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Combat Menopause Belly the Healthy Way

Combat Menopause Belly the Healthy Way

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Are you in midlife and think you may be menopausal? Do you struggle daily with extra belly fat and have no clue where it came from? Do you feel like you’ve tried just about everything to lose your excess pounds, but nothing seems to work? You can take comfort in knowing you have a lot of company and there is hope—lifestyle changes can combat midlife weight gain and retention. The information here should clear up some of your confusion, and, armed with this helpful information, you will move forward more easily on your journey to fewer belly pounds, improved overall wellness, and greater self-love.

Midlife and Central Obesity: A Few Helpful Numbers
Many women in their 50s tend to experience unanticipated abdominal weight gain, either when they are menopausal (12 months after their last period), perimenopausal (4–12 years before menopause, when monthly cycle changes begin), or postmenopausal (after the 12-month point of menopause). For simplicity’s sake, these are all referred to as menopause in this article. They gain an average of 1.5 pounds per year. Almost 67% of American women ages 40–65 and nearly 74% over 65 are considered obese.

The body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight relative to height, is the accepted medical standard for classifying according to body composition: normal (18.5–24.9); overweight (25–29.9); obese (over 30); extremely obese (over 40). BMI, however, does not indicate body fat location.

“Central obesity” focuses primarily on where fat is stored, not merely on BMI or the number on the scale. It is examined via two measurements: waist circumference (WC) and WC/hip circumference ratio (WC/HC). WC is determined by snugly placing a measuring tape horizontally around the abdomen, just above the upper hip bone. A woman’s WC should be 35 inches or less. If it is below that number, WC/HC becomes important and should be 0.8 or less.

Menopause, Central Obesity and the Risks
Although women in midlife generally experience both menopause and increased belly fat, the processes by which the latter occurs are not fully known. Researchers consider multiple possible factors: genetics (genetic predisposition, ethnicity, reversible epigenetic changes (the impact of behaviors and environmental factors on how genes operate)], external [poor nutrition, inadequate physical activity, medications (steroids, insulin), diseases], and hormonal.

To begin combatting central obesity, learn some of these key hormonal changes that underlie it and many other menopause symptoms:

  • Androgens: Circulation of these male characteristic hormones decreases. Their higher levels relative to estrogen production, however, are believed to cause fat accumulation as increased luteinizing hormone induces their secretion from the ovaries and adrenal glands.
  • Cortisol: During perimenopause, the body shifts toward the production of both insulin and this other fat-accumulating, appetite-stimulating, “fight or flight” hormone. While critical for survival, energy maintenance, and emotional stability, excess levels for extended periods, especially from chronic stress (including excess cardio exercise), can cause visceral fat storage, bloating, and fluid retention.
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA): Roughly 75% of postmenopausal women exhibit DHEA insufficiency. There is increasing evidence that menopausal production of low amounts of this precursor to estrogen and testosterone by the adrenal glands, ovaries, and testes contributes to central obesity, reduced insulin secretion, and greater insulin resistance.
  • Estrogen/Estradiol: Lower production of
    estrogen, a fat-mobilizing hormone, causes decreased thermogenesis (resting energy expenditure and fat mobilization) and increased brain signals of hunger that increase appetite, caloric intake, and weight gain.
  • Growth Hormone (GH): Deficiency of this hormone is associated with increased body fat and reduced lean body mass. It declines with lower estrogen production, partly due to excess insulin in the blood.
  • Insulin: This is a fat-storage hormone, and abdominal fat is loaded with insulin receptors. With increased belly fat, more insulin is required to move blood sugar into the cells, which in turn can cause prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
  • Progesterone: Both estrogen and progesterone decline, but the latter declines at a faster rate to produce “estrogen dominance,” according to John Lee, MD, who pioneered the use of transdermal progesterone cream and natural bio-identical hormones. Some experts view progesterone insufficiency as the most significant issue for most menopausal women.
  • During midlife and menopause, determining how to reduce the dangerous belly fat that envelops your visceral organs, increases body-wide inflammation, and accelerates aging, is one of the most important first steps you can take toward better physical and emotional health. Specifically, in postmenopausal women, central obesity has been associated with a higher risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease (high cholesterol/triglycerides, hypertension, atherosclerosis, blood clots, stroke/heart attack), cancer (breast, colon, gallbladder), insulin resistance/diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and all-cause mortality.

    Lifestyle Changes for Decreasing Your Menopause Belly
    Though change can be complex and difficult to embrace, you might try some of these critical lifestyle modifications to begin your journey to greater midlife vitality:

    1. Alter your mindset by journaling the compelling reasons you want to improve your health.
    2. Explore diagnoses that may be causing your central obesity (pre/diabetes, hypothyroidism, candidiasis/leaky gut, adrenal fatigue, depression).
    3. Whenever possible, opt for natural remedies instead of certain medications (prednisone/corticosteroids, antidepressants, anxiolytics, diabetes drugs).
    4. Reduce stress and increase sleep.
    5. With herbs or a detoxifying drink (hot/cold lemon water, green tea), prime your body for weight loss by cleansing it of cell-crippling toxins and boosting your body’s seven elimination pathways.
    6. Adopt a menopause modification dietary program that includes reducing calorie intake and intermittent fasting.
    7. Add daily 20-minute, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts (to lose fat and increase muscle to burn more calories).

    Some Scientifically Proven Supplements to Combat Your Menopause Bulge
    Certain dietary supplements can promote belly fat loss. The appropriateness of a particular product is highly individualized, and getting results can require experimentation and patience. Scientific studies indicate that supportive options include:

    1. 5-HTP and PGX Fiber: Promote satiety; reduce food intake
    2. AMPK Activators: Stimulate energy production; berberine, resveratrol, curcumin, ashwagandha, Chinese gynostemma extract
    3. Chromium (Chromemate): Increases insulin sensitivity and lean body mass
    4. Low-Carb Meal Replacers/Protein Powders: Especially grass-fed, organic whey protein
    5. Probiotics: Improves insulin sensitivity and glucose and fat metabolism
    6. Natural Bioidentical Progesterone Cream: Helps regulate fat cells; diuretic; reduces bloating
    7. White Kidney Bean Extract: Limits carbohydrate digestion and absorption.

    Though you might find midlife and menopause extremely challenging, you have many proven ways to address your excess belly fat and other symptoms. And you don’t have to go it alone! You can start today to lose weight and recapture your vitality.

    Submitted by Erika Dworkin, BCHN (Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition®), Wellness Guide and former owner of the Manchester Parkade Health Shoppe in Manchester, CT, which operated for 65 years. To read more about this topic, contact Erika in November to get a copy of her chapter in the 25 practitioners’ collaborative book, The Energy Medicine Solution: Mind Blowing Results to Live Your Extraordinary Life.

    All statements in this article are practice- or scientific evidence-based, and references are available upon request. The statements in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, are for educational purposes only, and are not intended to take the place of a physician’s advice.

    Erika is available for nutrition consultations and to speak to groups, in person or on Zoom. She can be contacted by phone at 860.646.8178 or by email at: edworkin@vitathena.com. Ask about her office hours by appointment, FREE 20-Minute Wellness Assessments, and FREE Wellness Chats!