The menopause transition involves hormonal imbalance as part of the end of menstruation. Estrogen and other sex hormone levels fluctuate up and down toward an eventual decline, and it sets off a domino effect of changes that can affect nearly every system in the body. Weight gain during menopause is not strictly due to hormone levels; there are several factors that play a part during this transition.
What Happens When Estrogen Levels Change?
Estrogen regulates many of the body's functions. One of these is the distribution of fat in the body. During menopause, when estrogen levels are fluctuating, fat tends to move from the hips to the abdomen. This is the most direct way in which estrogen can trigger weight gain or a change in body shape.
How Is Cortisol Related to Weight Gain?
Cortisol, known as the "stress hormone," is responsible for some of the menopausal weight gain that women can expect to experience in their 40s and 50s. When cortisol prepares the body for a stressful situation, it often signals the breakdown of fatty tissue to release energy. However, chronic stress - when cortisol is continually present - has been associated with increased fat around the midsection. This stress can come from menopause symptoms, work or home problems, or other life events.
Women with high central fat also tend to secrete more cortisol than women with lower central fat in high stress situations. These can create a cycle that is difficult to break. In addition, cortisol prompts cravings for "comfort food," which are typically high in carbs and saturated fat. Routinely acting on these cravings can also lead to weight gain.
How Does Aging Affect Weight?
As both men and women age, fat mass tends to increase, while muscle mass decreases. For many women, the start of these changes coincides with the menopause transition. Metabolism begins to slow down, which means fewer daily calories are required than before. Maintaining the same premenopause diet and portions as metabolism slows down can result in weight gain.
How Can I Stop Weight Gain during Menopause?
The best way is by eating a healthy, balanced diet, exercising regularly, and balancing your estrogen levels. Both aerobic and weight-bearing exercises are essential: aerobic exercise helps burn calories, while weight-bearing exercises help build muscle mass. Reducing portion size and replacing white carbs with wholegrain foods can also help.
More Information about Weight Gain during Menopause
Weight redistribution due to changes in estrogen does not necessarily equate to weight gain, but the compounding factors during this time mean that many women gain some weight as they go through menopause. Menopausal weight gain can lead to other serious problems, such as heart disease, sleep apnea, and diabetes, so it is crucial to maintain a healthy weight. Click on the following link to find out more about weight gain treatments.