You experience so many changes during menopause. Most of these are related to hormone changes. Unfortunately the changes to hormones can also result in weight gain.
Estrogen and progesterone are the hormones we think of when it comes to menopausal changes, but they are not the only hormones that change.
During perimenopause estrogen levels fluctuate wildly while progesterone levels drop. During perimenopause many symptoms are caused by the relative levels of estrogen and progesterone and not just the drop in levels. After menopause levels of both are low so we do not have the protective effects of these hormones. These hormone changes also cause changes to other hormones.
One form of estrogen, estradiol, helps to regulate metabolism. This type of estrogen drops to very low levels during menopause. Lower levels of estrogen are a factor in other menopause symptoms such as lower energy levels and hot flashes which often reduces the motivation to exercise.
Testosterone, the male sex hormone, is also important for women. This hormone drops as we age. This drop is not related to menopause, but is also something to consider. Lower testosterone results in less ability to build and maintain muscle. Losing muscle means lower metabolism, which makes weight gain more likely.
Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone. It is what causes the fight or flight response. It has some important roles in the body including controlling blood pressure, blood sugar and your sleep patterns. One study found that overnight cortisol levels rose significantly during the menopause transition.
Cortisol increases in a life threatening situation are good, but chronically high levels of cortisol which can occur with increased anxiety of menopause or because of the menopause transition can cause other problems including weight gain. Weight gain can also be a secondary effect of other problems that occur with chronically high cortisol such as trouble sleeping and digestive issues.
The thyroid is a gland in the front of your neck which produces hormones that regulate your metabolism. Lower estrogen levels that occur after menopause seem to be related to thyroid function, but research is still in the early stages. Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid does not make enough thyroid hormones and is more common as we get older.
Since your thyroid controls metabolism, it is not surprising that one of the symptoms of hypothyroidism is weight gain. Hypothyroidism also causes low energy levels which has an indirect effect on weight gain.
Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas which helps to control blood sugar. Insulin’s role is to move sugar from the blood and move it to the cells to use as fuel. If you are type 1 diabetic, your body does not produce insulin and you need to take insulin injections.
A second problem with insulin is insulin resistance. This is when the body does not respond to the insulin that is produced. Sugar is not removed from the blood, so insulin levels go up. This chronically high blood sugar and insulin causes fat storage, especially around the belly.
One further problem with blood sugar and insulin is called reactive hypoglycaemia. This is when your blood sugar fluctuates between low and high. When blood sugar levels are high, more insulin will be produced and the result can be more fat storage.
What can you do?
If you have any diagnosed medical condition then this should be treated by your physician. Here are some tips that will generally help to keep hormones more balanced so you can stop the menopause weight gain:
- Limit your sugar
- Have more protein at breakfast (download this free guide for hormone balancing breakfast ideas)’
- Eat more vegetables
- Eat more fibre
- Get more exercise
Don’t expect overnight success with weight loss. Slow weight loss is easier and more sustainable. You can start making changes by downloading this free guide to hormone balancing breakfasts.