Suboptimal Estrogen: A Woman's Gym Performance Nightmare

Suboptimal estrogen levels can be a nightmare for women when it comes to performance in the gym. Learn what you can do to naturally regulate these hormones.

Estrogens aren’t exactly anabolic hormones in the traditional sense, but recent studies revealed they have a massive impact on muscle mass, strength, and recovery in women.

That’s exactly why sub-optimal estrogen levels can be a major reason for muscle loss and weakness in women, impairing their performance in the gym.

But how does estrogens affect muscle mass? Who’s at risk of having low estrogen levels? Is there an effective solution?

Keep reading to learn the details!

Potential Causes of Low Estrogen

The most common causes of low estrogen levels are:

  • Perimenopause and menopause1
  • Chronic or intense stress2
  • Ovarian failure3
  • Anorexia4
  • Chronic kidney disease5

Keep in mind that perimenopause starts around the age of 47.5 years on average6, and menopause itself kicks in between 50 and 52 years for most women.

However, about 1% of women7 under 40 experience what’s known as premature menopause. In this case, therapy with estrogens or phytoestrogens is highly recommended, since having low estrogen levels at an early age significantly increases the risk of a wide range of diseases, and even potentially early death.

Estrogen Benefits for Physical Performance in Women

Women's Performance with Estrogen

1. Protects The Muscles and Promotes Recovery

One of the main benefits of estrogen on skeletal muscle is that it’s extremely beneficial for recovery8. According to studies, estrogen can:

  • Reduce exercise-related muscle damage
  • Alleviate post-exercise muscle inflammation
  • Speed up the regeneration of micro-injuries and promote recovery in general
  • Enhance the re-growth of atrophied (withered) muscle mass

Most likely, estrogen does all of this by stabilizing the membranes of muscle cells and acting as an antioxidant. As a result, the muscle tissue suffers less damage, so it can recover faster after exercise.

2. Supports Muscle Growth

Technically, none of the estrogens produced in the body is an anabolic hormone. After all, they don’t boost muscle growth directly (anabolism).

However, recent studies9 reported that estrogen hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in postmenopausal women can increase the signaling power of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which is a VERY anabolic hormone.

That’s why estrogen therapy or natural phytoestrogens (a safer alternative) could be effective to help prevent muscle loss in women with low estrogen.

3. Boosts Muscle Strength

Although estrogen hormones don’t have much of an anabolic power of their own, studies10 have also confirmed they may improve muscle strength.

Essentially, estrogen helps to ramp up the force with which muscle fibers (actin and myosin) bind to each other. The stronger their connection, the more power a muscle can generate when contracting!

Also, estrogen boosts muscle strength by fighting off local inflammation11 (including post-exercise muscle soreness) and promoting recovery of damaged muscle tissue.

How to Restore Low Estrogen Levels

In some cases, low estrogen levels can be restored by addressing the underlying condition. For example, getting enough rest to fight off chronic stress would likely improve estrogen balance.

However, in the vast majority of other cases, the only way to really solve a low estrogen issue is to take hormones, conventional or natural (phytoestrogens).

To illustrate how effective this approach is, scientists studied12 the effect of HRT in 15 pairs of identical twins in their 54 to 62 years of age. In each pair, one of the women received HRT and the other twin received no hormones.

After about 7 years into the study, the difference was striking!

Women Strength Training and Estrogen

The twin taking HRT showed, on average:

  • 7% faster walking speed
  • 16% greater muscle strength
  • More muscle in general
  • Less fat

Other similar studies13 on the impact of HRT on physical performance reported that women on HRT had:

  • Increased muscle size
  • Increased vertical jump height
  • Increased running speed

That’s compared to no HRT or getting a placebo.

And still, conventional hormone therapy requires a prescription, has to be controlled at all times, and even comes with a few side effects worth remembering such as—increased breast cancer risk14, for example. So, what about natural alternatives?

