What Causes Weight Gain During The Menopause?
As a normal part of the menopause, the ovaries significantly reduce their natural production of oestrogen. Consequently, the body needs to produce it from somewhere and it does this via the adipose cells. Therefore, the female body may need to be fatter for this to happen.
Oestrogen is also produced from the adrenal glands, which control stress hormones, as well as in the liver, both of which need to be in good working order. High stress levels over a period of time can suppress cortisol production, meaning less oestrogen is produced, hence the woman can experience more weight gain.
Clinical nutritionist from www.natures-way.com, Suzie Sawyer, says: “Many women experience weight gain at the time of the menopause. Hormonal changes mean you’re more likely to put weight on around your abdomen than hips but hormonal changes do not cause excessive menopausal weight gain.”
“Generally, around 4-7lbs in weight gain can occur, with more in underweight women,” says Sawyer. “However, very often weight gain is much more than this and is not necessary or healthy.”
Importance Of Exercise And Diet
“Ageing as well as lifestyle and genetic factors are also likely culprits,” says Sawyer. “For example, muscle mass typically diminishes with age while adipose tissue increases. Loss of muscle mass can reduce metabolic rate so it may not be not so easy to maintain the same weight with the same level of dietary intake as previously.”
This means diet and exercise become even more important during and after the menopause. Eating highly refined foods and stimulants such as caffeine, for example, can cause blood sugar imbalances and will exacerbate fluctuations in oestrogen and progesterone levels.
This, in turn, may worsen menopausal symptoms. “Anecdotally, some women are at risk of binge eating (causing weight gain) during the menopause, which may be due to life stress and the psychological and physical changes occurring,” says Sawyer.
Tips On Managing Menopausal Weight
Suzie Sawyer's tips on managing your weight during the menopause include:
Eating A Balanced Diet
Eating a balanced diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly broccoli, sprouts and carrots, is the cornerstone to maintaining healthy hormone balance. As important, is including soya lentils, chickpeas, flaxseeds, oats and wholegrain rice which all contain phytoestrogens. These are plant-based foods which help to balance hormones and provide oestrogenic ‘activity’ where required.
Increase your intake of essential nutrients. Calcium can help to keep bones strong as well as reducing the risk of bone fractures in post-menopausal women. Therefore, eat plenty of calcium-rich foods including fish with bones such as sardines, leafy green vegetables, and some dairy foods. However, avoid eating too much cheese as this is very acidic and can encourage calcium loss from the bones.
One of the keys to healthy weight management through the menopause is to keep blood sugar levels balanced and not exacerbate hormonal fluctuations. It also helps to retain lean muscle mass. This means having some protein at every meal. It’s a misnomer to think that starchy carbs such as rice, pasta and bread are sufficiently satisfying. It’s protein that provides feelings of satiety. Include as much variety as possible; chicken, turkey, eggs, soya beans, lentils, tofu and oily fish, for the omega-3 fats, are all great options.
Essential vitamin D
“Vitamin D, and magnesium also help maintain bone health. Our skin produces most of the vitamin D we need when it’s exposed to sunlight, but you can also find it in oily fish, mushrooms, eggs and some fortified breakfast cereals,” says Sawyer.
However, Public Health England recommends supplementation for everyone, particularly those at risk of deficiency, therefore a daily high potency multivitamin and mineral such as Alive! Ultra Women’s 50+ Wholefood Plus is needed. The once daily supplement contains all essential nutrients to plug any gaps in the diet, but also contains a unique blend of 26 fruits and vegetables plus a daily greens botanical blend.
“For women wanting a slightly different format of supplement, the Alive! Women’s 50+ Soft Jell is a great choice,” adds Sawyer. “It contains 20 micrograms of vitamin D per two soft jells, includes the unique blend of 26 fruits and vegetables, plus a range of hormone-balancing nutrients within delicious orange and berry flavoured jells.” See www.feelaliveuk.com for more information.
Magnesium aids the absorption of calcium, and can be found in nuts, pulses and green, leafy vegetables.
“Omega-3 fatty acids can be really beneficial for many women during the menopause, as they help to maintain a healthy heart and flexible joints, thereby reducing the need for NSAIDS,” suggests Sawyer.  “Most importantly, they’ll help to maintain youthful-looking skin. You can increase your dietary intake by eating oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and herring. Flaxseeds are also a great source of omega-3s.”
Any exercise that stresses the bones such as skipping, can slow down the loss of bone density associated with the menopause. “Brisk walking or aerobics release endorphins, the feel-good hormones in the body which can help alleviate low mood and anxiety, common feelings during the menopause years,” says Sawyer. “Pilates and yoga are good for flexibility while pelvic floor exercises help protect against urinary incontinence as you age.
“It’s also important to do weight-bearing exercise. Many women resist lifting weights because they don’t want to look like a body builder,” says Sawyer. “However, it’s incredibly difficult to build that kind of muscle.”
Maintaining lean muscle mass is essential both for the health of the joints and bones and for managing weight. The more muscle mass, the higher the body’s metabolic rate, therefore the more fat burnt at rest. All gyms are happy to give introductory sessions. “Plus, the body benefits from more than the calories lost during the session – there is always a metabolic burn which continues after the session has finished,” she says.
Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer says: “It’s important to know what’s going on inside during the menopause, so a full blood profile is always useful. Some women experience heavy and erratic periods; therefore, iron levels will be checked.
“As important, is keeping a check on thyroid hormones. All three key thyroid hormones should be measured in the blood – T4, T3 and TSH. Low thyroid function will cause extra weight gain and tiredness. It is a common problem for menopausal women so if they’re struggling with weight, this needs to be checked by the doctor.”