Written by: Dr. Shelly Messer, Medical Director – Red Mountain Weight Loss®
Menopause: the word alone strikes fear through the heart of many women. I often see patients who worry about becoming a red-faced, forgetful, raging lunatic who is drenched in sweat at all times and no longer interested in bedroom activities. However, this does not have to be the case. It is possible to sail through this time with grace and confidence.
The first step is to understand Menopause from a medical perspective.
The average age of menopause is 52, however this can occur earlier for some and later for others. Symptoms include hot flashes, mood swings, forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping, vaginal dryness, decreased libido, urinary incontinence and an increase in vaginal & bladder infections.
The most concerning symptom for many, however, is weight gain.
The Science behind Menopause:
As women enter the menopausal transition, ovarian function begins to decline. The ovaries produce less of a substance called Inhibin which normally would inhibit secretion of a hormone called FSH in the brain. Since this process is not as inhibited, FSH levels increase which stimulates the ovaries to produce more estrogen. In time, this process burns out the ovarian follicles resulting in an eventual decline in output of estrogen. With the ovary less active, the other ovarian hormones, progesterone and testosterone decline as well.
When estrogen levels fall, the adrenal glands respond with an increase in cortisol which causes an increase in fat deposition. Estrogen also stimulates the process of lipolysis (fat burning) in the fat cell. Less fat burning occurs when there is less circulating estrogen.
What’s the big deal with these lower hormone levels?
Not only does the change in hormone levels contribute to menopausal symptoms, but it is pivotal in explaining the effects on weight during this stage of life.
An aging, tired adrenal gland further results in a decline in estrogen and testosterone, plus makes us feel fatigued. As a result, we often times become more sedentary as we go through this process. Plus, testosterone is needed to stimulate and maintain muscle mass which is very metabolically active tissue. When this stimulation declines, our muscles begin to atrophy resulting in a lower overall metabolism.
So, now we have a situation where our hormone balance favors fat deposition especially around the abdomen: our metabolism has declined due to less muscle mass, and a decrease in our activity levels has likely contributed to a decrease in muscle mass & metabolism.
Even one more factor that occurs with that drop in estrogen and testosterone is an increase in insulin resistance which makes our bodies less responsive to insulin so that our pancreas pumps out higher and higher levels. When our body has high levels of insulin, our body takes the glucose we consume and stores it as fat. It’s a wonder we survive this process at all.
Some women sail through menopause with tolerable symptoms and maintain their thin structure. How is this possible?
One good idea is to enter menopause at a normal weight & maintain an exercise regimen, as studies demonstrate thin and active women experience less menopausal symptoms. They also have an easier time maintaining their weight. So, if you are not nearing the time of menopause, now is a great time to ensure you are leading a healthy lifestyle and getting your body to its optimal healthy weight.
For those of who are going through this process or have completed it and experienced excess weight gain, please don’t lose hope. You can still improve your hormonal environment in favor of weight loss & maintenance by taking the following steps:
1. Start a medical weight loss program where the providers can work with you on your individual needs. RM3® is the perfect program to help women through this transitional stage in order to quickly and effectively lose weight.
2. Due to the decrease in metabolism as we age, you actually need to consume less to maintain your weight than you did in the past. Focus on including lots of vegetables and lean proteins in your diet. Eat less carbs and sugars, which are likely to be stored as fat in a menopausal hormone environment.
3. Exercise! Make sure your exercise program involves strength training as well as cardio to help increase your muscle mass.
4. Support your adrenal gland. Our supplement Adrenal Complex can help improve the function of your adrenal gland by restoring energy and promoting a proper hormonal balance.
5. Consider hormone therapy. We recommend bioidentical hormones to help restore your levels. Studies do not show an increase in weight with women on hormone therapy other than some water weight gain and breast tissue gain when levels are too high. Hormones can also help improve your sensitivity to insulin to counteract the fat storage effect of too much insulin.
6. Take DHEA. This is a supplement available in our offices. DHEA is a product of the adrenal gland that is then converted to testosterone and estrogen.
As you can see, menopause can be successfully embraced. This is a time to celebrate your life achievements and the acquisition of years of knowledge while looking forward to all that is yet to come.