It’s that time when everyone starts thinking about how to lose weight in the new year, but did you know that sex hormones impact many weight-related processes? From metabolism and muscle mass to sleep patterns and food cravings, sex hormones are crucial pieces in the weight-loss puzzle. And for those 40 and older, diminishing sex hormones can make a weight loss journey even more challenging. Here’s how estrogen, progesterone and testosterone link to the battle of the bulge:
Sex Hormones Impact Sleep; Sleep Impacts Eating. When sleep-deprived, the body produces more of the neurotransmitter ghrelin, which creates hunger and less leptin, which creates the feeling of being full. Studies also show that people who don’t get enough sleep crave not only more calories but, specifically, more carbohydrates. And a tired brain has less self-control.
Sex hormones can cause sleep disturbances in two major ways. Estrogen impacts the human thermostat, and as it fluctuates wildly through perimenopause, the resulting hot flashes and night sweats can wreak havoc on sleep. Progesterone, a sleep-promoting hormone, also diminishes through menopause, affecting sleep quality.
Belly Fat Blooms. Even without weight gain, middle-aged bodies start changing shape. For women, declining estrogen causes fat to be stored in the belly, not thighs and backsides. Belly fat is especially detrimental to our health. It produces toxins that interfere with insulin metabolism. The resulting ebb and flow of blood sugar impacts appetite and energy levels and is also associated with Type 2 diabetes.
Muscle Matters. It’s a physiological fact that muscle burns more calories than fat tissue does. This makes muscle mass a key factor in weight loss. But menopause messes with muscle – even if nutrition and exercise stay constant. That’s because testosterone (found in females, too) decreases as much as 50 percent in the years from the mid-20s to mid-40s. Less testosterone means less muscle mass, which means less calories burned.
CORTISOL COUNTS. For peri- and post-menopausal women, changing hormones influence how their bodies respond to exercise. Estrogen and progesterone help modulate the stress hormone cortisol, which tells the body if it should be storing fat or burning it. When cortisol is released in larger doses during long periods of intense exercise, the lower levels of estrogen and progesterone in women over 40 can’t counteract cortisol shouting “store fat!” Therefore, females 40 and older who exercise should limit higher intensity sessions to less than 60 minutes to maximize cortisol’s “burn fat, build muscle” messages.
Sex hormones impact men and women’s health from head to toe, but sex hormone productions decrease with age. However, the latest medical research shows hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is safe for almost all women (Mayo Clinic: The Menopause Solution, 2018) and does not increase all-cause mortality (Journal of the American Medical Association, September 12, 2018). Now’s the time to consider HRT for help with the physical and mental tribulations of diminishing sex hormones.
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