CAUSES OF MIDDLE-AGE WEIGHT GAIN: The “Bad News” and the “Good News”!

February 10th, 2011

This article address the underlying causes to alleviate or prevent middle-aged weight gain along with other symptoms commonly experienced by middle- aged women.


90% of women gain weight between the ages of 35-55. The average weight gain is about 15-20 pounds, with a disproportionate amount of this weight being an increase in body fat.

What is unfair about this, is the fact that much of this weight gain and/or body fat increase, can occur without, increasing caloric intake.  This is different than the weight you gain because you eat too much of the wrong foods and don’t exercise enough.  It’s the stubborn, difficult weight gain or increases in body fat percentage (without weight gain) that occur in middle-aged and beyond women.

Why does this phenomenon occur in so many women in this age range, and what  can you do to prevent or reduce the good chance this may happen to you?

There are specific techniques and natural supplements that can help balance a female body that is desperately trying (and in many cases with limited success) to balance many physiological processes, that by design, change with age. These changes can cause uncontrolled and undeserved weight or body fat percentage gains.

Much of this new weight will NOT be gained as much around the hips and thighs but in the stomach and waist area.  Shifting/fluctuating hormones, stress and insulin resistance are the guilty parties.

Women who suffer from migraines will also be glad to learn that controlling these same issues of fluctuating hormones, stress and blood sugar due to insulin resistance will reduce their migraine frequency and intensity as well.

Why does this weight gain occur when hormones fluctuate and stress and blood sugar are poorly controlled?

Some women can start experiencing the symptoms of early menopause (perimenopause) as soon as their mid 30’s. The hormonal fluctuations of perimenopuase  and the few years after menopause (one full year with no period)  can strongly influence your metabolism, appetite and increase your storage of fat.

Though your hormones will fluctuate during perimenopause, the general trend is for your estrogen levels to diminish with ultimately the cessation of ovulation.

The body is aware of decreasing levels of estrogen from the ovaries and searches for new sources of estrogen production.  Unfortunately, fat cells are a source of estrogen and the body may convert more calories into fat.

Though progesterone levels also tend to decrease during this period, decreasing progesterone levels don’t cause weight gain but they may cause water retention making you feel puffy or bloated.

Testosterone levels may also decrease during perimenopause (and menopause). This could result in decreased muscle mass (as well as other things like decreased libido). Less muscle mass would lead to decreased metabolic rate and additional possible weight gain.

INSULIN RESISTANCE

As if dealing with fluctuating hormones isn’t enough of a challenge during these years of a woman’s life, both men and women (in ever increasing numbers, mostly due to diet) are becoming “insulin resistant”.

This is a condition where your body is no longer as responsive to the hormone insulin, as it was when you were younger. Our bodies require increasing amounts of insulin to be released to maintain blood sugar at healthy, non-diabetic levels. Insulin resistance can occur whether you are over-weight or thin.

When our bodies don’t respond in a sensitive way to insulin, the sugar in our blood, is not absorbed efficiently by our cells and they don’t get the source of energy that they need. The cells can feel deprived and appetites increase and fat accumulation and weight gain can occur.

In the case of women suffering from PCOS (Polycystic ovarian syndrome), the insulin resistance that accompanies this condition leads to weight gain as well.  But in the case of PCOS the women often have too much testosterone and this causes the weight gain to occur around the stomach and waist much like it does it men.  Also hair at the crown of the head can thin, and hair may grown on the face and back.

In fact, because estrogen and progesterone levels drop more than testosterone levels do during perimenopause and menopause, women may also tend to gain more around the middle than the hips and thighs.  Some women tend to lose their waistline.

The fat that you can grab around your belly is NOT the problem.  This is just sub-cutaneous fat, and though cosmetically not desirable, it is not the fat that increases cardiovascular and cancer risk.

It is the fat beneath your abdominal muscles that surrounds your internal organs that is of greater health concern.   This fat is called abdominal or visceral adiposity.

It is the fat that protrudes out some men’s stomach to the point where they look like they swallowed a beach ball but yet they continue to say………. “Feel how hard my stomach is!”   Of course it’s hard, there is so much fat underneath the abdominal muscles, pushing them outwards, that or course the abdomen feels hard.

