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Menopause: Weight management and conception (2) by Prof Oladapo Ashiru

Hormones involved in weight maintenance include the following:

Oestrogen: This is the female sex hormone that is responsible for causing monthly ovulation. During menopause, your oestrogen level declines rapidly, causing your body to stop ovulating. However, oestrogen also seems to play a significant role in menopausal weight gain. As the ovaries produce less estrogen, your body looks to other places for the oestrogen it needs. Fat cells in your body can produce oestrogen, so your body works harder to convert calories into fat in order to increase estrogen levels. Unfortunately, fat cells don’t burn calories the way muscle cells do, which causes you to put on the unwanted kilos.

Progesterone: During menopause, the progesterone level will also decrease. Like estrogen, lower levels of this hormone can be responsible for many of the symptoms of menopause, including weight gain or, at least, the appearance of it. Water retention and menopause often go hand in hand since water-weight, and decreased progesterone levels cause bloating. Though this doesn’t result in weight gain, your clothes will probably fit a bit tighter, and you may feel a bit heavier. Water retention and bloating disappear within a few months after the commencement of progesterone supplementation.

Androgen: This hormone is responsible for sending your new weight directly to your middle section.    Weight gain during menopausal years is often known as ‘’ middle-age spread” because of the rapid growth of the mid-section. Often, one of the first signs of Menopause is an increased level of androgen in your body, which causes you to gain weight around your abdomen, instead of around your lower half.

Testosterone: Testosterone helps your body to create lean muscle mass out of the calories that you take in. Muscle cells burn more calories than fat cells do, thereby increasing your metabolism. In natural menopause, levels of testosterone drop resulting in the loss of muscle. Unfortunately, this means a lower metabolism rate. The lower your metabolism is the slower your body burns calories.

Misconceptions about hormone replacement

There are some misconceptions about hormone replacement therapy, which if followed, can make you gain weight during menopause.

The first misconception is that decreased oestrogen levels are the main reason for many of the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause, such as hot flushes, sweating and mood swings, to mention but a few. We now know that the deficiency in estrogen is not the cause of these menopausal symptoms. This false/incorrect theory was encouraged by the pharmaceutical industry so they could sell their synthetically fabricated estrogen. The unfortunate resultant effect of synthetic estrogen, apart from causing breast cancer and other side effects, is that it always leads to significant weight gain.

Another misconception is that using “natural” oestrogen called phytoestrogens from plant sources such as flaxseed, soy, evening primrose oil and fish oil instead of synthetic oestrogen will be better for and reduce the risk of breast and other cancers. Such natural sources of estrogen should not lead to breast cancer; however, their usage could result in weight gain due to their estrogenic reactions in the body.

New research has shown that it is the decline in progesterone that causes most of the menopausal symptoms, but progesterone replacement will usually stop most of these symptoms. Again, the progesterone must be from natural, plant-derived sources, and not from synthetic sources. Bioidentical sources of progesterone will not lead to weight gain and will also reduce water retention, making you feel and look a lot better. The best type of progesterone is in the form of creams, which are rubbed onto the body. They are easily absorbed through the skin, rather than in the form of pills, which have to be taken orally, digested through the system and the liver which may reduce their efficacy and then, add unnecessary toxic load on the body.

Other factors involved in weight gain during menopause are the following:

Insulin Resistance Insulin resistance can occur during the menopausal years. This is when your body turns every calorie you take into fat. Most women follow a low fat, high carbohydrate diet. After a while, processed and refined food may make your body resistant to the insulin produced in the bloodstream. It is often a cause of weight gain after the age of 40.

Stress: Stress is also a contributing factor in weight gain in menopause. Stress hormone can prevent weight loss as they signal to your body to go into storage mode. It is referred to as the “famine effect” –  your body thinking it won’t get food for a long time, stores every calorie it takes in, causing weight gain. Indeed the stress factor has been linked to adrenal stress and adrenal fatigue, which in turn affect your ability to metabolize carbohydrates. When you cannot metabolise carbohydrates, then you become insulin resistant which is a pre-diabetic condition that causes weight gain.

What you can do to prevent or reverse weight gain

There is no magic formula for avoiding weight gain as you get older. The strategies for maintaining a healthy weight at any age remains the same: watch what you eat and get moving. The most effective approach to reversing weight gain after menopause includes a combination of the following:

Increasing your physical activity: Aerobic exercise boosts your metabolism and helps you burn fat. Strength-training exercises increase muscle mass, boosts your metabolism, and strengthens your bones.

…to be continued.

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