The role hormones play in impacting weight gain can be difficult to wrap one’s head around. Your body’s hormones operate in unison in a delicate balancing act that controls functions such as metabolism, sexual function, reproduction, and mood. However, when this balancing act falls out of whack and your hormone levels change it can sometimes result in a very stubborn type of weight gain.
As you get older, the most effective way to ensure you get your hormonal weight back on track is to understand which hormones are responsible for the imbalances.
With that being said, Starts at 60 spoke to the Co-Founder and Director of Happy Healthy You Jeff Butterworth, a Naturopath with over 20 years of experience, to help you better understand how to control hormonal weight gain.
Hormonal weight gain is associated with one’s underlying hormonal imbalances. For women, a particular oestrogen called “estradiol”, which is important in regulating metabolism and weight gain begins to decrease during menopause.
“As the body reduces its natural oestrogen production from the ovaries, it will start to manufacture the necessary hormones via the adrenals, breast and fat cells,” Butterworth explains.
“If the body relies more heavily on the fat cells over the adrenals for this hormone production, the fat cells expand which is the main reason women gain weight leading into menopause and beyond.”
As mentioned earlier, oestrogen plays a major role in women’s weight but there are five other key hormones that also cause weight gain for women in their 60s.
Leptin is the fat-storing hormone that helps your brain regulate your appetite. It also guides your metabolism and lets your body know when you have sufficient energy.
However, as you age you may find yourself experiencing leptin resistance, which means your brain doesn’t register the hormone and in turn causes you to overeat.
To combat this, research suggests exercising regularly to help improve your leptin levels.
Cortisol, aka the stress hormone, helps your body manage stressful situations by controlling your blood sugar and energy levels.
If you find yourself constantly stressed, your body may produce too much cortisol, which then becomes harmful to your health. Other than weight gain, negative effects may include high blood pressure and memory problems.
Since cortisol is linked to stress, it’s recommended to be mindful of your stress levels and to focus your energy on removing factors that may be triggering your stress.
While testosterone is predominantly a male hormone, females also produce it. Testosterone is the hormone in charge of burning fat, building muscles, and increasing libido.
If you are experiencing low testosterone levels, keeping an active lifestyle is vital. Consider including lightweight training in your exercise programme to help maintain your testosterone levels.
Ghrelin is another hormone responsible for your appetite. While leptin is in charge of regulating your hunger, ghrelin lets your body know when you’re hungry. Your ghrelin levels are normally higher before a meal and low once you’ve eaten.
One of the quickest ways to keep your ghrelin levels in check is to stay hydrated. Often our brain will confuse dehydration for hunger, so drinking a glass of water when you’re hit with sudden cravings may help keep your appetite on track.
Arguably one of the most well-known hormones is melatonin, the sleep hormone. While melatonin itself doesn’t have a direct association with weight gain poor sleep and low melatonin levels have been linked to leptin resistance.
As previously stated, low leptin causes you to overeat, so it’s key that you get quality sleep each night.
After menopause, some women may gain weight around their midsection and abdominal areas. The type of fat gained here is called visceral fat and it can be very dangerous as it has been linked to certain medical conditions such as diabetes and stroke.
Visceral fat can also increase a woman’s risk of cardiovascular diseases since the fat is stored within the abdominal wall and surrounds internal organs.
For women who may be struggling with their weight post-menopause, there are preventative steps you can take that may help minimise and possibly reverse hormonal weight gain.
“The secret to only gaining a few kilos is to nourish the adrenal glands,” says Butterworth, explaining that by supporting the adrenal system, women can transition sooner into this hormonal shift and the body will rely less on the fat cells as a source of hormone production.
“The adrenal glands produce an alternative hormone system during and post menopause which is more androgen based. Androgen has the same protective effects as oestrogen and progesterone but without the side effects associated with hormone replacement therapy.
“This is the body’s natural process that has been occurring since time began and simply needs supporting.”
Butterworth notes that managing stress, having a healthy diet and lifestyle, as well as supporting women’s hormone control with natural medicines can reduce the natural physiological tendency to weight gain.
In addition to a healthy lifestyle, there are a number of other measures that can be utilised in order to avoid hormonal weight gain.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) helps women balance their estrogen and progesterone levels and there are many reasons why doctors may suggest women do it, however, this treatment is mainly for women who are near or in their menopausal stage. HRT can help relieve menopause symptoms such as sweating, hot flashes, and mood changes.
Having an active lifestyle during and after menopause can reduce the risk of disease and help maintain hormonal weight gain.
As per the Australian Menopause Society, women aged 18-64 are recommended to do either:
2.5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity weekly or 1.25 hours of vigorous-intensity physical activity weekly.
To obtain greater benefits and help weight loss, avoid unhealthy weight gain and reduce the risk of cancer, the recommendation is for women to do:
5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity weekly or 2.5 hours of vigorous-intensity physical activity weekly.
If you find that you’re struggling to manage your hormone-related weight gain, have any pre-existing medication conditions or haven’t been physically active for a while consider visiting your GP for advice.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.