Most women have few serious problems with menopause other than unwanted and unexplained weight gain, which is so common it has been nicknamed the middle-age spread. Trying to lose weight at any age can be a struggle, however, losing the weight associated with menopause comes with its own unique set of challenges.
Even women who have exercised regularly, tirelessly pounding away on the treadmill, are frustrated when their routine no longer seems to be working. With the added weight, many women begin to experience an increase in fatigue, some to the point of feeling like they are dragging themselves around to get through the day. This low energy can further perpetuate menopausal weight gain, as it may lead to poor food choices. Many women resort to caffeine and sugar for a temporary energy boost; unfortunately, these choices eventually lead to more energy loss and fatigue.
Disease Risk Increases
Weight gain can be a natural occurrence associated with getting older, and an increase of ten to fifteen pounds, which tend to accumulate around the abdomen, is typical during menopause. There is also an increase in body-fat percentage and a decrease in metabolism, in addition to the change in body shape from pear shape to apple shape. This transition increases visceral fat, as well as inflammation throughout the body, thus putting an individual at greater risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. A waist circumference (when measured at the belly button) greater than 35 inches (women) or 40 inches (men) greatly increases the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and more.
Estrogen’s Role in Metabolic Processes
Hormone fluctuations and weight gain go hand-in-hand. During menopause, the menstrual process comes to an end, which results in decreased levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. When we think of estrogen, we typically think of a hormone that is chiefly involved in the regulation of the menstruation process; however the scope of estrogen’s role in metabolic processes is far greater. A number of organs throughout the body have both estrogen and progesterone receptors, including skin, bones, breast tissues, uterine lining and blood vessels.
Adipose tissues, or fat cells, which are rich in cholesterol (a precursor molecule of estrogen), and the adrenal glands also can produce the vital hormone estrogen. In an attempt to make up for the loss of estrogen being produced by the ovarian follicle, the body will begin depositing more estrogen-producing fat cells; consequently, more of the calories you consume will translate directly to fat, but it also triggers fat stores to shift from the hips and buttocks and settle in the abdominal region. The increased abdominal girth also can be compounded by increased water retention and bloating, typically caused by falling progesterone levels.
Testosterone promotes the creation of lean muscle mass; as testosterone levels drop, muscle mass decreases. Most adults, on average, will lose five to seven percent of muscle every decade. During this time, as muscle mass continually drops, metabolic rate also decreases by about five percent.
This decreased metabolic rate greatly contributes to middle-age weight gain, as many people do not adjust their carbohydrate consumption to account for the decreased level of carbohydrates the body now demands to reach its energy needs. Muscle loss and the energy needs of your body are interrelated, because your body uses more than 40 calories to maintain each pound of muscle, while fat requires only 2 calories per day. Exercise programs that are centered on resistance training can help ward off the metabolic slowdown, as well as increase bone strength, combat fatigue and improve sleep quality.
Other factors that may play a role in menopausal weight gain include insulin resistance, the stress of life changes, and genetics. And when we add in common negative factors that influence almost everyone’s health today, such as subluxations, food allergies, hidden immune challenges, and heavy-metal and chemical toxicities, menopausal weight gain may not be a simple fix.
All that being said, diet plays an important functional role in shedding that middle age spread. Many in this country have fallen for the fat-free trap, consuming large amounts of low- or no-fat foods, in favor of high-carbohydrate foods. This low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet exacerbates many health issues, specifically those associated with menopause. High-carb diets send blood sugar and insulin levels soaring, triggering cyclic food cravings, energy dips and eventually insulin resistance.
Fats are a critical macronutrient needed for many structural components which lay the foundation to support many metabolic processes in the body, including the maintenance of balanced hormones.
Together with the nervous system, hormones are part of the most powerful control system of the body, which is why so many experience frustrating menopausal symptoms associated with these unbalanced systems. The body has an amazing ability to heal itself, but hormone levels must be in balance in order to activate the body’s powerful innate system of repair and healing. As mentioned above, other underlying issues such as chemical- and heavy metal toxicities can significantly contribute to menopausal weight gain.
Oftentimes a gradual detoxification of these hormone disruptors is necessary. A program that I recommend is the Standard Process 21 Day Purification Program. This program, combined with a diet centered on whole foods along with whole-food supplements and herbs, supports the body’s elimination organs through their natural detoxification process.
Whole Foods, Supplements, and Appropriate Exercise
Select high-quality organic, whole foods and supplements that support your body’s natural healing processes. Over the past 70 years there has been a drastic decline in the nutritional quality of food, which means that most women are not obtaining the nutrients they need. The current food supply makes it nearly impossible to get all the nutrients the body needs to carry out its functions and maintain health and vitality. Other factors such as microwaving, genetic engineering, synthetic additives, preservatives, hormones, antibiotics, and produce grown in nutrient-void soil all further contribute to the decreased nutritional quality of food. Whole-food supplements are a great way to provide the nutrition the body needs to ease the menopausal transition.
A whole-food supplement which supports the healthy function of the ovaries, adrenal, pituitary, and thyroid glands can provide the nucleoprotein-mineral extracts that support cellular health in those glands. An herbal complex that contains the active compounds of Shatavari, St. John’s Wort, Sage, Black Cohosh and Korean Ginseng can also add support to the well-being of a woman transitioning through menopause. Each of the herbs is traditionally valued as a natural solution for alleviating different menopausal symptoms.
Implementing a combination of interval training and gentle exercising such as yoga, walking, tai chi or other movement programs greatly enhances the balancing of estrogen and insulin levels. Add to that a nutritional program you can adapt to in a short period of time, and if you need additional help, bio-identical hormone treatment may help.
Menopause is a natural, normal occurrence, and can be a new beginning to the best chapter in your life.
Dr. Donald Piccoli chiropractic physician, is certified in advanced Nutrition Response Testing and is the director of Holistic Solutions Health Center in Kensington, CT (860) 828-2966.