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Weight Loss and Menopause

Weight Loss and Menopause

by Laura J Hieb, ND on July 13, 2022

I have women clients in their 40's and 50's who come in because all of a sudden they've been gaining weight--up to 20lbs or more and they don't know why. They assure me they haven't been doing anything different--they haven't changed anything.

And I believe them--they haven't done anything different.

But their hormones have.

As women enter menopause,(typically in their 40's and 50's, but even as early as in their  mid 30's) their estrogen and progesterone levels start to decline. This can lead to skipped periods, longer periods, heavier periods, night sweats, hot flashes, among other symptoms.

And these lower levels of estrogen and progesterone help to promote weight gain.

 This is because estrogen and progesterone in PRE-menopausal levels help protect us from the negative effects of the 2 main hormones that cause weight gain: insulin and cortisol.

Before I go any further, it must be said that these 2 hormones are essential for life.

Insulin, a growth and storage hormone, regulates our blood sugar levels (among other things). People with type 1 diabetes (an auto-immune disease) lack the ability to make insulin and must have insulin injections or they will become very ill and die.

Cortisol is a stress hormone-- it helps us function under stress. And it also makes it possible for us to get up in the morning and have good energy. It also has anti-inflammatory properties--the medication prednisone is a synthetic form of cortisol that brings down high levels of inflammation and pain.

Estrogen has insulin sensitizing properties, meaning that it makes us more sensitive to insulin, which is a good thing weight loss-wise.

Insulin resistance causes inflammation and weight gain, especially in the abdomen (ie, the bad visceral fat) and is the opposite of insulin sensitivity. Type 2 Diabetes is a form of insulin resistance. People with insulin resistance (also known as pre-diabetes) and those with  type 2 diabetes hold a lot of weight in their abdomen because they have a lot if insulin in their blood stream. Because they are insulin resistant.

Both estrogen and progesterone help to manage the negative effects of cortisol, which include stress eating/comfort eating, poor sleep, and weight gain.

With lower levels of estrogen and progesterone in menopause, we start having higher levels of insulin and cortisol. When insulin and cortisol are high over a long period of time they cause women to store more fat when calories are high, instead of building muscle. And when calories are low, these same hormones reduce the amount of fat burned-- burning  muscle instead.

Which is the exact opposite of what we want.

And the exact opposite of how things were before menopause.

My menopausal clients who gained weight doing nothing different, were also frustrated because they had reduced their caloric intake, but were not losing weight. Now you know why.

In my next blog I will write about what can be done to help menopausal weight loss.