Is Estrogen Dominance Keeping You Chubby?

by Tasha Stevens

How to Fight Fat Gain

Holding extra fat in the hips, thighs, and arms may be a sign of estrogen dominance. And there's something you can do about it.

Heavy periods, cramps, and bloating are such common symptoms that women have come to accept them as normal. But they're not ideal, and they don't have to be your norm. In fact, they can be the reason you're struggling to see the scale move.

Estrogen disruptions cause serious problems. Imbalances with estrogen influence thyroid function (and as a result, metabolic rate) and liver health (and as a result, detoxification). They even reduce your body's ability to oxidize fat, promoting fat storage.

Most women, whether they realize it or not, are estrogen-dominant due to dietary choices, workouts, chronic stress, and hormonal birth control. So, if you're stuck in a rut, it's time to address the estrogen imbalance.

Estrogen's Power for Females

Estrogen is critical for regulating ovulation, menses, and fertility. Across the hormone cycle, your estrogen levels rise and fall multiple times and these changes are important. Disruptions in your body's ability to increase estrogen and properly filter out excess lead to further disruptions in metabolic function and fat oxidation.

At the start of your hormonal cycle, in the follicular phase, the rise of estrogen helps prepare a follicle to become strong enough for ovulation and to trigger it. That means, at the time of ovulation, estrogen is at its highest.

As you enter the luteal phase, estrogen levels plummet. However, as progesterone levels rise, so does estrogen to help ensure the uterine lining remains thick enough for potential conception. If you're not pregnant, all hormone levels fall to their lowest and your period sheds this excess lining.

Why does understanding this matter? Because if your body is unable to filter out excess estrogen, it gets stored in your tissues and fat cells.

The kicker? Fat cells make their own estrogen. As inactive estrogen is improperly stored in fat cells, those cells can then make more estrogen. As those levels increase, and the demand for storage increases, your body then creates more and more fat cells. All the while, those fat cells create an enzyme called aromatase, which converts active testosterone into estrogen, leading to more disruptions in ovulation and estrogen balance (1).

Estrogen decreases lipolysis in adipose tissue (fat) through the estrogen receptor. That means it prevents the breakdown of fat. This makes sense because it uses fat as a storage mechanism.

Location matters, too. This "blocked" fat loss is more prevalent in the arms and hips compared to the abdomen (which is heavily influenced by cortisol). Estrogen increases fat storage by upregulating certain receptors in fat deposits around the thighs and hips, known as alpha-androgenic receptors, known to block fat burning (2). Women have more of these receptors.

Also, high levels of estrogen can increase the release of insulin from the pancreas (3). Insulin's role is to regulate blood sugar levels. In healthy amounts, estrogen is vital to blood sugar regulation. When levels are high, it leads to the release of too much insulin along with an increased risk of insulin resistance. When this occurs, insulin is no longer able to properly allocate blood sugars, leading to chronically elevated blood sugar and increased fat stores.

Additionally, high levels of estrogen trigger your liver to make more thyroid-binding globulin (TBG), a hormone that binds to thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and deactivates it (4). This can cause symptoms of hypothyroidism even if your levels are within range. Your thyroid controls your metabolic function, so disruptions only make it harder to lose fat.

It can be a vicious cycle to break if you're not strategic, and just dieting and working out more isn't going to cut it.

Signs of Estrogen Dominance in Women

Some telltale signs (5):

  • Heavy periods lasting five-plus days
  • Dark red/purple period flow
  • Weight gain in the hips and thighs
  • Resistance to weight loss
  • Low libido
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Irregular cycles
  • Thyroid disruption (hypothyroidism or Hashimoto's)
  • Endometriosis
  • Uterine fibroids
  • PMS and mood swings

The Root Cause of Estrogen Troubles

Most women struggle with estrogen dominance because of two key factors: filtration systems and synthetic exposure. You don't want to lower your natural estrogen because it plays an important role in regulating your hormone cycle. When your hormones are balanced, metabolic function thrives as a byproduct.

The problem stems from when your body is unable to filter out excess estrogen, leading to increased storage in the tissues. Your primary estrogen filtration systems are the gut and liver. So, if you're not having a daily bowel movement, if you struggle with leaky gut, or if your liver function is diminished due to chronic stress, these can lead to a backlog of estrogen, which your body quickly reallocates to fat cells.

