Do you know 23 menopausal women? Probably, and how many of them have put on weight? Let me guess and say most of them, so it is not exactly a secret. There has been a small piece of research (23 women) that somehow warranted a full page in a national newspaper to let you in on this ‘breaking news’.
Many doctors, particularly those in the bioidentical hormone field, have been writing about this for many years – see the end of the article for more recent updates on the topic from them. Womens oestrogen levels drop at menopause and according to an incredibly small study by a Dr Santosa and her colleagues at Concordia University in the U.S. they have ‘proved’ what is already known. Once a woman’s body ceases to produce oestrogen at menopause she still has need of this hormone and so nature has designed us to switch production. It does this by continuing to produce it in the adrenals, liver and breasts and simply increases the amount to compensate to maintain post-menopausal levels.
This is why even at menopause women can still be oestrogen dominant as their progesterone levels fall even further, and women need both these hormones throughout their lives. Progesterone is essential to redress the effects of excess oestrogen and to provide protection from heart disease, breast cancer and osteoporosis.
Women’s bodies do change shape after the menopause
The researchers have ‘discovered’ that women get a ’spare tyre’ of fat after the menopause – certainly true -= and that can be putting them at higher risk of heart disease. Again true but certainly increases if their hormones are out of balance and they have inadequate progesterone levels. Oestrogen has long been associated with increased risk for heart disease and cancer, but it is not a ‘bad’ hormone, simply one that these days with the widespread use artificial hormones such as HRT and environmental xenoestrogens has been allowed to get out of control.
The problem with too much fat on the stomach – other than the wincing every time you look in the mirror, – is that it does increase certain health risks. ‘The fat stored on our hips and thighs, is relatively harmless,’ explained study author Dr Sylvia Santos, “But the fat stored around the abdomen is more dangerous. ‘It has been associated with diabetes, heart disease, stroke and even some cancers. When post-menopausal women put on more abdominal fat, they dramatically increase their risk for these health problems. Given these dangers, it is very important to understand how the lower levels of oestrogen associated with menopause changes where fat is stored.’
According to the article, the changes are ‘believed’ to be because of the link between the female hormone oestrogen, and body fat storage. Well again, yes that is well known and has been ‘believed’ by many Doctors experienced in bioidentical hormone usage. The problem is that women are designed to put on that weight to compensate for the lowered oestrogen levels. This is natural, but again if the balance is disturbed so that excess oestrogen is coming from other sources then that is the problem, not the completely normal change in how the body accesses its oestrogen supplies.
The researchers also found that post-menopausal women burned less fat than their pre-menopausal colleagues, but make no mention of why this may be so – possibly no longer working or so active and a change in diet and a requirement for a less dense diet are key element in weight gain, not just labelling it as problem specific to menopause.
Losing Weight At Menopause
The changes that occur at menopause do mean that our cells are not only storing more fat, but are also less willing to part with it – which explains how much more difficult it can be to lose weight at this time. However, there may also be another cause for the extra fat on the stomach according to Dr Tony Coope. He believes that it is a result of some lowering of thyroid function (due to low progesterone), and particularly the development of insulin resistance due to a carbohydrate-rich diet, and the extra stress of menopause, physical, mental and emotional.
Another reason to ensure you have excellent progesterone levels as this essential hormone is known to support thyroid function. Other simple measures that can help include decreasing the amount of food and increasing the amount of exercise are the two pillars of weight control.
Even more important is maintaining that healthy hormone balance at menopause: that means ensuring good progesterone levels so that your oestrogen is not the ‘villain’ but is supported to carry out its main functions at the right level by being opposed and supported by the right amount of natural progesterone.