Menopausal weight gain is troublesome and annoying.
Menopausal weight gain can increase risks for cardiac events and insulin dysregulation.
5 Major factors in menopausal weight gain:
- Sex hormone changes
Figure out what’s going on in your body! Learn how hormone levels, including the thyroid estrogen and progesterone, sleep hygiene, physical activity, diet and stress play a role in menopausal weight gain.
Sex hormone changes trigger menopausal weight gain
- When the years leading to menopause set in, ovulation slows down before it stops. Ovulation is required before progesterone can be released. If you don’t ovulate, it creates irregular balances of estrogen and progesterone in the body.
- Chemicals like BPA (plastics), cadmium, phthalates (soaps, detergents), and pesticides contribute to estrogen dominance.
- Low progesterone against pre-declining estrogen makes for relative estrogen excess compared to progesterone. This means estrogen dominance for a time.
- Estrogen dominance leads to poor thyroid hormone availability, reducing metabolism
- If thyroid function is sluggish, this leads to poor estrogen clearance, more estrogen builds up in the body
- Poor thyroid function can lead to weight gain and increase in LDL cholesterol. Elevated LDL cholesterol is linked to increase risk in cardiovascular disease.
- As menopause progresses, estrogen declines. Estrogen decline leads to deposition of fat around the mid section.
Contributing factors to thyroid dysfunction:
- Sagging adrenals (chronic stress)
- Estrogen dominance
- Low iron, selenium, iodine or zinc
- Poor liver function
- Poor intestinal flora.
Factors in sleep disturbance that contribute to menopausal weight gain
Poor sleep leads to disruption in balance of hormones and time for healing in the body. Lack of sleep itself can contribute to weight gain. The years of menopause are riddled with hurdles to a good night sleep:
- decline in estrogen can disrupt sleep due to hot flushes
- Hormone rhythm imbalance from changes in LH, FSH, estrogen and progesterone are thought to contribute to disrupted sleep patterns.
- From a Chinese Medicine point of view, the Liver Yang rises in menopause, which explains why the sleep is typically disrupted between the hours of 1-3 am. This is why, naturopathically, we look to calm the liver, cool the body and build Yin. Acupuncture and specially blended plant medicines can be very helpful.
- sleep apnea (in you or your partner) more prevalent in those who are overweight
- too much technology before bed, or worse yet, in the bedroom inhibits natural melatonin let down. Relative excess of cortisol as it is unopposed by melatonin disrupts sleep and contributes to midsection weight gain
Factors in depression that contribute to menopausal weight gain
Low mood and lethargy generally lend to poor motivation for exercise and healthy habits, which leads often to weight gain.
Here are some common factors in depression and menopause:
- declining estrogen
- sluggish thyroid
- poor nutrient intake
- imbalance in the intestinal bacteria
- inflammation in the brain (usually as a result of imbalance in the intestinal bacteria)
How Stress Relates to Menopausal Weight Gain
In menopause, the ovaries retire and hand over their hormone duties to the adrenal gland. This is why it is important to support the adrenals at this time. How healthy the adrenals are will dictate how well our bodies will manage the stress and the change in hormone levels. Areas we may not think about in stress that could contribute to adrenal fatigue:
- sleep disruption
- inflammation from infections, intestinal dysbiosis, autoimmune conditions
- too much or too little exercise
- poor eating habits
- conditioned stress response (post traumic stress disorder)
- relationships with others
- alcohol intake
- medications and drugs
- not enough fun & play time
How diet affects menopausal weight gain
- Generally with age, metabolism slows down and less caloric intake is required. If activity slows or stays the same and intake is not adjusted, subsequent weight gain is likely.
- Our intestinal tract flora changes as we age, and this changes how estrogen is metabolized.
It is evident that menopausal weight can happen for a lot of reasons. Some of it is a bit of a chickened an egg, like the estrogen dominance and poor thyroid function. It doesn’t matter what comes first, but if not corrected, they build on one another. A naturopathic doctor’s role is to look at the individual as a whole, remove obstacles, rebuild the body and stimulate natural mechanisms of healing. Women who maintain a healthy habits, hormones and weight will help stave off risks for osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Solutions to menopausal weight gain include healthy diet, exercise, sleep hygiene, hormone balancing with acupuncture and plant medicines, nutritional and hormonal supplementation.
Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND
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