Is There A Hormone Connection?
Menopause and weight gain, what is the hormone connection and is there other things that may be contributing to your weight gain? There are 4 reproductive hormones that change as you grow older and your body does react to those changes, but there are also other things that can contribute to weight gain in menopause. Weight gain generally shifts from the lower body to the abdomen, even collecting visceral fat, which is actually internal fat that surrounds internal organ. Too much of that puts you at a higher risk for life threatening illness. First let's look at the hormone changes and why they can contribute to menopause and weight gain.
Estrogen level decreases. Your ovaries decrease production of estrogen as you get older, usually 45-55 years of age. Your body says "where has all estrogen gone?" And it starts looking for ways to increase estrogen. Fat stores release estrogen, so the body tries to convert calories to more fat, so the fat will produce more estrogen. Studies show that women in menopause can actually have up to a 67% increase in appetite. The body is smart. It has amazing survival instincts. However, it doesn't do much for our waistline in this circumstance and we must be prepared.
Progesterone level decreases. This decrease can cause some water weight throughout the body and some bloating, but not actual fat. It can be uncomfortable, nonetheless.
Testosterone (a form of androgen) level decreases. This hormone helped you to build lean body mass from the foods you ate. So a decrease in this hormone means less muscle is being build up, more potentially goes to fat and your metabolism slows as a result of a decrease in lean body mass or muscle. A pound of muscle burns 14 calories compared to fat burning only 2.
Androgen levels increase (or are at least out of proportion to dropping estrogen levels). This wonderful little hormone is actually the one responsible for telling the fat to go to the abdominal area so many gain have weight gain around the mid-section in menopause.
What Else Contributes To Menopause And Weight Gain?
If our little hormonal friends weren't enough to cause weight gain in menopause, here are some more.
Physical activity decreases. The body tends to start to slow around 30-40 years of age and people begin to become less active, especially by the time those menopausal years roll around. This combined with the hormonal changes can make keeping weight gain off in menopausal years even more difficult.
Menopausal symptoms increase. Just the symptoms themselves can contribute to weight gain. Think about it. Sleeplessness that increases desire to eat more because you feel tired, irritability so you reach for comfort foods, hot flashes so reach for a cold soda pop and the list goes on.
Other potential causes, which sometimes occur with menopause and weight gain are hypothyroidism. Your thyroid hormone plays a part in using calories, so if this hormone is low, it can contribute to weight gain. Also, insulin resistance. Insulin helps utilize the food we eat. If it is not doing its job, then calories can turn to fat more easily. You don't have to be a diabetic to have this condition. Too many processed foods can slowly make the body more resistant to insulin produced in the blood stream. Another reason to start the nutritious lifestyle early on. Maybe that time has passed for us, but we can still encourage our children and grandchildren.
Genetics. Sometimes genetics can play a part in your tendency to put on weight as you age, but that doesn't mean you can't take steps to keep this to a minimum.
So Is Weight Gain In Menopause Inevitable?
I know this paints kind of a bleak picture, but weight gain in menopause is not inevitable. Yes, there is a hormonal connection that will make it challenging for most of us, but we need to be prepared. We need to set up good habits before we reach menopause and if we have already arrived, then start working on decreasing our weight and looking at good habits to combat it. You may not have the figure you had when you were 20, but that's okay. Your self-worth has no connection to menopause or weight gain. It is really coming back to the basics as always, which are good nutrition, adequate sleep, plenty of water, exercise and good stress management skills. Some may want to look into hormone stabilizers, natural or synthetic.
Good nutrition is imperative as you will likely need to decrease overall daily calorie consumption to keep pace with your slowing metabolism and hormone changes. You can still eat your favorite foods, but more attention will need to be given this area and cutting down portion sizes is advisable. Using whole grains most of the time, decreasing sugar, decreasing fat, choosing better protein sources with less fat in them like lean meats, poultry and soy will be helpful. Also, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables as well as dairy products that are lower fat. Finding a nutritious lifestyle that is enjoyable will play a huge part in not only losing weight in menopause, but also keeping it off.
Sleep is good! Studies show that between 6-7 hours a night is ideal for most people and women showed less weight gain than those under and over that amount.
Water intake is always important for any age. Adequate water can help with overall weight management as well as other health benefits.
Exercise still can be done even with your body slowing down. Maybe you don't want to climb Mt. Everest every week, but a good healthy vigorous walk for 30 minutes a few times a week can do wonders for your health and keeping your weight down in menopause. If walking vigorously is not recommended by your doctor, walk less vigorously maybe 30 minutes every day. Treadmills are nice to keep you out of winter weather. Talk with your physician about exercises that would be appropriate for you.
Stress management is always important for any age, but constant stress can complicate your efforts. Your body releases a hormone called Cortisol when under stress and it tends to build up visceral (internal) fat within the abdominal area, around your organs, especially your heart and liver if excessive. This, as you can imagine, is not a good thing. Whatever helps to relieve stress for you, make it a daily habit. Prayer, reading the Bible, reading a book, meditation, taking a walk, taking a bath, watching a comedy on TV, listening to music. Whatever it is, make it a daily habit. There was actually another study showing a decrease in weight gain in menopausal women who prayed and/or meditated regularly.
Hormone replacement may be helpful for some. Seek a physician who has knowledge in all the hormonal changes that occur, such as a gynecologist or a naturopathic physician. To know for sure if you have visceral fat buildup in the abdominal area, you will likely need a CT scan or MRI.
Weight Gain And Menopause Not Inevitable
So weight gain and menopause is not inevitable, but it will take some conscious effort for most people. Hormone levels do usually level off in post menopausal years. Keep in mind that you don't have to be as thin as you might have been when you were 20, but you do not want extra weight around your mid-section as this increases your risk for cardiovascular disease including heart attacks and strokes as well as increasing your risk for diabetes, dementia and certain types of cancers. Work on developing healthy, but enjoyable lifestyle habits to beat the hormonal connection and decrease the potential for weight gain in your menopause years.
Being a nurse for many years has given me a certain perspective on health and wellness. Now I enjoy educating people on the contribution good nutrition makes in the quality of their lives. If you are ready to start feeling better, see how you can start at http://www.funwithnutrition.com/ or get more information at http://www.wackywellness.com/