Menopause can come with a lot of change but weight gain seems to be the most common complaint we see in practice. For some women, this looks like 10lbs that has steadily coming on since her mid-fourties without any perceived changes to diet or exercise. For others, this looks more like a shift in weight with a trend toward body fat storage around the abdomen as opposed to the hips and thighs, where it used to be. For some women with a history of dieting, it might feel like weight loss is harder than it has ever been before or what you did before to lose weight isn’t working anymore.
Weight gain in menopause is common, but not unavoidable. In order to manage it, we must look into potential mechanisms for why the weight gain happens in the first place.
It’s no secret that when menopause occurs, our female sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) drop. This leads to classical symptoms that many women experience, like hot flashes and night sweats. However, estrogen has other functions in a woman’s body. One key feature in the realm of weight loss is that estrogen has an appetite-suppressing effect. This means that once estrogen goes down, your appetite goes up. This inadvertently leads to overconsumption of food without being aware of it!
Estrogen is also the hormone responsible for female-pattern body fat distribution. Typically, females carry body fat in their lower half because of this hormone. When estrogen goes down, there is less of a driving force allocating where body fat goes.
However, estrogen and progesterone are not the only hormones at play. Two major hormones related to body weight and bodyfat distribution are insulin and cortisol.
Menopause is correlated with a lot of metabolic abnormalities due to the decrease in female sex hormones. One of these metabolic changes is a shift towards insulin resistance. Insulin is produced by your pancreas, and is the main anabolic hormone of the human body. Insulin converts food into energy, and also allows us to store energy, often in the form of fat tissue. When are cells are resistant to insulin, it means more insulin must be released to compensate, which leads to more storage of body fat.
Cortisol is most well-known for being the “stress hormone”. It’s common knowledge that stress can lead to weight gain, and cortisol is the way this can happen. In menopause, cortisol levels increase and are one of the driving reasons for weight gain in the abdominal area.
Some of the changes that occur have less to do with hormones, and more to do with lifestyle. Evidence suggests that women tend to consume more alcohol, and move less. One study suggests that women tend to experience more alcohol consumption as they approach menopause, which could be associated to coping with changes in mood and affect, or life circumstances like retirement and having more free time. Women also tend to decrease the amount of exercise they engage in during middle life by 40%. There’s no doubt that both of these factors could contribute to weight gain that many women experience with menopause.
If you’ve been experiencing weight gain with menopause, you want to get to the root of the issue and you want to find a plan that actually works, book an appointment with one of our Naturopathic Doctors to find out what options are best in your particular case!
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