Estrogen determines body fat distribution. In women, fat is stored on the hips, bottom, abdomen, and thighs. Fat cells manufacture and store estrogen. Some researchers believe that women get more body fat around menopause to ensure adequate estrogen from fat cells. Others believe low thyroid function and exhausted adrenals promote midsection fat gain.
Considering that excess fat reduces life expectancy, I tend to believe the second theory. The body is generally programmed to ensure survival, and too much fat causes heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, and increased death rates. I mentioned earlier that as many as a third of people older than thirtyfive may have subclinical low thyroid function.
Low thyroid function promotes many hormonal problems that could be remedied with thyroidsupporting nutrients or medication (thyroid hormones). During the perimenopausal years (the ten to fifteen years before menopause) and menopause (one year with no periods), it is common for women to suffer a multitude of hormonal complaints. Hot flashes, night sweats, and sleep disturbances are common. Many people think these symptoms are associated with a decline in estrogen, but the symptoms, especially night sweats and insomnia, are also the hallmark symptoms of low thyroid function. Most menopausal women are given hormonereplacement therapy with estrogen for these symptoms.
Perimenopausal women who are still menstruating may be put on the birth control pill. The problem with these treatments is that estrogen further shuts down the thyroid: high estrogen levels interfere with the thyroid hormones, particularly the utilization of T3, the most biologically active thyroid hormone. Too much estrogen-from hormone-replacement therapy or produced naturallyimpairs thyroid function.
Estrogen is an antagonist to thyroid hormone; it slows down the metabolic rate. As the metabolism slows, many women develop difficulties with fat metabolism. This happens because one of the functions of the thyroid hormones is to stimulate fat cells to burn fat. Weight-control problems result.
In addition, serum cholesterol or triglyceride levels may increase. Thyroid activity can also be inhibited by high levels of androgens (male sex hormones) circulating in the blood. Depression and fatigue are the most common thyroid symptoms in menopausal women. Read my book, co-authored with Karen Jensen, N.D., No More HRT: Menopause Treat the Cause, for non-hormonal solutions for menopause symptoms. This book covers everything you ever wanted to know about women’s hormones and how to correct their imbalance.