In menopause, the ovaries ‘pause’ their output of estrogen but there are other pauses during this time to consider. There is simultaneously a pause in the androgenic hormones.
These androgenic hormones come from the ovaries but they also come from the adrenals and this pause leads to a decrease in both testosterone and DHEA – hormones which are instrumental in the control of blood sugar, they affect how the body the body burns fuel and whether it is placed in muscle tissue and the liver as glycogen or visceral fat (which is also known as abdominal fat.)
Additional strain is also evident in the adrenals themselves at this time. As the ovaries are doing less work, the adrenals are forced to take over this task. As estrogen falls the adrenals work much harder to make estrone to try to compensate for the loss, and this means they are less able to make DHEA, testosterone and cortisol.
Ever heard of the “thyropause”? It’s a real thing – generally the thyroid will slow down as a person ages, and thyroid disease risk increases during menopause. Whenever there are large hormonal shifts in the body, you may see latent thyroid disease revealed, such as:
There’s also “hepatopause”, where the liver is less able to regulate fuel properly. When perfectly healthy it can store extra fuel and make it available when needed – an unhealthy liver has less room to store glycogen, and instead gets jammed with triglycerides leading to fatty liver disease. This also leaves little room for regulating metabolism. Fatty liver can happen to those who don’t drink alcohol at all – called Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) and this is often due to soft drinks, sugar and excess carbs. A fatty liver is hard-pressed to burn fuel correctly, it stores more fat than is needed while releasing less than is needed, and begins to enlarge.
A healthy liver
A healthy liver has 1-3% fat, but a fatty liver has more than 5% and disease sets in when it hits somewhere near the 10% mark, which leads to:
- Liver malfunction
- Scarring of liver tissue
- Liver cancer
If you have fatty liver, decreasing your food intake will leave you utterly fatigued. There are less androgens available causing a decrease in basal (or resting) metabolic rate, proportionate to a loss of muscle mass – or sarcopenia. This is why intermittent fasting may not work for some women after a certain age.
Menopausal weight gain
This can be addressed if you follow the right steps early enough. By focusing on adrenal function you want to reset your body to wake up early and be full of energy and see the cortisol drop in the evenings when you go to bed to give you restful sleep. All too often it’s the other way round in menopause, you have too much cortisol at night when you don’t need it, and little during the day when you do, which can result in:
- Easy weight gain
- Difficulty losing weight
- Digestive disturbances
- Blood sugar dysregulation
- Difficulty dealing with stress and lifestyle changes
Your nutrition, sleep, and exercise
Refocusing your diet at this time of life – earlier if possible – is key to how you will cope with all these periods of ‘pause’ in your menopause. Your macronutrients become key to managing cortisol now. You must not stop carbs, but concentrate on good quality, lower carbohydrate foods, eat moderate amounts of healthy fat instead of going low fat, and have enough protein.
Timing is everything! You need to get your ‘timing’ of eating carbs right. Carbs naturally lower cortisol, so eating carbs in the morning will make you tired during the day. Your carbs should be highest at night as your carb-digesting enzymes are highest at this time, and will facilitate lowering of cortisol levels to enable you to sleep better. Tailoring your intake of carbs will make a difference to cortisol, weight and sleep.
The ‘pause’ we see in menopause with regard to sleep is distressing with many women turning to sleeping pills at this time, which is really not ideal at all. Making sure you have restful sleep will help to control your weight and make you feel a whole lot better in your waking hours.
Getting enough quality protein is also more important at this time of life than you may realise. It will prevent the muscle loss associated with menopause when so many women are eating less protein than they should, and this dramatically affects adrenal function which relies on high-quality protein.
This will enable you to retain your valuable muscle mass, especially when combined with some healthy, regular exercise. So some of the ways to reset your hormones and lose that menopausal weight creeping up will include:
- Eating carbs at the right time of day (ie. sweet potato at night and eggs in the morning)
- Eating enough good quality protein at each meal
- Not going low fat, but eating healthy fats in moderate proportions
- Getting sufficient sleep and resetting that cortisol curve
- Dealing with stress effectively
- Taking the right targeted supplements for you personally
Don’t try any rash or strange diets at this time of life! You will further destroy a fragile metabolic rate that is in need of fixing, and which can be done if you do it sanely. Men and women are very different and a completely different approach needs to be taken when it comes to weight loss in women, particularly those in menopause.
Your body and brain are in need of vital nutrition from good food at this time of life, don’t skimp on quality.
Visit our Health Resources page for helpful free resources to help you along your journey https://sallyanncreed.co.za/health-resources/
This post is subject to our general disclaimer https://sallyanncreed.co.za/disclaimer/.