Why Some Women Just Can’t Lose Fat


What is Oestrogen Dominance: by Dr Sherrill Sellman ND.

As women get older, they can find it easier to gain weight and harder to lose fat. But this is not just happening to older women, younger women are experiencing this same issue as well — and there is an exact reason for this. 

It has to do with hormones, the messenger chemicals in our body that tell our cells how to use the foods we eat, whether to store fat or lose it, increase or decrease energy. They even affect our moods.

And when they get out of control, it can become harder and harder to climb back out of the hole.

So, let’s take a look at exactly what’s happening here. First, we’ll define a couple of things.


Oestrogen is a category of three different hormones that promote the development and maintenance of female characteristics in the body (though it’s also produced to a lesser degree in men just as testosterone is produced in smaller amounts in women).

Oestrogen help develops and maintain the reproductive system, contributes to cognitive health, bone health, and the function of the cardiovascular system, and assists with many other essential bodily processes.

And they also promote fat storage, and raise insulin levels

Progesterone is a hormone released by the ovaries and plays important role in the menstrual cycle and in maintaining the early stages of pregnancy.

It also promotes fat loss.

Progesterone is the hormone that keeps your oestrogen levels in balance.

The thyroid is a hormone that regulates your metabolism (all the processes in the body that deal with the production and use of energy).

It works to increase the energy production in each cell and the rate at which energy is used by the body. (And that energy is carbs and stored fat, something we want to be used.) It also makes other hormones and helps to regulate other hormones.

What Happens When Our Hormones Go Out of Balance?

These hormones are all very necessary. But when these hormones are not in balance we have trouble — both in our overall health, but also in our ability to gain and lose fat and muscle. So let’s see how this works.

Oestrogen and Progesterone balance each other out. When progesterone levels drop our oestrogen levels rise and we get something called Oestrogen Dominance. This lowers our ability to lose fat, increases our likelihood to gain fat, and lowers our energy levels (among many other things).

Here is how it works:

When we consume carbs, we release insulin. Consume fast-acting carbs and we get higher levels of insulin.

This insulin triggers the release of cortisol, which we know also increases fat stores and breaks down muscle if in high quantity.

But in women, it gets this cortisol in large part by synthesising cortisol from your progesterone. It actually takes the progesterone your body produces and changes it into cortisol.

Then, if there is a constant flow of fast-acting sugars, cortisol levels stay high, keeping progesterone levels low.

But progesterone is necessary to keep oestrogen levels in check. So now oestrogen levels go up.

Oestrogen is necessary for many things, but it plays a very large role in fat storage and insulin levels. And it does this in a few ways.

First, oestrogen actually gets stored in the fat cells. But, these fat cells also trigger more fat storage because… they synthesise oestrogen from other hormones, like testosterone. They convert these hormones into oestrogen.

So oestrogen levels go up and this pushes fat storage up. And as fat storage goes up, oestrogen levels go up.

At the same time, excess oestrogen causes an organ called the pancreas to over-produce insulin, so you get even more fat storage, which then synthesises more oestrogen, on and on, back and forth.



High oestrogen levels lower thyroid.

It also causes trouble with your thyroid, the hormone that regulates your metabolism — the actual burning of energy (carbs and fats). So if you have low levels of thyroid being produced then your body will have a lower ability to utilise energy — including the burning of fat and the utilisation of carbs so they don’t become fat.

And it does this in a couple of ways.

First, there are receptor sites on cells that hormones use to communicate with them. This is how hormones pass on their instructions to individual cells. Well, excess oestrogen blocks the receptor sites on cells that the thyroid uses to communicate with them. So even if you have proper levels of thyroid this makes it harder for the cells to see it and for the thyroid to tell the cells to burn energy for use.

But excess oestrogen also causes something else. It makes the liver produce high levels of something called Thyroid-binding Globulin, a chemical that decreases the amount of thyroid available to be used by binding to it.

This results in fatigue, brain fog, hair loss, low libido, and weight gain. But, because we now have less thyroid, because of excess oestrogen… we get even more oestrogen.

This is because excess oestrogen must be broken down by the liver. But the liver needs the thyroid in order to do this and so the less thyroid we have, the less oestrogen is broken down and it further builds up in the body.

So more oestrogen equals less progesterone and thyroid and more insulin, fat, and cortisol… which equals less progesterone and thyroid, which equals more oestrogen, which equals, which equals, which equals… You get the point. It really turns into a vicious circle. And this is what we call Oestrogen Dominance.

Enter progesterone.

Progesterone balances oestrogen. It lowers blood sugar levels, lowers insulin production, and lowers cortisol levels. And while high levels of oestrogen can cause so much excess insulin that this alone can start to build insulin resistance among the cells, leading to greater levels of insulin and fat storage… progesterone does the opposite, making those cells more insulin sensitive, so they require less insulin.

Also, while oestrogen lowers the thyroid, progesterone raises it. This is because progesterone lowers the Thyroid-binding Globulin that oestrogen makes which gobbles up the thyroid. So, we get more thyroid and increased fat burning for energy. And while high levels of oestrogen can make one depressed and anxious more often, make it harder to sleep, and increase inflammation in the body, further raising cortisol… progesterone is calming, lowers inflammation, and helps one sleep better.

Oestrogen also increases water retention by up to five pounds, while progesterone lowers water retention.All these hormones are important and necessary. But do you see how they have to be in proper balance and also how much each one affects every other one?

So, let us look at what raises and lowers these hormones.

First is obviously sugar, either high levels of sugar or processed sugar. This raises insulin and converts progesterone to cortisol, which then raises oestrogen levels.

So, we have to keep at least moderate carbohydrate levels and stay away from processed carbs. We also have to lose the extra fat because that itself increases oestrogen production which again increases fat.

Then there’s stress. While cortisol raises stress levels, being stressed raises cortisol levels. Obviously, life happens, but make sure to get enough sleep and some kind of time to unwind at the end of the day. Maybe read a book (not the news) and do it with an actual book. Blue light from our phones and laptops stimulates cortisol release too and can keep you up, making more cortisol…

We also have magnesium and fibre being very important. Fibre helps remove excess oestrogen and stabilises blood sugar levels. And magnesium allows the body to absorb calcium and regulates the pituitary gland, a gland that in turn regulates hormone levels. Magnesium is also very calming, helping to lower cortisol levels before sleep and most people are deficient in it as it’s actually processed out of a majority of our foods these days.

Vitamin B6 also helps reduce oestrogen levels in the blood.

And, as the thyroid is made from tyrosine, an amino acid, and iodine, then as long as we are getting the adequate protein it will support the thyroid. Therefore, it is essential to have protein in your diet on a regular basis either as a food source or as an amino acid supplement.

The most important take-home message is this. Hormone issues are symptoms of an imbalance in our body.  It could be a nutritional deficiency. It could be due to stress.  It could be due to your diet.  It could be due to toxicity. Regaining hormonal balance requires addressing the underlying issues that are contributing to your hormonal issues. Seek out qualified natural health practitioners such as Naturopaths, Acupuncturists, Functional Medicine MDs, etc. to help guide you to optimal health and hormonal well-being.


Sherrill Sellman, ND is a Naturopathic Doctor, best-selling author, women’s health expert, a contributor to health magazines worldwide, lecturer and host of two weekly podcasts. She can be found at www.drsherrillsellman.com, [email protected] and @sherrillsellman. Sherrill offers virtual consultations.


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