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Estrogen: The Unsuspected Culprit of Weight Plateaus

You have been working out hard, eating well, sleeping a minimum 7 hours, drinking adequate water….yet you can’t break through your weight plateau. Did you know the reason quite likely is HORMONES? We have many different hormones in the body that can affect a person’s weight, these include but are not limited to cortisol, testosterone, progesterone, and thyroid hormone. One of the biggest culprits though tends to be ESTROGEN.

Estrogen is imperative not just for puberty, but also in preparing the body for pregnancy, and maintaining pregnancy. Therefore when estrogen levels increase in a woman, the body can think it is pregnant, and in turn hold onto extra fat. In men, estrogen’s main role is for modulating libido, and sperm production. However, when levels increase due to exogenous (or artificial) exposure symptoms such as decreased libido, over development of breast tissue, low testosterone, and impotence can occur. Artificial estrogen will not only lower testosterone levels but also lower free testosterone, AND block the binding of testosterone at the receptor. This means that what little testosterone you have becomes much less effective. Why does this matter? Low testosterone leads to symptoms such as fatigue, decreased sex drive, infertility, irritability, chronic pain, decreased muscle mass, increased abdominal weight gain, hair loss, decreased bone mass and more!

Estrogenics is the term pertaining to molecules that will act like estrogen in the body but aren’t actually estrogen. These include xenoestrogens, mycoestrogen, phytoestrogens such as soy, personal care products containing parabes or fragrances, phthalates (plastics), herbicides (specifically atrazine), makeup, and even food colouring, specifically Red 3 and Red 40. This means that we are all exposed to estrogenics countless times throughout the day. While many patients understand the risk with food colouring and fragrances I still constantly get push back when it comes to soy. So, why not soy? When testing plants it is the level of phytoestrogens that count for changes in hormones. We look for numbers below 1000 ug/100g to be considered safe, but ideally prefer these to be below 100 ug/100g. Things like chickpeas come up at about a 9 ug/100g, spinach 7 ug/100g, raspberries 26 ug/100g. However, soy comes up over 20,000 ug/100g! With numbers this high in phytoestrogens it is no wonder that soy can have such a profound effect on hormone levels, for both men and women. This leads to the next question, is there anytime when is soy ok? The good news is that when soy is fermented properly it will remove most of the phytoestrogens. Therefore if you must consume soy, make sure that it is in the form of tempeh, miso, or tamari as opposed to conventional soy sauce, soy milk etc.

It is important not to become overwhelmed when it comes to estrogen exposure as in reality there is no way to avoid exogenous hormones completely. However, there are a few places to start. Below are my top 6 tips to help with reducing your exposure to artificial estrogens and to help blast through your weight loss plateau:

  1. Examine Your Personal Beauty Products

  • Fragrances, phalates, and parabens are the main ingredients disrupting hormones. At the very least, avoid scented products to help limit your exposure.

  • EWG.org is one of my favourite resources when assessing personal care products. Most mainstream products are on the site allowing you to be informed about what you are putting on your skin.

  1. Switch to Glass

  • Plastics are another major source of hormone disruption. Utilizing a glass water bottle instead of plastic is a great way to limit estrogenic exposure.

  1. Sweat It Out

  • One of the best ways to help clear extra toxins and estrogens is to sweat! This can be done with exercise and infrared saunas.

  1. Avoid Soy

  • As mentioned above, avoid soy whenever possible. If you are going to consume soy, please ensure that it is fermented to help lessen the phytoestrogens present.

  1. Choose Organic Dairy & Meat

  • While this may not seem financially feasible at all times, it is extremely important to consume organic and/or grass fed and finished meats as often as possible to help avoid estrogenic exposure.

  • A large study showed that testosterone levels in men drop significantly just 90 minutes after consumption of conventional dairy due to the extremely high levels of estrogenics. This shows the importance of reducing conventional dairy whenever possible, especially in the male population.

  • Naturopathic physicians are important resources when it comes to hormone balancing. They will help assess whether you may have an imbalance or not through a proper history, physical exams, and lab testing. They will also be able to help ensure your liver is working optimally, which is key for helping clear out extra estrogen. ND’s are also key in ensuring your detoxification pathways are supported with proper minerals and vitamins. Lastly, they will ensure you have adequate healthy gut bacteria. As mentioned about phytoestrogens, bacteria is needed to ferment estrogenics in order to lessen their effects on the body. Proper gut health is imperative to balancing hormones in the body.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a weight plateau or suspected hormonal imbalances book in with Dr. Hennigar to learn more about treatment options. As always, this post is not designed to diagnose or treat you, but instead to give you something to think about. Please book a consult with a naturopathic physician prior to changing, starting, or stopping medications or protocols.


Davis et al (2012). Understanding weight gain at menopause. Climacteric, 15:5 (419-429). https://doi.org/10.3109/13697137.2012.707385

Ganmaa et al (2001). Cows’ Milk is Responsible for Human Reproductive Disorders Medical Hypotheses, 57: 510-4.

Gunter et al (2009). Phytoestrogen content of fruits and vegetables commonly consumed in UK. Food Chemistry, 116 (2):542-554. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030881460900291X?via%3Dihub

Jay, A. (2009). Chronic exposure to the herbicide, atrazine, causes mitochondrial dysfunction and insulin resistance. PLOS One, 4 (4):5186. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005186

Jay, A. (2017). Thinking you might have low testosterone? Artificial estrogens could be why. Legion Athletics. Retrieved from: https://legionathletics.com/low-testosterone-estrogen/

Vogel, L. (2017) The Keto Diet Podcast Ep#054: Weight Plateaus. https://www.healthfulpursuit.com/podcast/e54/

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