Fabulously 50 . . . but fat!
Why we wear menopause around our midsection?
By Cindy M. Howard, DC, DABCI, FIAMA
Age 20: Your killer metabolism and hardcore workouts give you abs of steel . . .
Age 30: You eat smart, and take pride that you can still pull off that half shirt that went out of style years ago . . .
Age 40: You consider a pierced belly button so everyone notices that you can still hang with the 20-year-olds that used to be you . . .
And then, out of nowhere, it happens . . . It’s like someone inflated a tire around your midsection . . . Like you became equipped with a flotation device around your middle. Sound familiar?
By the time they reach middle age, close to 90% of women develop what is sometimes jokingly known as a “muffin-top” — a large love handle that encircles you with no end. What happened? Why at around age 50, as we women go through menopause and body composition changes, do we feel like we lose control and end up spending extra money on control-top pantyhose to hide the love handles we now resent?
One pathway to correcting the 12-15 extra pounds of midsection fat lies in a better understanding of the hormonal changes that occur during menopause. Estrogen, progesterone and testosterone are key hormones that play key roles in women’s bodies; including in weight control. Decreased levels of estrogen and progesterone can increase appetite, and studies have shown up to 67% increases in what people eat. If the lower hormone levels are combined with slower metabolism as women enter perimenopause, the result may be weight gain.
In clinical practice, estrogen decreases because the ovaries begin to produce less of the hormone. This causes the body to attempt to find it elsewhere. Fat cells produce estrogen, so now our bodies work harder to convert calories into fat in an attempt to raise estrogen levels. Fat cells burn calories much differently than muscle cells do and the difference can promote weight gain. Now let’s couple that with decreased progesterone levels. Progesterone levels no longer elevate during a woman’s menstrual cycle, as it is not needed unless a woman is going to get pregnant. The decrease in progesterone correlates with water retention and bloating. Are your clothes fitting just a little bit tighter? Blame that on lower progesterone.
The third hormone, testosterone, is usually associated with men, but is also present in women as well. It helps create lean muscle mass from the calories we consume. With a decrease in testosterone levels, fewer calories are transformed into lean muscle mass and since fat cells burn more calories than muscle cells, a slower metabolism results.
Insulin resistance plays a role in midlife weight gain as well. Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body’s normal response to insulin, a hormone involved in the metabolism of sugars and starches, is reduced. Processed and refined foods can contribute to insulin resistance (a good reason to eliminate them from your diet). Risk factors for insulin resistance include decreased HDL (high-density lipids; the “good” cholesterol), high triglycerides, high blood pressure, family history of diabetes and obesity. Another commonly missed contributor to weight gain concerns the thyroid gland. When the thyroid is underactive, the metabolic rate slows and the ability of the gland to regulate calorie consumption slows. This means fewer calories are burned and converted into energy. Those calories are now stored as fat, leading to weight gain. Thyroid conditions commonly are often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
Other lifestyle factors, including higher stress, reduced physical activity, dietary changes, use of pharmaceuticals, and alcohol consumption can also contribute to midlife weight gain. (So start deep-breathing, yoga or finger painting for stress reduction; jump on the trampoline with your kids to increase activity; and switch from processed foods to those to you can pick off a tree, grow in the ground or slaughter).
Although there is much working against us, there is still great news – the weight gain does not have to be permanent. Nothing says you need to accept your permanent flotation device. Sex hormones like the three mentioned here can be properly assessed through saliva testing and adjusted naturally to achieve better balance. Proper thyroid assessment is not commonplace, but is easy to ask for. Multiple tests exist to properly determine the health of the thyroid gland. For proper evaluation, ask your physician to run TSH, T3, t3 uptake, reverse T3, Total T4, Free T4, thyroid peroxidase antibody and thyroglobulin antibody assays.
If you have risk factors for insulin resistance, they can also be changed. The first step is to recognize that hormonal changes occur, so that you can then make changes to offset the effects of age-related weight gain. Accept that these changes occur, but know that you can do something about them. Nothing is permanent when it comes to health. Make the decision to get evaluated and to make changes that can have a profound effect in moving you toward health. Women, inner tubes should be used for sitting on as you float down the river, so let’s get rid of the ones we wear round our midsection!!
About the author
Dr. Cindy M. Howard is a Board Certified Chiropractic Internist who has been in private practice just outside of Chicago for 15 years. She also earned a fellowship from the International Academy of Medical Acupuncture. She currently serves as the Northern Illinois Delegate for the American Chiropractic Association, is on the Medical Advisory Board for Integrative Therapeutics, and serves on the executive board for POWERPlay in Sports and the Frankfort Falcons Youth Football Association. Dr. Howard teaches all over the United States on Nutrition, Gastrointestinal related issues as well as Male and Female disorders, Pediatrics and Youth Sports related topics.
Cindy M. Howard, DC, DABCI, FIAMA
“Estrogen, progesterone and testosterone are key hormones that play key roles in women’s bodies; including in weight control.”
“ . . . the weight gain does not have to be permanent. Nothing says you need to accept your permanent flotation device.”