If you have a higher body fat percentage, there's a higher opportunity for estrogen dominance to occur. Because, remember, not only is estrogen stored in fat cells, but fat cells can create their own estrogens as a byproduct. This is why increasing overall lean mass and decreasing body fat is critical for regulating estrogen levels.

This is also why just doing an hour of cardio or doing low-weight, high-rep workouts isn't going to cut it for long-term results. You need to incorporate strength training with progressive overloads to build muscle to regulate estrogen storage.

The other culprit is the utilization of synthetic estrogen in hormonal birth control or hormone replacement therapy. Synthetic estrogen works to help regulate and stop ovulation; however, it doesn't bind to the receptors and communicate the same message as estrogen. This can lead to disruptions and miscommunications across systems that perpetuate estrogen imbalance.

Research found that synthetic estrogen and hormonal birth control lead to disruptions in the gut lining, the gut biome, and liver dysfunction, which can then lead to poor filtration of natural and synthetic hormones out of the body. And yup, you guessed it: estrogen dominance.

Four Steps to Improve Estrogen Filtration, Boost Fat Loss

Supporting the systems that regulate estrogen filtration is critical. You can support these systems by incorporating specific nutrients and training styles to modulate their function and fat cell production:

1. Improve Gut Health

  • Rebuilding a healthy gut biome and flora modulates bowel regularity and motility. Eat fermented foods daily, including kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, yogurt, and kefir.
  • Take a high-count multi-strain probiotic to help establish strong colonization of healthy bacteria in the gut, which aids in the filtration of inactive estrogen. I recommend at least a five-billion count with multi-strain and prebiotics (food for bacteria).
  • Incorporate foods high in DIM and Indol-3-Carbinol to help bind to inactive estrogen and transport it out of the body via bowel movements. Examples include carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.

2. Improve Liver Function

  • Start your day with lemon water with a pinch of salt to help improve liver function and increase gastric enzyme production to aid in the digestion and breakdown of foods as they enter the bowels.
  • Bitter herbs help to stimulate liver function and bile production to aid in natural detoxification and breakdown of fats. Consider adding in artichokes, dandelion root, or milk thistle.

3. Strength Train (Cyclically)

  • Use cycle-synced progressive overloads to help increase lean mass and decrease fat cells. As fat cells are released, your estrogen production and ability to store inactive estrogen diminishes.
  • Limit HIIT cardio sessions and focus on increased low-to-moderate intensity cardio (zones 1-2). This also reduces stress response and helps regulate insulin function.

4. Reduce Estrogen Exposure

  • Limit the use of plastic containers and water bottles to help reduce exposure to xenoestrogens that lead to estrogen dominance.
  • Consider swapping hormonal birth control for non-hormonal options. If you choose to remain on hormonal birth control, double down on the strategies to rebuild your gut flora, since this gets some serious damage from synthetic estrogen.

Key Takeaways

While you can't spot reduce fat, you can kick your results into high gear when you focus on regulating estrogen filtration. Rebuilding your gut and liver health is pivotal along with increasing overall lean mass to help reduce fat cells and estrogen storage potential.



  1. D'Eon, TM, et al. Estrogen Regulation of Adiposity and Fuel Partitioning: evidence of genomic and non-genomic regulation of lipogenic and oxidative pathways. Journal of Biological Chemistry, Volume 280, Issue 43, 2005, Pages 35983-35991, ISSN 0021-9258.
  2. Lizcano F. Roles of estrogens, estrogen-like compounds, and endocrine disruptors in adipocytes. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2022 Sep 21;13:921504. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2022.921504. PMID: 36213285; PMCID: PMC9533025.
  3. De Paoli, M. et al. The Role of Estrogen in Insulin Resistance: A Review of Clinical and Preclinical Data. American Journal of Pathology. June 04, 2021.
  4. Santin AP, et al. Role of estrogen in thyroid function and growth regulation. J Thyroid Res. 2011;2011:875125. doi: 10.4061/2011/875125. Epub 2011 May 4. PMID: 21687614; PMCID: PMC3113168.
  5. Delgado BJ, et al. Estrogen. [Updated 2023 Jun 26]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan.

Is bio identical seen as synthetic? I use a vaginal cream.

Where was this article when we hammered the Bodyfat kid?