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Hormone Levels & Weight Gain During Menopause

Published : 2014-07-09 - Updated : 2015-02-26
Author : Disabled World - Contact: Disabled World

Synopsis* : Information regarding why many women often gain weight due to menopause and body hormonal changes.

Main Digest

Questions surrounding why women gain weight at menopause have been around for a very long time. Women wonder why low calorie diets that worked during their younger years no longer do. They wonder what changes they might make to their diet, exercise and lifestyle routines that can help them effectively fight menopausal weight gain. Questions like these are very understandable and some of the answers may be found below.

A steroid hormone, more specifically a glucocorticoid, produced by the zona fasciculata of the adrenal cortex. It is released in response to stress and a low level of blood glucocorticoid. Its primary functions are to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis, suppress the immune system, and aid the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrate. It also decreases bone formation.

Estrogen & Progesterone

Estrogen and progesterone, despite being lower down on the fat burning pole in comparison to cortisol and insulin, or adrenaline and thyroid, do indeed impact a woman's fat burning metabolism. Estrogen is an insulin sensitizing hormone as well as one that controls the negative impact of cortisol. Progesterone opposes the action of estrogen on insulin, yet works together with estrogen to control the negative impact of cortisol.

The reason this is important is because insulin and cortisol are a rough combination where fat loss is concerned. These two hormones, when combined together in high amounts over time, push the female physiology towards storing fat when calories are high as opposed to building muscle and reduce the amount of fat a woman burns when calories are low, burning muscle instead. The combination is bad for any woman, but a woman who is experiencing menopause is affected to a far greater extent. Since insulin and cortisol might be the main suspects in female belly fat storage, the transition into menopause many times results in fat gain, particularly around the middle.

What Can Be Done About It

Women are much more carbohydrate reactive and stress sensitive after menopause. What this means is the carbohydrates women used to be able to eat that did not affect their waistline might now be too many and do just what they did not do in the past - affect their waist. Lack of sleep and stressful exercise women may have pursued in their younger years while still remaining thin might begin to show on their waist as they age.

In order to deal with hormonal impacts, women need a much more insulin-centric approach instead of a caloric one. What this means is that while a lower calorie diet might have been enough when a woman was younger, as they age they need a hormonal approach to changes in their body.

Choosing What to Eat

It is important for women to be aware that it is not only refined sugars that are the issue. Women need to begin controlling all of the foods that have potential insulin promoting action. Doing so includes a number of foods that are considered to be, 'healthy.' Sweet fruits, whole grain breads, starchy vegetables and dairy products - which might have once been core parts of a woman's diet, may now be working against them. Reducing these foods while increasing low-starch vegetables, protein foods and low sweet fruits such as apples, berries and pears, needs to become a woman's new solution to fat burning.

A New Approach to Exercise

Exercise is something that must also be approached differently as a woman ages. Cortisol is produced during intense exercise and long duration exercise. The exercises we are talking about includes running or long-duration jogging, metabolic conditioning, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), or weight training. Intense exercise that is short raises growth promoting hormones like testosterone and HGH and these hormones work with cortisol to burn fat and build or maintain muscle.

Long duration exercise works differently; it has a different hormonal impact and it might exacerbate the negative effects of cortisol because it raises cortisol without the balancing action of the growth hormones. Raising cortisol in this way during menopause, a time where female physiology is much more susceptible to the negative impact of cortisol, may often cause more issues than it solves where weight gain is concerned. Due to this, shorter intense exercise is most likely more beneficial when compared to long duration moderate intensity exercise.

Cortisol is something that may also be lowered and controlled through relaxing activities. For example; walking - different from power walking, restorative yoga (different from intense yoga), sauna, massage, Tai Chi, and other restorative, non-exercise practices, may all lower cortisol.

Reasons Why This is Important

One of the reasons this is important is because the main message sent to women during menopause, from not only doctors - but nutritionists and the mainstream media, runs completely counter to everything just mentioned. The message is to do more power walking, more jogging and so forth; not less. Women are told to eat more grains and dairy and less protein and are rarely told to lift weights or receive education regarding the benefits of rest and recovery -centered activities.

Combined, a lower insulin promoting diet and a smarter stress inducing exercise regimen can make a huge difference. Bear in mind that the menopausal physiology is more carbohydrate reactive. Estrogen is no longer there to assist with offsetting insulin. Estrogen and progesterone are not there to decrease the negative effect of cortisol.

Changes to a woman's diet, exercise and lifestyle can help to fight weight gain during menopause. Below are some recommended changes.

Recommended Changes to a Woman's Diet, Exercise and Lifestyle to Fight Weight Gain During Menopause:
Take a leisurely walk for an hour a day, it lowers cortisol. Doing so in a natural setting lowers cortisol even more.
Make relaxing and restorative activities part of your life. Laughter, sleep, physical affection, a nap, massage, restorative yoga, and Tai Chi are all great examples.
Drastically increase your intake of non-starchy vegetables as you cut back on starchy foods, grains and dairy products. Doing so does not mean to eliminate these foods entirely, just eat less of them.
Pursue weight training intensely at least once a week, preferably three times. The sessions should be short; aim for less than an hour or even less than a half hour. The sessions work very well along with walking.
Increase the amount of protein you eat from foods such as chicken and fish versus mostly fat or starch. Nuts and beans have some protein but far more fat and starch! Consider a protein powder replacement shake once or twice a day.
Vegetables and protein are more slowly digested so if you experience increased gas it is because your stomach HCL and pancreatic enzyme secretion may also fall with age and stress. A shot of vinegar or a green salad prior to a meal will almost certainly solve this issue. If they do not, an over-the-counter enzyme preparation also works well.

If you are considering using supplements keep in mind that they may work, but not like the suggestions mentioned. If you plan on taking supplements or hormones understand that it is much like attempting to build a house with toothpicks instead of construction materials; they simply will not do the job you want them to do.

About the Author

Disabled World (Disabled-World.Com) is an independent disability community news source established in 2004 to provide news, assistive technology reviews, disability sporting events and articles, as well as general information for people with disabilities, seniors, and their family and/or carers.

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Cite Page: Journal: Disabled World. Language: English (U.S.). Author: Disabled World. Electronic Publication Date: 2014-07-09 - Revised: 2015-02-26. Title: Hormone Levels & Weight Gain During Menopause, Source: <a href=>Hormone Levels & Weight Gain During Menopause</a>. Retrieved 2021-04-14, from - Reference: DW#227-10440.