Natural Sources of Estrogens

Phytoestrogens are plant-based compounds that mimic the action of human estrogens. They’re absolutely natural and much safer than conventional HRT in most cases, and that’s why many women decide to try them first to alleviate menopause symptoms. Now, it seems that using phytoestrogens to support physical performance in women approaching the age of 40 is a great idea as well!

Here are some of the best dietary sources of healthy phytoestrogens:

  • Soy
  • Flaxseed
  • Sesame seeds
  • Dried fruit
  • Berries (strawberries, cranberries, raspberries)
  • Red grapes
  • Parsley

Another option is to use topical phytoestrogen products like serums and creams. In this case, a small part of the phytoestrogens will be absorbed into the bloodstream and act systemically, but the lion’s share will act locally on the skin and muscles.

For example, the Thai plant Pueraria Mirifica is one of the most powerful natural sources of phytoestrogens, jam-packed with over 17 active compounds. If you put on a skin serum with Pueraria Mirifica, you’ll be not only enhancing the hydration15 and elasticity16 of your skin, but also delivering a good dose of natural estrogens to the underlying muscles to support their recovery and strength.

When applied to the chest, topical breast creams with Pueraria Mirifica even have the pleasant bonus of somewhat enhancing breast size and their firmness—a feat that no HRT can offer.

Final thoughts

Estrogen levels are a largely overlooked and underestimated factor affecting women’s strength, muscle mass, and post-exercise recovery rates17, especially in women approaching their 40s. If you suspect you may have sub-optimal estrogen levels, it could be a sound idea to run a few tests and have a chat with your doctor.

If the tests come in positive and you indeed have low estrogen levels, don’t rush out there mindlessly looking for as much estrogen as possible. After all, while estrogen is beneficial for the muscles and bones, it can be somewhat detrimental to the tendons and ligaments as it reduces their stiffness18 when present in high doses.

In other words, you need to reach just the right zone: not too high, not too low.

To restore your estrogen, start by adding more natural sources of phytoestrogens to your diet. Then, try using a topical product with phytoestrogens to promote local muscle recovery when needed. Although you can choose any source of phytoestrogens for that matter, Pueraria Mirifica is probably the best way to go.

References
  1. Perimenopause: From Research to Practice
  2. Neuroprotection via Reduction in Stress: Altered Menstrual Patterns as a Marker for Stress and Implications for Long-Term Neurologic Health in Women
  3. Premature ovarian insufficiency – hormone replacement therapy and management of long-term consequences
  4. Endocrine Consequences of Anorexia Nervosa
  5. Sex Hormone Status in Women With Chronic Kidney Disease: Survey of Nephrologists’ and Renal Allied Health Care Providers’ Perceptions
  6. The Timing of the Age at Which Natural Menopause Occurs
  7. Premature Menopause
  8. Estrogen and Menopause: Muscle Damage, Repair and Function in Females
  9. Benefits of Estrogen Replacement for Skeletal Muscle Mass and Function in Post-Menopausal Females: Evidence from Human and Animal Studies
  10. Mechanisms behind Estrogens’ Beneficial Effect on Muscle Strength in Females
  11. Benefits of Estrogen Replacement for Skeletal Muscle Mass and Function in Post-Menopausal Females: Evidence from Human and Animal Studies
  12. Postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy modifies skeletal muscle composition and function: a study with monozygotic twin pairs.
  13. Benefits of Estrogen Replacement for Skeletal Muscle Mass and Function in Post-Menopausal Females: Evidence from Human and Animal Studies
  14. Type and timing of menopausal hormone therapy and breast cancer risk: individual participant meta-analysis of the worldwide epidemiological evidence
  15. Estrogen-deficient skin: The role of topical therapy
  16. Treatment of skin aging with topical estrogens.
  17. Estrogen replacement and skeletal muscle: mechanisms and population health
  18. Effect of Estrogen on Musculoskeletal Performance and Injury Risk