• Federica Negro

Menopause and weight gain

Weight gain around menopause is fairly common.


There many different factors that play a role in the weight gain during this time, including hormones, aging, lifestyle and genetic. The process is highly individual and can vary from woman to woman.


Menopause officially occurs when a woman has not had her period for over 12 months, Many women start to experience menopausal symptoms during perimenopause (which means "around menopause"). During this time hormonal changes become erratic and you can start experiencing symptoms like hot flushes, irritability, sleep disturbances, headaches and weight gain.


So, what happens in the body of a menopausal woman that leads to weight gain?


Hormonal Changes

During peri-menopause, hormones start to change. Estrogen goes up and down and progesterone decreases. In menopause, estrogen levels start to drop and androgen (male hormones) and FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) rise.

The hormonal adjustments bring few changes in the body.

Firstly, drops in estrogen levels lead to a decrease in energy expenditure (the amount of calories our body needs to "burn" everyday to survive), FSH and androgens on the rise are linked to a reduced thermogenic activity, meaning we burn less calories.

Low levels of estrogen also affect the hunger/satiety regulation, which can easily lead to overeating.

Higher levels of androgens lead to change in body composition and to a rearrangement of body fat, from the hips and legs to the belly area (typical of men). We need to be careful of how much fat we put on around the belly, as higher belly fat is linked with higher cardiovascular risk.


Ageing

Another contributor of weight gain in menopause is age.

When we age, our bodies tend to lose muscle mass and gain fat mass (around the belly, due to the androgen effect).

Muscle mass is the most metabolic active (burns a lot of calories), therefore, if we lose our muscles, our body will need less calories. Loss of muscle mass + drop in estrogen levels cause a reduction of our metabolism.


Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance is a condition that happens in our bodies when we don't respond appropriately to the hormone insulin.

Insulin is the hormone produced by the pancreas in response to carbohydrates ingestion. It stimulates the uptake of glucose into the cells.

If our cells are not responsive to insulin, this leads to high glucose & high insulin levels in our blood. High insulin levels lead to fat-storage mode.

Why do we become insulin resistant in menopause?

The accumulation of central abdominal fat in women at this time is associated with a decline in circulating adiponectin. Adiponectin, a "hormone" produced by fat, increases insulin sensitivity. Low serum adiponectin levels are associated with insulin resistance.


Lack of sleep

About half of women going through the menopause transition also complain of problems sleeping.

Low estrogen and sleep interruption, even while getting an adequate amount of sleep overall, decreased the amount of fat used by the body for energy, which over time may lead to greater fat storage and ultimately weight gain.

Lack of sleep is linked to a dysregulation of the hunger and satiety hormone, leptin and grelin. Leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating, and when you are sleep deprived, you have less leptin. More ghrelin plus less leptin equals weight gain.


What can we do about it?

To counteract all these changes we should:

  1. keep physically active with both resistance and cardio exercise to maintain and build new muscle mass;

  2. eat a low GI (low glycemic index) diet, that will reduce the amount of insulin produced;

  3. increase our protein intake to maintain and build muscle mass;

  4. prioritise sleep!

  5. And, get in touch for a personalized meal plan :)



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