Archive for menopause weight gain
Your may have read some headlines recently, discussing how lack of sleep can cause you to gain weight. You may even have experienced this first hand. I know when I do not sleep well, I usually overeat the next day. I had assumed this was my bodies way of getting much needed extra energy. I assumed it was something that specific to me, not necessarily driven by any known biological mechanism of action.
It turns out there is a biological reason that we eat more when we have not slept. Through knowledge gained from research studies on why sleep is so important, it has been shown that many important functions occur while we sleep. The body and brain repairs itself while we sleep. Most of us have always assumed this, but many of us would never imagine that lack of sleep can make us fat!
Sleep deprivation, even if only for a few days; can wreck havoc on our hormone system. It can cause cortisol to rise in the evening, when it should be declining. This rise in cortisol can contribute to diabetes and obesity as it promotes fat storage. Thyroid function can also be affected by lack of sleep.
But how can sleep actually make us fat? In addition to the cortisol rise mentioned above, sleep deprivation affects the appetite regulatory hormones leptin and ghrelin. These hormones play an important role in helping to regulate our appetite through signalling when we are full and when we are hungry. Lack if sleep causes them to rise and fall inappropriately, encouraging you to consume more calories than you actually require.
Additionally, lack of sleep has been shown to also decrease glucose sensitivity by almost 30%. This means that the food you eat will not be utilized as efficiently and will be more likely to be stored as fat. Such a response implies that chronic sleep deprivation may cause an increased chance of developing diabetes and obesity.
Menopausal sleep deprivation can not only add to the weight gain and fatigue of menopause, it can also increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease. If you are being told by your medical provider that your glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure are becoming higher than normal; your sleep patterns as well as diet may be the reason.
It is important to work on your sleep habits in order to minimize the effect menopause may be having on your health. Work on getting plenty of exercise, decrease caffeine, learn to relax and maybe meditate to decrease stress. Talk to your provider about help with sleep and any medical conditions other than menopause which may be contributing to lack of sleep.
Most importantly, set a schedule for sleep and stick to it! Work on not allowing the phone, your computer, or TV watching interfere with your bedtime.
Many people know why they gain weight: too much food, too little exercise, bad genes. Peri-menopausal and menopausal women are often at a loss however, to explain why the pounds are piling on without a major change of life style. Even women with strong exercise habits and a healthy diet find that they gain weight during this life process.
Why does this happen?
Hormones is why, but maybe not the ones you want to blame. 90% of women between ages 35-55 will gain weight as they age. Oftentimes this is due to a slowing of metabolism associated with aging, as well as decreased physical activity. This can contribute to overall weight gain, but it is the visceral fat (inside the abdomen) gain that presents a problem.
Visceral fat is fat that is in the abdominal cavity, not like subcutaneous fat which lays under the skin. It is a hormonally active fat which develops in response to both hereditary tendencies as well as hormonal changes as people age. Visceral fat produces estrogen after menopause, which the body places there for exactly that reason. It produces and is created in response to cortisol, a stress hormone. It promotes insulin resistance, a major cause of weight gain. Through these mechanisms, visceral fat changes the way the body breaks down and stores fat. It is very effective at storing energy which is one reason the body wants to hang on to it!
The risks of increased visceral fat and this type of weight gain include:
* cardiovascular disease and stroke (through increased levels of cortisol and insulin resistance)
* hypertension (because of cortisol)
* diabetes ( from insulin resistance)
* increased cholesterol ( due to insulin resistance)
* breast cancer ( from increased levels of estrogen)
As women are experiencing changes in hormone level with decreased amounts of estrogen, the body actually makes fat in order to store and produce the estrogen the ovaries are no longer producing. This causes increased production of androgens which distributes fat differently, more at the waist and less at the hips.
This weight gain then leads to increased insulin and insulin growth factor which contributes to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance changes how the body utilizes the food you eat. Normal insulin sensitivity allows the glucose formed from the breakdown and digestion of food, to enter the body’s cells for metabolism. All of our cells requires glucose to function; without it our brain, muscles and organs could not function. This is why diabetics feel so poorly when their glucose (or sugar) is too high, the glucose cannot get from the blood stream to the organs. This is, in part, due to the fact that their insulin is not able to work normally or they do not have enough insulin to allow this movement of glucose. When there is an excess of glucose in the blood stream, the body stores it as fat. Oftentimes, this is visceral fat.
Cortisol is another key hormone which changes fat metabolism and deposition. Cortisol is excreted in response to stress. It is what allows the body to respond to an emergency both physically and mentally. It is what you need when someone is breaking into your house, the ability to run or fight. It moves blood to muscles, focuses concentration, increases your heart rate and blood pressure for the upcoming action. This is an important hormone we need at times such as these. The problem arises when our lives are so stressful, that cortisol stays elevated. This often comes from job stress ( most of us cannot physically do battle with problems at work) or family stress ( bad marriage, sick loved ones, teenagers!) This continues cortisol elevation leads to insulin resistance as well as high blood pressure, which leads to increase in glucose which leads to increase fat storage.
So what can you do?
One of the keys is to keep blood cortisol levels down and keep insulin levels down to avoid insulin resistance. Stress reduction, exercise, meditation/prayer, yoga can all help lower cortisol by avoiding excess production and physically using up what is being produced in excess. Diet and eating patterns are likewise key in avoiding excess insulin levels. Eat foods which take longer to digest (higher in fiber or fat) to avoid rapid rises in glucose. Exercise long and slow to utilize the glucose you have produced. These two habits are key to avoiding visceral fat creation.
Let me know about your experience with weight gain and your healthy habits in the comments section.
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MENOPAUSE- a word which conjures up many feelings for women, not all of which are happy. My gynecologist recently stated to me that menopause only lasts one day! What a surprise to me! What he was actually referring to is the fact that menopause is the day at which point a women has gone 365 days or 12 consecutive months without a period. All the rest is either peri-menopause or post menopause. Well, the semantics of this definition doesn’t change the fact that women experiencing this change of life are troubled by many symptoms which feel at best , slightly disruptive and at worst completely mind boggling. There are ways however to lessen or manage these symptoms and changes so that you still feel in control of your body. It does take some effort however, but it is well worth it.
Many of us go through our years without paying a lot of attention to how our life style is affecting us both physically and emotionally. I tell many of my patients that when we are young, our bodies can continue to function efficiently even though we are not eating a very healthy diet, we are not drinking enough water, we are not sleeping enough at night and we are not exercising adequately. Many women will not gain weight, feel tired and may even have normal cholesterol and glucose levels despite a less that healthy lifestyle. Then menopause hits and this all changes. Women are experiencing hot flashes, inability to sleep, weight gain even though their diet hasn’t changed, mood swings, fatigue and lack of concentration and of course the low libido or lack of sex drive. So our partners have to deal with us thrashing around at night, grumpy and moody, and then we don’t even want to have sex! It takes true devotion to see a menopausal woman through this phase of her life!
Each of the troubling symptoms of menopause can be managed in ways both natural and in some ways through use of medication. Only you and your medical provider can decide on the usefulness of medication. I will discuss the most prevalent issues with suggestions on managing these issues and I hope to include interviews with experts on their experience and suggestions for women to help during this phase of their lives. I feel it is important for women to not let the time of menopause unravel them physically and emotionally.
I have been experiencing menopause myself for several years now and have had to find ways to mitigate its effects on my sleep, energy, weight, skin, hair and yes, my sex life. This along with the countless stories and histories shared with me through the years working in my profession, I feel I understand what women are experiencing and hope to help women understand how they too can travel through this phase without losing their health or their minds!
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