Are female hormones playing a key role in obesity epidemic?

by David Ellis
This is an image of a weight scale. Credit: CDC/Debora Cartagena

(Medical Xpress)—An imbalance of female sex hormones among men in Western nations may be contributing to high levels of male obesity, according to new research from the University of Adelaide.

In a paper published in the online journal PLOS ONE, researchers from the University's School of Medical Sciences suggest that among Western men could be linked with exposure to substances containing the female sex hormone oestrogen – substances that are more often found in affluent societies, such as and plastics.

The research was conducted by University of Adelaide medical student James Grantham and co-authored by Professor Maciej Henneberg, Wood Jones Professor of Anthropological and Comparative Anatomy.

Mr Grantham compared among men and women from around the world with measures such as Gross Domestic Product to determine the impact of affluence on obesity. He found that while it was normal for women in the developing world to have significantly greater levels of obesity than men, the developed world offers quite a different picture.

"Hormonally driven occurs more significantly in females than in males, and this is very clear when we look at the rates of obesity in the developing world," Mr Grantham says.

"However, in the Western world, such as in the United States, Europe and Australia, the rates of obesity between men and women are much closer. In some Western nations, male obesity is greater than female obesity.

"While poor diet is no doubt to blame, we believe there is more to it than simply a high caloric intake," Mr Grantham says.

Professor Henneberg says: "Exposure to oestrogen is known to cause weight gain, primarily through thyroid inhibition and modulation of the hypothalamus. Soy products contain xenoestrogens, and we are concerned that in societies with a high dietary saturation of soy, such as the United States, this could be working to 'feminise' the males. This would allow men in those communities to artificially imitate the female pattern of weight gain.

"Another well-established source of xenoestrogen is polyvinyl chloride, known as PVC. This product is in prominent use in most wealthy countries, from plastic medical devices to piping for our water supplies."

Professor Henneberg says micro-evolutionary changes may be occurring within Western societies that could also be leading to changes in testosterone and oestrogen in men. "This would certainly explain the various concerns about sperm count reductions among men in developed nations," he says.

Professor Henneberg and Mr Grantham say further research is needed to better understand whether or not environmental factors are leading to a "feminisation" of in the Western world.

More information: Grantham JP, Henneberg M (2014) "The Estrogen Hypothesis of Obesity." PLoS ONE 9(6): e99776. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0099776

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Obesity may influence heart function through sex hormones

Apr 29, 2013

New research suggests that changes in sex hormones as seen in obesity may have possible effects on the heart. The study by researchers from Belgium, presented at the European Congress of Endocrinology in Copenhagen, Denmark, ...

Recommended for you

Gut bacteria promote obesity in mice

9 hours ago

A species of gut bacteria called Clostridium ramosum, coupled with a high-fat diet, may cause animals to gain weight. The work is published this week in mBio, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiol ...

An apple a day could keep obesity away

19 hours ago

Scientists at Washington State University have concluded that nondigestible compounds in apples – specifically, Granny Smith apples – may help prevent disorders associated with obesity. The study, thought ...

Boosting purchasing power to lower obesity rates

Sep 25, 2014

In January, as one of the first major initiatives of the Academic Vision, the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity will move to UConn from Yale University. The move will allow Rudd faculty to expand their work and build ...

Note to young men: Fat doesn't pay

Sep 23, 2014

Men who are already obese as teenagers could grow up to earn up to 18 percent less than their peers of normal weight. So says Petter Lundborg of Lund University, Paul Nystedt of Jönköping University and ...

Waistlines of US adults continue to increase

Sep 16, 2014

The prevalence of abdominal obesity and average waist circumference increased among U.S. adults from 1999 to 2012, according to a study in the September 17 issue of JAMA.

User comments