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Pre-Menopausal State

Optimizing Hormone Levels & Working With Them To Your Advantage For Better Health & Body Composition

Posted by NutritionMax - May 26th, 2015

After a female has her menarche in her teenage years, a woman’s lifecycle involves a chaotic and rather aggravating fluctuation of hormones levels that affect mood, behavior, fat loss, muscle gains and susceptibility to disease. In this article, we are examining the pre-menopausal state.

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Let’s have a quick run through of the menstrual cycle:


The First Two Weeks

Days 1-14 are called the follicular phase where estrogen (secreted from the skin, ovaries, fat tissue) stimulates the hypothalamus in the brain to release GnRH or gonadotropin-releasing hormone. This then signals the pituitary gland to release follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). During the follicular phase, FSH fosters the maturation of the follicle in the ovary’s surface and prompts the ovaries to produce estrogen, which then together, the 2 hormones assist in the growth of the follicles. LH levels begin to rise and peak, along with FSH, by day 14 or time of ovulation, where LH induces the release of the ova/egg from the follicles. Just prior to this, progesterone begins to rise and with the assistance of estrogen, carbohydrates and nutrients abound the uterine wall to prepare for implantation of the egg and to provide sustenance for the potential embryo.


The Second Two Weeks

From Day 16-28, known as the luteal phase, the egg is released and the cells in the follicle form into the corpus luteum. An abundance of the hormone progesterone releases from the corpus luteum and peak just around the final week of the cycle, while estrogen levels decline. Ultimately, FSH and LH production ceases due to progesterone blocking GnRH production. If the ovum is not fertilized by a sperm cell, estrogen and progesterone levels drop and the corpus luteum decays. The drop in hormone levels allows the blood vessels in the uterine wall to contract and discharge blood and nutrients that were stored in the uterine wall earlier, hence the “period.”


Birth Control/Oral Contraceptives

They are often prescribed by doctors to “regulate” the menstrual cycle, when really all it’s doing is rendering it inactive because it shuts down FSH and LH secretion from the pituitary gland. What you’re left with is progestin, a synthetic form of progesterone in the pill, which essentially means you are low in progesterone and probably low in estrogen too. Ironically, being low in estrogen is why it’s prescribed in the first place. Your decision to use it for prevention of pregnancy is one thing, but using birth control to “regulate” hormones is an issue because it’s only masking an underlying abnormality – low estrogen. Not to mention, birth control depletes at least 10 nutrients from the body and is the king “drug mugger” of pharmaceutical drugs. So, if you have to take it, you are strongly encouraged to take a multi-vitamin.


In the young female who aggressively diets and exercises, a suboptimal level of body fat is achieved. Often times, amenorrhea or absence of a menstrual cycle ensues ultimately because estrogen production drops. This is because estrogen is produced not only in the ovaries, but skin and you guessed it, fat tissue. Without estrogen, menstrual cycles disappear, the risk of osteoporosis increases, a decrease in bone mineral density appears, mood swings and food cravings persist (from low GABA, dopamine and serotonin activation), impaired vasodilation from low nitric oxide (blood vessel expansion), to name a few of the health complications.


Bottom line: Birth control is not a life-long solution to restoring your hormones – diet and lifestyle changes are.


Balancing Hormones (estrogen, progesterone, insulin and cortisol) & Body Composition

Balancing of estrogen and progesterone is important in controlling fat gain and fat loss. Too much estrogen relative to progesterone, known as estrogen dominance, is not conducive to either your health or your ability to lose fat. Here's why...


Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is quite common among women, and as you know experience symptoms of depression, fatigue, headaches, water retention, constipation, anger, mood swings, tender breasts, irritability, etc. during the last 2 weeks of the luteal phase before the menses, it’s a sign that progesterone levels are low. Normally during the luteal phase, progesterone levels are high and estrogen is a bit lower in comparison, as indicated above. Progesterone levels can often be normal, but because estrogen is higher in comparison, there is a perceived progesterone deficiency and imbalance of the two hormones.


There are a number of natural ways to increase progesterone and resolve PMS symptoms. They include supplements like chasteberry extract; herbs like thyme, turmeric, and making sure you have enough vitamin B6, cholesterol and dietary fat – precursors to hormones, like progesterone. Unfermented soy (phytoestrogens), too much dairy, pesticides, plastics (BPA), cosmetics with phthalates and parabens and caffeine all contain estrogen mimickers that elevate estrogen levels; therefore, it’s best to avoid these if estrogen levels are high in your lab results.


