I wrote this in response to a client who wanted some direction with how to understand and manage her hormone related weight gain.
During a woman’s life we experience a lot of shifts and changes with our hormones, it can be extremely confusing, unwelcome, and difficult. But it can also be wonderful so it’s not all doom and gloom.
Looking mainly at hormonal weight gain with regards to the journey to and beyond menopause I wanted to share a very brief and simple post on this massive and complex topic.
The shift from a life of being a menstruating woman to ceasing menstruation comes with a plethora of changes that can be hard to adapt to, I am particularly interested with the concept of identity. However, I am not well versed in that so will be focusing on sharing what I can as concisely as I can.
First, I will describe very briefly and simply some aspects of hormones and their impact of weight management. Later in the post I will create a number of actionable suggestions. If the science bit bores you, please skip to the end.
As menstruation comes to an end a number of hormones are involved, not just oestrogen. I am going to focus on Oestrogen, Testosterone and the Thyroid gland for the purposes of this post.
Oestrogen: the most well known and prominent female sex hormone, it is made mainly in the ovaries but also in small amounts in our adrenal glands. Please scroll down for more information on adrenal glands.
Oestrogen promotes protein synthesis and therefore muscle growth, it acts similarly with bones.
Muscle mass is far more metabolically active than fat mass, this means it uses a greater amount of energy at rest than fat. Increasing muscle mass therefore increases the overall calories the body will use at rest.
A combination of calorie restriction, fasted state exercise and timed carbohydrate restriction helps to increase insulin sensitivity in muscles and improve what is known as metabolic flexibility. Metabolic flexibility can be described as the body’s ability to adapt to using either fats or glucose as energy and the effect is increased insulin sensitivity, the body learns to and starts to burn fat stores as energy when needed and so this helps with fat loss and allows us to be able to eat a slice of cake and not gain 2kgs immediately.
For further reading you can check out this article: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513193/
It is well known that chronically high cortisol is associated with poor sleep quality and quantity as well as resulting weight gain. Oestrogen is shown to decrease circulation cortisol and as the oestrogen drops off cortisol takes the opportunity to increase in circulation. Cortisol makes the cells more sensitive to adrenaline, which stimulates an increase in blood glucose and a resulting increase in insulin. Adrenaline also makes cells more sensitive to cortisol so we see a self-perpetuating cycle of what I like to call ‘flapping and panicking’. This Flapping and Panicking done for long enough can push the body into insulin resistance and so fat gain.
Cortisol inhibits the synthesis of oestrogen and testosterone.
Testosterone is usually associate with men only, however, is plays key roles in women’s health too. It is responsible for libido and protein synthesis particularly in muscles. Testosterone also drops during menopause and so will affect muscle mass.
The Thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped gland in the throat, its main function is to govern metabolism. It’s function naturally decreases with age, however it is negatively affected by high cortisol. Knowing that low oestrogen usually results in high cortisol we can also see how that can affect the thyroid and slow metabolism down.
Adrenal glands: Small glands above the kidneys that produce a number of hormones including
- Cortisol responsible for regulations of metabolism and immune function as associated with circadian rhythm (sleep wake cycle) and stress
- Adrenaline released to create a rapid response to stress
- Aldosterone involved in electrolyte balance and therefore water balance and retention
- Androgens made from cholesterol these are, in women, precursors or ingredients to be converted into the various sex hormones including progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone.
As the production of sex hormones comes to an end in the ovaries the adrenal glands take over the job and it can be quite a large task. The result can be what is informally known as adrenal exhaustion or adrenal insufficiency.
Ok – But what should we do about it?
Knowing what is happening means we can start to look at how to best support the systems to reduce symptoms.
Include plenty of resistance and weight training to maintain and build muscle and bone density.
Include a variety of fasted and unfasted cardiovascular exercise.
Include Phytoestrogen containing foods. These have a subtle oestrogenic effect on the body. Be aware if you have history of oestrogen dominant cancers personally or within your family.
Angelica – always seek advice before taking herbal remedies
black cohosh – always seek advice before taking herbal remedies
chaste tree berry – always seek advice before taking herbal remedies
legumes (beans, peas, peanuts)
licorice root – be aware if you have high blood pressure as it can increase blood pressure.
red clover – always seek advice before taking herbal remedies
fermented soy – tofu, tempeh, miso
Adopting mindful techniques to manage stress response will help bring down cortisol and therefore help with sleep and weight management.
Mindful walking, cubic breathing, meditation, cold water swimming, yin or hatha yoga, Wim-Hoff are all great but it is important to find a practice that suits you and your lifestyle.
It is important to know that stress is not always just from the mind responding to a stimuls but can also be as a result of environmental and consumed factors. Use minimal lotions and creams and choose ones with few and natural ingredients, simple organic oils are best if possible. Avoid using toxic chemicals to clean the home, choose natural products or simply baking powder and vinegar solutions. Avoid drinking too much alcohol and eating foods that are processed, grown with pesticides or have an ultra-long self-life.
Increase your micro-nutrient status
The thyroid loves to have plenty of nutrients especially iodine, iron, magnesium and B vitamins and we need plenty of micronutrients to efficiently make energy and burn stored fats. Without getting too complicated have a varied diet with loads of fresh vegetables and fruits, fewer carbohydrate and starchy foods, plenty of excellent protein and sufficient water.
If you are really struggling with energy then I suggest looking into a suitable nutrient supplement with CoQ10 within it, when supplementing it is always safer to seek advice from a professional. Self prescribing without the correct information can sometimes result in a total waste of money on poor supplements or taking the wrong wones and doing more harm than good. Contact me if you would like help with this.
Eat a little less
Sounds easy but this can be very challenging. Different strategies work for different people and finding the right one for you is important if you are going to create lasting change.
Laugh more – not much science behind this but I always like to encourage more laughter in life.