Menopause - Weight Gain, Cardio Health and Osteoporosis
Menopause can be a very difficult time for many women. It is a crossroad in a woman’s life where changes in her body may be unwelcome. During menopause many women experience weight gain and changes in their blood cholesterol levels as well as develop fear of osteoporosis. Despite these unwanted changes, there are many things you can do to alleviate the negative side effects of menopause. Read on to learn more about how Eating Free can help you manage these symptoms in a natural and holistic way.
What is Menopause?Menopause is the time in a woman’s life when her menstrual period permanently ends. Women are officially diagnosed with menopause when they have not had a menstrual period for one year. However, the effects of menopause can be felt years prior to the cessation of menstruation when women often experience weight gain and changes in blood cholesterol levels. Perimenopause is the time two to eight years before menopause. This normally begins in the mid-forties for most women but can start as early as mid-thirties or as late as mid-fifties.
Weight GainMany of our perimenopausal, menopausal and postmenopausal clients complain of gaining 10-15 pounds particularly around the waist area. The weight gain is primarily due to a decrease in women’s metabolism and estrogen production. As women age, their daily activity and exercise oftentimes slow down and consequently, their lean muscle mass decreases resulting in a slower metabolism. One consequence of a slower metabolism is that the body burns fewer calories and if food consumption is not reduced weight is gained. As estrogen production declines, fat tends to accumulate around the abdominal area. Oftentimes women who carried weight in the lower half of their body will suddenly gain weight around their stomach area. Unfortunately, weight around the abdominal area can lead to many health problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Women who have a waist circumference of 35” or more are at greater risk of these diseases (medical waist measurement is done 1” below the navel).
There are two types of abdominal fat: subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. Subcutaneous is the fat right underneath the skin, which can be measured with calipers. Visceral is the fat that accumulates deep in the abdominal area between the vital organs. This is the dangerous fat that contributes to many chronic conditions. Hormonal changes occurring during menopause appear to favor the accumulation of fat in visceral fat stores. This is why it is vital for menopausal women to do everything they can from gaining excess weight.
Avoiding Weight GainIt is important to ensure that you are not eating more calories than you are expending. As you age you need to continue to engage in physical activity and to decrease the consumption of excess calories. Even walking 4 times per week for 30 minutes at a vigorous pace and doing weight resistance training 2 times per week for 20-30 minutes will make a significant difference. Studies have shown that doing cardio and weight barring exercises or resistance training will increase the quality and quantity of your muscle protein. More muscles mean a higher metabolism. Furthermore, regular physical exercise helps you to retain bone density. When you put stress on your bones (such as supporting your own weight when exercising or lifting heavy objects) it forces your bones to remodel and improve themselves to keep up with your activity.
At Eating Free we will help you determine your metabolism or your resting metabolic rate (RMR) and help you create a realistic exercise plan so you can shed off the extra menopausal weight. If you are already in a healthy weight range, we can give you a calorie prescription to ensure you won’t gain any weight during or after menopause.
Cardiovascular DiseaseAnother symptom of declining estrogen production is the change in blood cholesterol levels. Frequentlywomen experiencing perimenopause and menopause find that their low-density lipoprotein (LDL, bad cholesterol) has increased and their high-density lipoprotein (HDL, good cholesterol) has decreased. Estrogen plays a critical role in regulating the levels of both good and bad cholesterol and when estrogen in a woman’s body declines, so does her body’s natural protection against cardiovascular disease.
Improving Cholesterol LevelsEating whole grains is key in improving blood cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber, which is the kind found in whole grains actually binds to cholesterol as it passes through the gastrointestinal tract and pulls it out of the body. Grains that are particularly high in soluble fiber are oats, barley and rye.
Another way you can reduce LDL is to eat phytoestrogens, which are plant compounds that enhance estrogen levels in your body. Foods that are high in phytoestrogens include flax seed, soy beans (any soy-based food), sesame seeds, and legumes.
Eating Free’s Ultimate Menopause Breakfast¾ cup High Fiber Cereal (5+ grams of fiber per serving)
2 tbsp ground flax seed
1 cup soy milk
¾ cup blueberries
Research has found that eating a high fiber cereal breakfast most days of the week can reduce your chance of cardiovascular disease by as much as 30%.
OsteoporosisOsteoporosis is a disease where the bones become porous and fragile due to loss of minerals. Post-menopausal women are highly prone to osteoporosis. During the first thirty or so years the bones gain strength and density. However, as women age the cells that build bones become less active but those that dismantle them continue to work, resulting in significant bone loss. The rate of bone loss accelerates during menopause because of the decline in estrogen production. Some women can lose up to twenty percent of their bone mass in the six to eight years following menopause. After this time, bone loss will continue but at a much slower rate.
Preventing Bone LossBones are built primarily with Calcium and Vitamin D. Calcium creates the crystal matrix of the bones and helps to make them strong and dense. The role of Vitamin D role is to help the body absorb calcium into the blood stream so it can eventually go into the bones. It is a common misconception that once bones are formed they are inert like rocks. However, bones are constantly being remodeled, as calcium levels in the diet rise and fall. If there is insufficient intake of Calcium, the body will leech Calcium out of the bones to use in other places but if there is adequate intake then it is deposited in the bones. Therefore, it is vital that you keep a diet that is high in Calcium to prevent the body from using its own bones as a Calcium source. Calcium rich foods include broccoli, milk, yogurt, cheese, tofu, fish with bones (sardines, anchovies, fish broth), fortified grain products, almonds, pinto beans, bananas and strawberries. It is important to eat a variety of these foods on a daily basis.
It is also important that you get enough vitamin D. Vitamin D is a nonessential vitamin, meaning that your actually makes it. All you need to do is get about 15-20 minutes of sunlight on exposed non-sunscreened skin and you will have adequate Vitamin D.
Menopause may seem like a daunting experience in a woman’s life but Eating Free can assist you along the way. We will help you create a meal and exercise plan that can help you lose and maintain your ideal weight and stay healthy. All it takes is a little patience and dedication on your part.
By: Kate Haisch, B.A.
Dunford, Marie. “After the Storm — Body Composition, RMR, and Aging.” Today’s Dietitian, Vol. 7 No. 11 P. 14
Brannon, Carol Ann. “Perimenopause: Nutritional Management.” Today’s Dietitian Vol. 8 No. 10 P. 10
Carey, Rita. “Natural Passage Through Menopause.” Today’s Dietitian, Vol. 7 No. 11 P. 28