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Weight Loss and Hormones- Why Female Hormones Can ‘Make Us’ of ‘Break Us’

You may be familiar with the fact that women go through several hormone shifts throughout their lives, including puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. However, what many may not be aware of is how the shifts in hormones, such as estrogen deficiency that occurs after menopause, affect metabolism and are potentially related to weight gain.

Health Concerns Linked to Estrogen Deficiency

Estrogen deficiency can lead to a decrease in resting metabolic rate, which means that the body burns fewer calories at rest than it used to.

It can also increase insulin resistance, causing the body to use more insulin after a meal. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body to be able to use food for energy. Among its other actions, it causes the body to store energy, including in the form of fat, for use at a later time. In the case of insulin resistance, certain cells cannot utilize carbs for energy production (fuel), but instead, it causes the body to turn carbs into fat molecules that get deposited inside adipose tissue, resulting in fat gain.

Another issue particular to the loss of estrogen is the redistribution of fat stores from a pear shape to an apple shape, in which fat is more concentrated around the abdomen and interferes with the working of the internal organs and hormone systems. Abdominal obesity has been linked to a variety of health issues, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some forms of cancer including those of the breast and colon. The decrease in lean muscle mass which occurs after menopause also causes the metabolism to slow. Weight loss and maintenance can be difficult and even frustrating in this setting.

Dietary Measures

Fortunately, there are dietary measures that women can take to help prevent weight gain after menopause.

Increasing your amount of dietary fiber, such as non-starchy vegetables, which help to keep you full, is one way to accomplish this. Not only are these foods fiber-rich but they also have a variety of vitamins and minerals which help your body’s metabolism to function effectively.

Aiming to get adequate protein (think healthy meats such as chicken and fish) as well as healthy fat (examples include olive oil and avocados) with each meal can help to reduce hunger and curb between-meal cravings.
Lifestyle measures, such as physical activity, help in the maintenance of metabolic function following menopause. Resistance training can help increase muscle tissue, which improves calorie burn, as well as improve balance and help maintain bone density. Aerobic activity can improve heart health, helps improve insulin sensitivity, and increases metabolism.

In some cases, a detailed hormone panel can be completed. It gives an accurate insight into specific hormone deficiency. That, in turn, helps the physician suggest specific supplementation that can help restore production. In addition, Bio-identical hormone therapies have shown promising results as they help balance hormonal levels. An in-depth understanding regardi8ng the cause of the imbalance, as well as addressing the cause, is necessary prior to committing to hormonal replacement therapies.

Always check with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise regimen, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.

Dr Lidia Adkins, PKT, DC, CFMP
Suzanne Doad, MS, RD, LDN

Association of mid-life changes in body size, body composition, and obesity status with the menopausal transition (PMID 27417630)
The role of estrogens in control of energy balance and glucose homeostasis (PMID 23460719)
The emergence of the metabolic syndrome with menopause (PMID 12788835)
Metabolic implications of menopause (PMID 20865657)
Decreased susceptibility to fatty acid-induced peripheral tissue insulin resistance in women (PMID 11375335)
The metabolic syndrome: Prevalence and associated risk factor findings in the US population from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Study (PMID 12588201)
Effects of the menopause transition on body fatness and body distribution (PMID 9618130)