It’s a fact! Menopause is a contributing factor for weight gain and belly fat.
Fat storage and energy balance are regulated by a variety of hormones such as insulin, cortisol and sex hormones. As women go through menopause, there is an increased storage of fat in the mid-section of their bodies.
As we age, our body changes due to the decline of important hormones that have been regulating all aspects of our human functions. Aging women will experience symptoms caused by a decrease in the levels of most hormones. Some of the most typical symptoms of menopause are hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, irritability and mood swings. Both men and women will observe a decline in stamina, and energy, increased body fat and decreased muscle mass and bone density.
We have learned to accept these aging changes as natural or normal, however, if we balance and optimize our hormones to a more youthful level, we can most likely reduce the risk of developing serious chronic illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis and even certain types of cancer.
Central obesity belly fat or “apple shape” is the weight that some individuals carry on the mid-section of their bodies. This type of obesity is much more dangerous than the weight that some people carry on their hips and thighs (“pear shape”). Central obesity has been linked to the same chronic medical conditions mentioned previously.
Balancing your hormones and implementing healthy eating and lifestyle changes can reduce significantly the symptoms associated with aging, including weight gain.
But, how can hormone imbalance cause weight gain?
Hormones are molecules produced by the brain and a variety of glands in the body, collectively known as the endocrine system. These molecules work as messengers traveling through the bloodstream to their target cells, triggering a specific reaction. Hormones affect a variety of processes in the body such as growth and development, metabolism, sexual function, immune response, reproduction and mood.
Women approaching menopause will experience symptoms caused by a decline of progesterone, estrogen and testosterone. Also, they are other hormones affected by the aging process, such as, Thyroid, DHEA & Growth Hormone.
Which hormones can cause weight gain?
Hormones work in collaboration to keep all functions in our bodies. Weight gain during menopause is not caused by one single hormone insufficiency or excess.
In women, weight gain during menopause is affected by:
• Low Estrogen
Estrogen is known as the female sex hormone. As women approach menopause, the ovaries produce less estrogen. Low estrogen can cause the classic symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, night sweats and insomnia. To compensate for the low level of estrogen, the body starts producing another type of estrogen,“estrone”, in the adrenal glands and the fat tissue, causing more fat to accumulate in the mid-section of womens’ bodies. Increased fat, in return increases production of estrone. This type of estrogen does not have the same active properties as “estradiol”, the estrogen produced in the ovaries. Replacement with estradiol helps decrease bone mass loss, fat deposits and menopause symptoms.
• Low Progesterone
Progesterone is a hormone produced mostly in the ovaries. Levels of this hormone start to decline in the mid-thirties and it is responsible for symptoms such as irritability, mood swings, headaches, irregular periods and insomnia. A deficit of this hormone can reduce womens’ metabolism and increase appetite contributing to weight gain. Replacing progesterone will help with alleviate symptoms and correct the hormonal imbalance during this period. Progesterone also enhances the effect of estrogen.
• Low Testosterone
It is hard to believe, but women also produce testosterone as men do, but in a lesser amount. Testosterone plays an important role in women. It is responsible for turning fat into muscle, increases bone density, and regulates sexual function and general wellbeing. During menopause, some women will experience decreased sex drive, increased fat mass and decreased lean mass. Restoring testosterone levels has been shown to improve mood and libido, increase muscle mass and decrease fat deposits.
• Low DHEA
DHEA is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It is a precursor to estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. DHEA has multiple functions; it increases the production of protein, improves brain function and immune system, increases energy and reduces body fat and cholesterol. Low DHEA can affect the effect of insulin, making patients more vulnerable to develop insulin resistance, which can cause increased blood sugar, weight gain and diabetes.
• Low Thyroid Hormone
Thyroid hormone is a metabolic hormone secreted by the thyroid gland. It has multiple function, including fat breakdown and decrease of cholesterol levels. Individuals suffering from low levels or inactive thyroid hormone will experience fatigue, tiredness, cold intolerance and weight gain. This hormone tends to decline with age, despite laboratory tests showing that it is in normal range. Supplementation with natural thyroid hormone will help people with these symptoms.
• High Cortisol Levels
Cortisol is a hormone that is produced in the adrenal glands. It is known as “a stress hormone” because stress increases the release of this hormone. Its primary functions are to facilitate the metabolism of glucose (“sugar”), fat and protein, and suppresses the immune system. The relationship between cortisol and weight gain is not well established. Individuals who are under a significant amount of stress or suffer from anxiety and depression can have higher levels of cortisol. Cortisol directly affects the storage of fat and weight gain in stressed individuals. Particularly, it increases abdominal fat. Also, sleeping disturbances increases the level of cortisol. Stressed individuals tend to eat more simple carbohydrates, which can cause their weight gain. Managing stress will help reduce some health problems and decrease cortisol levels.
• High Insulin levels
Insulin is a hormone that is produced in the pancreas. This hormone is essential for the metabolism of carbohydrates (“sugar”), and one of its main functions is to store energy as fat. People with a genetic predisposition for diabetes, who eat large amounts of simple carbohydrates, can have high levels of glucose (“sugar”) and insulin. As time goes on, the insulin becomes inefficient to lower the high glucose level in the blood, leading to the development of obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Some patients with diabetes will deplete their insulin storage in the pancreas, and will require the administration of insulin injections to control it. However, studies have shown that treatment with insulin can increase weight gain and obesity.
Patients who have a family history of diabetes or have been diagnosed with early stages of this condition will benefit from changing their eating habits, by increasing lean protein and complex carbohydrates and reducing refined and simple carbohydrates.
The aging process will affect the level of hormones in our system, however, eating a balanced diet rich in lean protein, complex carbohydrates and low in saturated fat, as well as exercise, will help delay the effects of aging and weight gain. We recommend measuring your hormone levels before development of any significant symptoms of menopause.
At The Aesthetic and Wellness Center, we can help you determine our hormone level and measure your body fat. Our services are customized to each person, helping them achieve a healthier and productive life.
The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The Aesthetic & Wellness Center is not responsible or liable for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis or any other information, services or products that you obtain through this site. After reading articles, watching videos or reading other content from this website, you are encouraged to review the information carefully with your professional healthcare provider or skin care specialist.