Belly Fat and Hormone Imbalances by Karen Zizzo, NP.
If I were to rank the top three complaints that my female patients in their 40’s and 50’s report- increased belly fat is consistently either #1, #2, or #3. Women who throughout their life were pear shaped (and were not excited about that comparison), have now transformed into the “apple”. Where hips, thighs, and buttocks used to reflect any weight gain, it is now the belly. Usually women will grab several inches of belly fat and say, “what is this, where did it come from, and how can I get rid of it?”
Much of this can be attributed to changes in hormones. As we age, we lose estrogen and progesterone. Previously, when our female bodies were swimming in these two hormones, we were able to reduce our dietary intake and we would lose weight- and it was usually fat that would be lost. Estrogen would be sensitive to insulin to facilitate this process.
Cortisol is another actor in this play. Cortisol is secreted in excess when we are stressed. It is increased with lack of sleep, and with excessive dieting too. This doesn’t mean that only women in their 40’s and 50’s are stressed and don’t sleep well, but when you consider the nose dive of the progesterone and estrogen during menopause, these factors tend to “allow” the cortisol to store more fat. Now add in the fragmented sleep from the hot flashes (which are caused by the lower estrogen and progesterone) and you have one sleep deprived lady who may not be able to manage the normal stressors that she did when she was getting a good night’s sleep.
Did you know what else may happen when women get more stressed? Sometimes it increases testosterone levels. So, combining all these factors: increase in testosterone, decrease in progesterone and estrogen, and increased sensitivity to cortisol- this may lead to more abdominal fat. Now to be clear, rising testosterone levels- if the estrogen and progesterone levels also increase- can be a great thing. But that’s another blog….
I fondly refer to this increase in belly fat as the “men-a -pot”- combining menopause and pot belly. As an established member of this menopause club, I can chuckle when I say that, because I can relate. My once board flat abdominals are now my chubbiest area. BUT they are improving with hormone replacement.
What else can be done? Watch carbohydrate intake. Unfortunately, we can’t eat as many carbs as we used to. Relax and restore. Get more sleep. Do weight bearing exercise and get aerobic activity such as brisk walks, swimming, dancing, etc. Don’t forget to get your hormones checked. Bioidentical hormone replacement can improve many of these symptoms and help you begin losing some of that belly fat.