Menopause Got You Hot?
During menopause, women experience many pivotal physical changes. Uncomfortable symptoms including hot flashes, lower sex drive, and difficulty sleeping often accompany these changes.
Adding to that friction and frustration: Many women experience an increase in belly fat during menopause.
Hormonal imbalances drive these changes. Many women gain belly fat during menopause, and a big reason for that increased belly fat is lower levels of estrogen.
In fact, lower levels of this hormone during menopause often becomes the major culprit for increased belly fat.
Just a note, other conditions — including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) — can also contribute to estrogen imbalances and lower estrogen levels. Here, we’ll focus exclusively on declining estrogen levels during menopause and how they can contribute to belly fat.
Estrogen: The Female Sex Hormone
Along with progesterone, estrogen is the primary female sex hormone or chemical messenger. Your ovaries produce most of the estrogen your body makes. Men also make small amounts of estrogen.
Men and women both produce estrogen at birth. But especially during puberty, females increase production of this characteristically female hormone. Among its duties, estrogen helps develop breast and reproductive organs as well as initiating menstruation.
Throughout a woman’s life, estrogen plays numerous roles including strong bones, healthy skin, and regulating mood including anxiety and depression.
But as with any hormone, you want to maintain balance with estrogen. Too much or too little estrogen can create problems.
The latter occurs during menopause. During the time leading to the end of menstruation — called perimenopause — estrogen and other hormones including progesterone and testosterone fluctuate.
When a woman hasn’t had a period for a year, she has completed menopause. Her estrogen and progesterone levels remain low.
Low estrogen levels can create many of the symptoms women experience during menopause, including:
- Low sex drive
- Trouble sleeping
- Dry skin
- Trouble remembering things
- Mood disorders including depression or anxiety
Estrogen also helps regulate body weight. Animal studies find that lower estrogen levels can increase belly fat in several ways:
- You eat more.
- You’re less physically active.
- You have a lower metabolic rate.
- Your body utilizes sugar and other carbohydrates less effectively.
- You might have less muscle mass.
One type of estrogen — called estradiol — regulates metabolism and body weight. During menopause, estradiol levels drop, increasing belly fat.
Why Do Women Gain Belly Fat During Menopause?
During menopause, some women find they have trouble losing weight, while others gain weight.
It isn’t just the weight gain itself; many women find where they lose weight shifts during menopause. Traditionally, women gain weight around their hips and thighs. After menopause, however, that weight gain shifts to her midsection as belly fat.
Researchers aren’t entirely sure how low estrogen during menopause increases belly fat, but they have some theories. Among them:
- Your metabolic rate slows down, so you burn fewer calories.
- Your fat cells change, so more fat accumulates as belly fat.
- Menopause can impact sleep, which can impact other fat-regulating hormones including your stress hormone, cortisol.
- You might not be exercising as much.
All of those changes can lead to weight loss resistance during menopause. In fact, obesity increases in women once they reach the age of 40 when perimenopause usually occurs. About 65 percent of women 40 – 59 are obese, and 73.8 percent of women 60 years and older are obese.
Why Belly Fat is So Dangerous
Belly fat can increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and more.
Fat comes in several types. When you pinch your skin, you’re feeling what’s calledsubcutaneous fat. But there’s another type of fat, called visceral fat, that’s far more dangerous.
Found deeper in your abdomen, visceral fat produces hormones and other substances that can increase insulin resistance.
When this occurs, your cells can’t take up glucose as effectively, so your pancreas is forced to produce more insulin. Eventually, insulin resistance can lead to pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Visceral fat can also increase chronic inflammation, which contributes to many diseases.
This type of fat can increase your risk for specific health conditions including diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and some cancers. A vicious cycle results as inflammation forces your body to hold on to fat, and belly fat keeps you more inflamed.
7 Natural Ways to Fight Menopause Belly Fat
Many of the changes that occur during menopause including hot flashes and night sweats can feel confusing and frustrating, and you’ll want to work with your healthcare practitioner to address and minimize them.
But the good news is that menopause does not automatically cause an increase in belly fat. You have plenty of strategies within your control to manage your weight and other symptoms associated with this pivotal time in your life.
Some women consider hormone replacement therapy during menopause. Researchers show those who undergo hormonal therapy for menopausal symptoms have less belly fat.
However, that impact is small compared with dietary and lifestyle changes. In fact, the weight loss results only occurred when women were on therapy, and they regained weight once they stopped therapy.
What you eat and how you live can dramatically improve many symptoms during menopause, including belly fat. Please discuss with your healthcare practitioner about specific strategies to address your menopausal symptoms, including hormone replacement therapy, these, and other menopausal therapies.
- Choose foods on our Advanced Nutrition Plan. While losing weight will reduce belly fat, doing so can also reduce menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats. Our Advanced Nutrition Plan contains healthy fats, protein, and nutrient-dense carbohydrates to provide the support your body needs during menopause to lose belly fat and reduce menopausal symptoms.
- Reduce or eliminate trigger foods. Eliminating sugary, processed foods makes a solid foundation to reduce belly fat and other menopausal symptoms. But other foods can also store belly fat and contribute to symptoms. For some women, drinking alcohol can increase menopausal symptoms including hot flashes. Others might have food sensitivities that trigger symptoms. Studies show that gluten, for instance, can increase belly fat. Keep a food journal to track how particular foods and beverages might be holding your weight and symptoms hostage.
- Get the right exercise. During menopause, your body burns fewer calories during exercise. To remedy that, increase the intensity of your workouts. Exercise provides numerous other benefits during menopause, including a lower risk for osteoporosis and heart disease. Your body also handles insulin better with regular exercise, which reduces your risk of insulin resistance that can contribute to belly fat and diabetes. Our MaxT3 program makes an effective way to build muscle and burn fat in just 12 minutes.
- Make sleep a priority. Even one partial night’s sleep deprivation can contribute to insulin resistance, increasing belly fat and other menopausal symptoms. Some women experience problems sleeping during menopause that could require working with a specialist. Many women benefit from good sleep hygiene, including unwinding before bed, turning off electronics, and taking a sleep supplement to fall and stay asleep.
- Practice stress management. Menopausal symptoms like hot flashes can increase stress levels, which contribute to belly fat. Menopause can be an especially stressful time for some women, and learning ways to effectively manage the stressors that can quickly ruin your day becomes increasingly important. Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and brisk walking become effective de-stressors, but what matters most is what you will do regularly.
- Take the right nutrients. Discuss including these and/or any other additional supplements with your healthcare practitioner. Never modify any medications or other medical advice without your healthcare practitioner’s consent.
- Work with your chiropractor. Chiropractic care may help address many symptoms of menopause including weight gain. Research shows that almost all women who sought treatment such as chiropractic care during menopause found benefits for sleep issues, stress management, and other menopausal symptoms.
While many women find it harder to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight during menopause, you needn’t succumb to the idea that going through this transitional period in life automatically means you have to live with belly fat.
Whether you already maintain healthy habits or you need to focus a bit more on diet and lifestyle factors, menopause becomes an excellent time to optimize how you eat and live so you create the vibrant, joyful life you deserve.