Insulin resistance as well as stress and hormonal fluctuations can successfully be controlled and reversed and your body, self-image, emotional status, energy levels, cognition, health and over-all life will improve dramatically.

How do you know if you are insulin resistant?

One measurement is to measure yourself around the smaller part of your waist (but do NOT suck your stomach in when taking this measurement).  Then measure your hips around their widest part.

Divide the waist measurement in inches by the hip measurement in inches. If the resulting number is .8 or larger (for women,  1 for men), then you have disproportionate weight in the waist and are at greater risk of having insulin resistance.

Your risk further increases if you have hypertension, low HDL levels (below 45 if you are a woman), or high triglyceride levels (above 150).

If you have darkened skin patches around the neck or armpits, it is extremely likely that you are insulin resistant.  This is a condition known as acanthosis nigricans.

Stress

The effects of long-term stress on our over-all health is very significant.  One of the most important hormones that is released by our adrenal glands when under-stress is cortisol.  This is necessary and helps us to deal with short-term stressful events or stimuli.

But, when stress is chronic, and cortisol is being released in excessive and lasting amounts, it can also lead to weight gain and other health problems.

Like insulin resistance and hormonal fluctuations, stress must also be dealt with.

Bringing It All Together

Because stress, hormonal fluctuations and blood sugar fluctuation due to insulin resistance are also major contributors to chronic migraine headaches as well as weight gain, several of the key “natural medicines” that help to resolve these issues are in MigreLief+M. This is a very effective natural medicine that helps to prevent migraine headaches and coincidentally helps women with the related weight gain issues we have been discussing.

Chasteberry – A specific extract of Vitex Agnus Castus, otherwise known as Chasteberry extract has been shown in numerous human studies to naturally balance the hormonal fluctuation discussed above.

Biotin – Doses of biotin, (a B-vitamin) much higher than normally found in multi-vitamin products, has been clinically proven to help regulate blood sugar irregularities that can be caused by insulin resistance.

B-6 – High doses of Vitamin B-6 have been shown to decrease or eliminate the symptoms of PMS (including bloating and related weight gain) caused by fluctuating estrogen levels.  This vitamin is also involved in the processing of sugar and can help protect against the effects of blood sugar fluctuations caused by insulin resistance.

L-Theanine – an amino acid derived from green tea, has been shown to be very calming and help to reduce stress levels.

All four of the ingredients are found in the correct, therapeutic doses in MigreLief+M.  For those of you who don’t  suffer from chronic migraine headaches but do want to benefit from their weight gain/loss/body fat benefits, I suggest that you purchase these ingredients separately at your health food store.

For those of you who fear that they are insulin resistant, I suggest taking these other ingredients as well (which also can be purchase at any well stocked health food store):

800 mcg per day of chromium picolinate for blood sugar control
600 mg per day of R-Lipoic acid for blood sugar control

Consumption of a least 50 grams of dietary fiber spread out throughout the day  with meals.  Fiber helps to slow the body’s absorption of sugar and prevents the fluctuations that we have been talking about. You can choose psyllium as a supplement or, ground flax seed as your fiber source.

Moderate aerobic exercise of 20-30 minutes a day can also help to correct insulin resistance.

A daily B vitamin complex of 50 mg of B-1,2,3,5 plus folic acid and B-12 can also help with sugar metabolism and stress.

Diet-wise, lean meats, high fiber whole grains, vegetables, legumes and fruit will help reestablish normal insulin levels.  Until you see weight and or body fat starting to drop, keep carbohydrates in the form of pasta, bread and sugar to a minimum.

What to expect?

By following this advice over the course of 3-6 months (3 months or less for migraines) your:

1-     Weight or body fat percentages should start to meaningfully drop

2-     Your hair, at the front and crown of your head, if it was thinning, should start to thicken

3-     Any discolored patches of skin around the neck and armpits should start to lighten or disappear 

4-     Migraine frequency and intensity (if you were a sufferer) should noticeably improve

5-     Energy levels should noticeably improve

6-     If you are still menstruating, your periods should be much more regular

7-     If you were experiencing  perimenopausal symptoms, they should improve

8-     If you had unwanted hair on the face or back, it should lighten and thin, if not completely go away.

 

Curt Hendrix, M.S.  C.C.N.  C.N.S

 

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