as an energy reservoir that the mother drawupon during the latter trimester of pregnancy and to support lactation to feed the new baby. It has also been observed that this specific body fat store often decreases during the weeks and months of lactation, women visually appear less likely than males to accumulate abdominal fat mass, it may actually be the larger increases in body fat mass around the buttocks and thighs that reduce the appearance of fat mass around the abdominals. Once past puberty and into adulthood both testosterone and oestrogen, when maintained within healthy ranges, are mostly lipolytic in nature and help to prevent excess fat accumulation.
Obesity and overweight can result when these sex steroids slip out of balance as part of a chain of hormonal events. In circumstances where levels of circulating oestrogen in a female’s body are elevated over a longer period of time it can bring about both positive and negative effects with regards to adipose tissue.
Oestrogen has been found to decrease visceral fat mass, which may be beneficial in lowering the risk of chronic healtconditions, like heart disease and diabetes. Elevated oestrogen, as indicated earlier, has been found in adult females to cause a specific regional increase in triglyceride storage in subcutaneous gluteofemoral adipose tissue . This over time can lead to an increase in the typical ‘pear-shaped’ body more dominant in females, referred to as a gynoid pattern of overweight or obesity. Adipose tissue in the gluteofemoral region has been shown to have a greater density of oestrogen receptors. This provides a suitable explanation as to why this female dominant pattern exists.
The other possible consideration is what caused the excess elevation in oestrogen levels?
There are many factors today which may perturb the oestrogenic balance in females, elevating levels beyond normal and increasing the fat deposits in the gynoid region.
These factors include:
• pharmaceutical contraceptives
The combined contraceptive pill releases a blend of oestrogen and progestin for each of the 21 days of the 28 day menstrual cycle that they are taken. This is an effective way of preventing pregnancy, but it also elevates oestrogen beyond levels that the body would reach without the pill being taken. Hormones are non-specific chemicals. The oestrogen in the pill will not only affect the uterus and ovaries, the increased oestrogen will also signal to the adipocyte receptors in the gluteofemoral region and potentially lead to increased fat storage. Weight gain is a listed side effect of taking the contraceptive pill.
Xenoestrogens are industrially made compounds that have an oestrogen mimicking effect in the human body. They have similar effects in the body to natural oestrogens and so assist in bringing about growth of the endometrium and breast tissue. They have been implicated in some studies as increasing the risk of endometrial and breast cancer. Chemicals that have been shown to contain xenoestrogens are wide and varied, but include parabens, phthalates, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s), bisphenol A and many pesticides.
- Parabens are found in many lotions, makeup and hair products.
- Phthalates and bisphenol A are found in many plastics, which leech out more easily the softer the plastic is or the warmer it becomes.
- Avoiding plastics such as bottled water is also an easy change to make.
- Drink filtered water and use ceramic or glass containers instead.
- Avoid heating food in the microwave in plastic containers. The heat from the microwave leeches xenoestrogens and other harmful chemicals from the plastic into your food.
- PCB’s are found in lubricants, adhesives and paints.
- Whilst pesticides, that contain many of these oestrogenic chemicals, are used freely on industrially grown crops that do not follow organic principles. Too much exposure to xenoestrogens may also influence the storage of fat in the gluteofemoral region ‘pear-shaped’ the same as naturally occurring oestrogen does, and as such may need to be minimised in those with enduring gynoid obesity.
Eating organic foods, for example, which have not been treated with herbicides and pesticides, is one of the easiest ways to avoid xenoestrogens.
Phytoestrogens are a group of naturally occurring non-steroidal plant compounds that are similar in structure to estradiol, the active form of oestrogen, and as such may exhibit oestrogenic effects. The most researched are isoflavones which are found in very high amounts in soy products but also in smaller amounts in many foods such as linseed, sesame seed, oats, lentils and other dried beans. Research around phytoestrogens is complex with many scientists claiming they are beneficial to health, whilst other studies suggest significant health concerns. There is no doubt that they can elevate oestrogen in the body. The debate seems to be about whether this is beneficial or detrimental to health and the risk of certain diseases. Regardless of this, it will likely stimulate oestrogen receptors and may warrant those with prevailing gynoid obesity to avoid the most potent source of isoflavones:
soy products such as textured vegetable protein
soy based imitation dairy