Prevea Health

Hormonal changes and weight gain: How to avoid becoming another statistic

When it comes to menopause and weight gain, every young woman thinks, “That won’t happen to me.” We all want to beat the “menopausal” odds. You probably never wanted to be a statistic, but you likely are. A staggering 90 percent of women experience weight gain between the ages of 35 and 60, not coincidentally, during perimenopause and menopause.
Menopause is medically defined as a complete stop of menstruation for 12 months. During this time in a women’s life her ovarian production of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone decline. The average age of onset is 51. In fact, the process can begin up to 10 years earlier, which is called perimenopause.
Not surprisingly, hormones and weight gain are closely intertwined. What actually contributes to the weight gain? There are several reasons we begin to gain weight. First, during our chronic stressful lives, our bodies go into panic mode and we begin to make too much cortisol. When cortisol is elevated, our bodies think we are not going to eat (the fight-or-flight response) and insulin increases, so we begin to store fat for fuel. Second, our hormones naturally change as we get older. We experience too little estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, along with increased insulin. And, decreased sex hormones result in all our hormones becoming unbalanced. This hormonal fluctuation can directly impact your appetite, metabolism and ultimately your fat storage.
While nutrition, exercise, lifestyle and our thoughts about weight gain are critical elements to weight loss, balancing your hormones after the imbalance that perimenopause and menopause caused is also vital to maintaining a healthier weight. Let’s review how each of these hormones can contribute to weight gain.
When ovulation stops so does the production of estrogen. The body now seeks out other sources of estrogen and one of those is our fat cells. Our body then begins to convert more calories into fat to create more estrogen resulting in weight gain.
It’s natural and common for progesterone levels to fall and sometimes this decrease occurs faster than other hormones. Having low levels of progesterone doesn’t actually cause you to gain weight, but instead, it results in water retention and bloating. Therefore, you feel heavier, your clothes fit tighter, and the number on the scale increases.
It’s not just a “guy” hormone. Women need to think about this important hormone too. Testosterone plays an important role in building and maintaining muscle mass. Your muscle cells work to burn calories in your body resulting in a higher metabolism. Levels of this hormone decrease during menopause causing the loss of muscle mass and results in a lower metabolism, further resulting in weight gain.
So how do you know if you have low or high levels of hormones? Take a look at the list below for some clues.
Low estrogen symptoms:
  • Weight gain
  • Bladder incontinence/infection
  • Mood changes/depression
  • Insomnia
  • Low libido (low sex drive)
  • Heart palpitations
  • Osteoporosis
  • Painful intercourse
  • Foggy headed
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Weepy
  • Hot Flashes
High estrogen symptoms:
  • Puffiness
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Fibrocystic (lumpy) breasts
  • Low libido (no sex drive)
  • Cravings for carbohydrates
  • Weight gain around hips
  • Vaginal or oral yeast infections
  • Mood swings
  • Tender breasts
  • Headaches/migraines
Xenoestrogens are chemicals that imitate estrogen and can cause high levels of estrogen in the body which is not ideal. There are over 50 chemicals that imitate estrogen that is toxic to the body. Here are a few sources of these xenoestrogens.
  • Pesticides
  • Synthetic hormones fed to animals
  • Plastics
  • Cosmetics
  • Alcohol. It increases estradiol levels (a form of estrogen in the body) and increases your risk of breast cancer if you are drinking more than one drink a day.
  • Antibiotics. Those found in food can change the gut flora which affects estrogen metabolism.
Low progesterone symptoms:
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Pain and inflammation
  • Osteoporosis
  • Excessive menstruation
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Nervousness
  • Migraines before cycles
  • Weight gain
  • Decreased libido
  • Decreased HDL
Symptoms of low testosterone levels:
  • Muscle wasting
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Low self-esteem
  • Decreased HDL
  • Dry, thin skin with poor elasticity
  • Thinning and dry hair
  • Droopy eyelids
  • Sagging cheeks
  • Thin lips
  • Anxiety
  • Memory not as sharp
Wellness wisdom
It’s very important to improve your overall health first before replacing any hormones. Proper bowel movements and optimal liver function improves your ability to eliminate toxins and hormones, which is key. Without proper bowel, kidney and liver function, you may be recycling hormones in your body, so this is the first place to begin when trying to balance your hormones.
Additionally, checking for and removing environmental toxins should also occur before hormone replacement. If you decrease sugar and processed carbohydrate intake to improve insulin and glucose regulation, maximize your gut health, and consume ample clean water, it's possible that your hormones will begin to normalize.
Now let’s explore some natural ways to improve your hormones. Consider these ideas to  raise the good estrogen (2-OH Estrone) in your body:
  • Take Omega 3 fatty acids. It’s best to start here, out of everything else listed below.
  • Engage in moderate exercise
  • Eat cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower)
  • Add flax to your diet
  • Increase soy
  • Try kudzu (vine)
  • Rely on broccoli derivatives
  • Try Indole-3-carbinol dose 200-300 mg daily
  • Take B6, B12 and folate
  • Eat rosemary and turmeric
  • Lose weight
  • Switch to a high-protein diet
Natural ways to improve your testosterone level:
  • Exercise to reduce belly fat
  • Switch to a high-protein diet
  • Try zinc supplementation
  • Avoid or decrease alcohol consumption
  • Decrease calorie intake
  • Try amino acid supplementation of arginine, leucine and glutamine
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Lose weight
  • Reduce stress

Make sure to talk to your primary care provider or consider a visit to an integrative medicine physician who can help reduce symptoms and develop a care plan.

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