Estrogen for Women: Obstacle or Asset?

When it comes to changing your body, we absolutely can’t discount the impact of hormones. In this post, we will hone in on estrogen, and focus on how it helps/hinders your diet and training efforts.

What is Estrogen, and What does it Do?

Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone, responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system, and secondary sex (female) characteristics. Estrogen is produced in the ovaries, and is most prevalent in the body from puberty to menopause. Men produce estrogen as well, though in significantly smaller amounts.

In terms of its general impact on the female body, estrogen:

  • Alters your bone structure - making your bones smaller and shorter, your pelvis broader, and your shoulders narrower.
  • Increases fat storage around the hips and thighs, and general prevents body fat from getting too low.
  • Increases sensitivity to insulin.
  • Makes body hair finer, and head hair more permanent.
  • Makes the voice box smaller and the vocal cords shorter, making a woman’s voice high pitched.
  • Suppresses the production of oil in the skin glands, and increases collagen production, to improve the quality of skin.
  • Preserves bone strength and prevents bone loss.
  • Promotes wakefulness, and a generally alert state.

Estrogen and Muscle Building/Fat Loss: based on what we know about estrogen - how will an abundance or lack thereof impact your training and weight/fat-loss efforts?

The Pros:

Normal levels of estrogen help you build more muscle, because it aids in the production of growth hormone, and and insulin-like growth factor. Estrogen will also promote glucose utilization in muscle tissue growth, and, as previously mentioned, increase your body’s sensitivity to insulin.

The Cons:

An overabundance of estrogen will wreak havoc on female systems, potentially causing fibroids, endometriosis, abnormal menstruation, fibrocystic breasts, and even some forms of cancer. Beyond that, abnormally high estrogen levels will also cause fatigue, bloating, anxiety, brain fog, mood swings, and weight gain.  

Honing in on the female competitive bodybuilder, estrogen, even in normal amounts, can present a bit of a challenge. A woman competing in the sport of bodybuilding will need to exhibit an abnormal amount of muscular definition, muscularity, vascularity, and leanness. Estrogen inherently causes the body to hold on to both fat and water - directly under the skin and around the hips/thighs/midsection - which is essentially counterproductive to the competitor. To any female bodybuilding athlete that needs to get really ripped/cut/lean, estrogen is a hormonal roadblock. Manipulating one’s diet can help balance or lower estrogen, to help counteract its effects on appearance.

A Note on Estrogen Dominance

Estrogen dominance is when the amount of estrogen you have in your body is significantly higher than the amount of progesterone. Estrogen dominance will exhibit itself in the form of many of the symptoms of too much estrogen previously discussed, and can long-term cause serious health risks to the estrogen dominant. Estrogen dominance can be treated via medication, or alterations to one’s diet.

Estrogen and Food

Certain foods are high in phytoestrogens, and are said to impact levels of estrogen in the body. From a Holistic nutritional standpoint, eating certain foods can either increase or decrease estrogen levels, and that information can be useful to any competitor, especially as she gets close to show time.  

Here’s what you want to cut out of your diet, especially if you are close to a show and/or estrogen dominant:

  • Soy
  • Non-Organic produce
  • Dairy
  • Non-Organic meat
  • Any liquids in a plastic bottle (BPA increases estrogen)

And here are some foods to block estrogen, naturally:

  • Cruciferous vegetables, like cauliflower and broccoli
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Citrus Fruits and Berries
  • Oats and Whole Grains
  • Flax and Sesame Seeds

In short, balanced estrogen levels are essential in healthy reproductive and bodily system functioning. Estrogen can even help enhance your muscle-making efforts. However, estrogen can be a roadblock, at least as far as the competition lifestyle is concerned. To combat the effects of estrogen/estrogen dominance, altering your diet is the best way to go, to regulate the hormonal odds, in your favor.

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