The Effects Of Stress

However, stress might be the single most important factor in creating this imbalance. A very crucial factor in restoring progesterone levels is by controlling your stress. When there is too much stress form physical activity or emotional triggers, pregnenolone and progesterone are diverted towards cortisol production instead of being used to synthesize sex hormones like progesterone and estrogen.


Estrogen & Fat Loss – Too Much

Too much estrogen is a problem for fat loss and can explain why it’s very challenging for some women to lose fat in the high fat accumulation areas – thighs, butt and hips. Conversely, too little estrogen can result in less fat accumulation here and more in the breasts. The reason why women tend to lose fat in the butt and thighs last is because estrogen increases the number of alpha-adrenergic receptors, which are very abundant in these areas of the body. Basically, the more of these there are, the more difficult it is to burn fat. Progesterone though, can in fact lessen this number of alpha-receptors and also increase the number of beta-adrenergic receptors. The beta-receptors help promote fatty acid use for energy.2 High estrogen levels also decrease anabolic muscle building hormones DHEA and HGH, which is why lifting weights is always beneficial.


So you can see why progesterone is not just important for PMS and the health of menstrual cycles, but for body fat reduction.


Estrogen & Fat Loss – Too Little

As mentioned earlier, too low of estrogen is not great either, not only for the risk of health issues, but for its influence on fat loss and muscle protein synthesis. Estrogen in healthy amounts increases sensitivity to insulin and allows women to gain muscle, which means your ability to tolerate carbohydrates, is better. There is an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase (LPL), which merely releases fatty acids and stores them into fat tissue.2 Estrogen inhibits that enzyme and allows fatty acids to be used for energy instead. Estrogen also counteracts the effects of cortisol, so blood sugar elevations do not occur as frequently under stressful conditions. Progesterone also functions this way.

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Estrogen


Estrogen & Progesterone

Estrogen and progesterone may be fantastic regulators of fat metabolism, but if excessive amounts of cortisol (from stress) and insulin (from carbs) are present, there’s little benefit of estrogen and progesterone.


Insulin and cortisol still serve a much greater role in how well or not you lose fat. So, even though estrogen and progesterone oppose cortisol, excessive stress will override this opposition and predispose you to gain fat in your midsection.


Even in a calorie deficit where you are eating less, if stress induced cortisol levels rise to abnormal levels along with high insulin, there is an increase in muscle tissue loss instead of fat loss.


Conclusion

In the end, controlling your carb intake, reducing stress (from lack of sleep, emotional stress, too much cardio or gym time) is your way to controlling your hormones. If you can find an appropriate balance of exercise (with an emphasis on weight training and less cardio) and diet, estrogen and progesterone and be utilized to your advantage, but again, a balance of these two hormones must be present first.


Calories may dictate if you lose or gain fat, but it begins with hormones. Without control of them, the calories in versus calories out formula suddenly becomes ineffective.


*Fat Loss Diet Promotion*

If you are not on birth control or any contraceptives, there is a way to take advantage of the fluctuating hormones during menstruation to give you that extra push towards fat loss. Write an email to me if you are interested to the program.


If you believe you are also in an estrogen dominant/low progesterone state or low estrogen state and need assistance in restoring this balance, to better your health and improve your body composition goals, please inquire.


If this article helped you and you'd like to learn more ways to maximize your results, SIGN-UP for the Platinum Membership today!

References

  1. Brown J. Nutrition Through The Life Cycle. Preconception Nutrition. 5th Edition. Cengage Learning, Standford,CT; 2014
  2. Teta, Jade.Female hormones and weight loss. http://www.metaboliceffect.com/female-effect-hormones-determine-female-fat-patterns/. Accessed May 21, 2015
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posted by NutritionMax
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NASM CPT, Master's in Human Nutrition
Precision Nutrition Sports & Exercise Nutritionist


Justin Janoska is a professional fitness coach and a clinical nutritionist who specializes in helping people with challenging diseases. He runs an online coaching platform where he helps people like you reach build muscle or lose weight.


For an intimate coaching experience, visit www.nutritionmax.fit


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koleenaroth

Nice informative article on women's menstrual cycle and the changes of the reproductive hormones. This will really help many women to know more about menstruation and menstrual hormones. 


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