Hormones and Weight Gain in Women After 60
Muffin top, love handles, thick, or curvy. Many women have experienced some unwanted pounds at some point in their lives. Hormonal imbalances can play a key role in weight gain, especially as we age.
Today, we’re going to explore unwanted weight gain in women over 60 and the effect hormones play in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Please note that the information in this blog is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. Please contact your physician with any questions you may have regarding hormonal weight gain or any other medical condition.
Weight Gain After 60
For many women, it’s easier to gain weight after 60 and much harder to lose those extra pounds. Contributing factors include hormonal changes from menopause, diet, lifestyle, genetics and aging.
We spoke with Dr. Bruce Dorr, an OB/GYN specializing in hormonal conditions and menopause to explain how aging affects weight gain:
“Unfortunately, because of injuries, poor sleep, fatigue, and changes in our bodies, we eat more and are less active. As we gain weight, the aches and pains can worsen—leading to a vicious cycle.”
As we age, we also experience a decrease in muscle mass. Muscle mass plays a key role in creating energy from the food you eat, and it naturally decreases as we get older. Without the muscle to burn those calories, our bodies store them away for future use as fat cells.
Without adjustments to diet and exercise that take these changes into account, weight gain is almost guaranteed.
Hormonal Weight Gain
There are several hormonal causes for weight gain, including thyroid deficiencies and insulin resistance. Dr. Dorr explains:
“Hormones is a broad term and can encompass compounds that are identical to what is in our bodies (such as estradiol, testosterone or progesterone) or synthetics which are similar and can have very different effects. The body reacts differently to medicines that weren’t meant to be there, and weight gain is common.”
The solution? Dr. Dorr put it best: “too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, so monitoring of appropriate levels is important.”
The best weapon against hormonal weight gain is monitoring our hormones by working together with our physician.
Working with your doctor can help you determine if hormonal imbalances are contributing to your weight issues and help you establish treatment options.
Want to learn more about metabolic changes? Check out our previous post on metabolism after 60.
Menopause and Weight Gain
To explain the connection between menopause and weight gain, Dr. Dorr explains:
“Menopause occurs when the ovaries stop making estrogen and its counter-hormone, progesterone. Progesterone is made when eggs from the ovaries are released. On average, it is age 51—but symptoms can start in the 40s. Testosterone made by both the adrenals and the ovaries starts to decline slowly in the 30s.”
Additionally, Dr. Dorr points out that thyroid function can also be affected by menopause. Imbalances to thyroid levels can cause fatigue and weight gain:
“As we age, the thyroid also has increasing difficulty in converting the storage thyroid hormone to the metabolically active version. The stresses of poor sleep, aging parents, and financial stresses of job and family can significantly impact the adrenal gland and its production of cortisol and adrenaline.”
Metabolism and Menopause
Menopause can also affect your metabolism. Dr. Dorr shared that, unfortunately, metabolism typically slows in menopause and some studies suggest that menopausal weight gain can be up to 6 pounds yearly unless steps are taken to counteract the change.
Without the effect of estrogen, and the balance it creates with the thyroid and adrenal glands, the weight gained typically is at the waist rather than the breasts or thighs.
“Many women don’t sleep or have the same energy to stay active or exercise. The decline in activity and loss of both estrogen and testosterone can result in loss of muscle mass where much of the baseline metabolism comes from. So, weight typically increases.”
It’s not just the hormonal changes, but our metabolism changes as well. That combination leads to an unfortunate combo that makes it hard to keep our weight stable.
Insulin Resistance and Weight Gain
Many with chronic weight issues may be experiencing insulin resistance. Insulin is a key hormone in weight control. It is created in the pancreas and is responsible for balancing blood sugar levels.
Insulin imbalance leads to weight gain and, if left unchecked, Type 2 Diabetes. It's always worth consulting with a physician to see if insulin resistance could be contributing to your weight gain, especially if you have a family history of diabetes.
Stress Can Cause Weight Gain
Stress might also be causing your hormonal weight gain. When you are stressed, your body creates more of the stress hormone cortisol. High cortisol levels are linked to inflammation, overeating, increased junk food cravings and weight gain.
Finding ways to manage stress helps with hormonal weight gain. An anti-inflammatory diet, which focuses on healthy fats, antioxidants and adding fermented foods that help heal your gut can also help fight weight gain caused by chronic stress.
Physical activities like meditation or yoga can also be a great tool for managing stress.
Stopping Hormonal Weight Gain
There are things you can do to prevent hormonal weight gain, and most of them, you probably already know!
Eating a healthy diet, establishing an exercise routine, and cutting out excessive inflammatory foods like sugar are all important things you can do. Other important things you can do are maintaining a healthy gut by taking a probiotic, quit smoking, establishing a sleep schedule and cutting out inflammation-causing alcoholic beverages.
It seems too easy, but it’s the same advice Dr. Dorr shared as well: “The key is to stay active, eat whole — not processed — foods, get good sleep and find ways to best handle stress.”
He also suggested considering hormone replacement therapy:
“Many people choose hormone replacement therapy, and it is very important that you are taking hormones that are meant to be in your body, that they are delivered the right way and that they are the right dosing for you. The key is to achieve the right levels of these hormones for each individual.”
Balancing Hormones for Weight Loss
Hormones can be balanced, even as we get older. Some of the most important tools we have in staying healthy are surprisingly straightforward. Dr. Dorr reminds us that “throughout life, staying active both mentally and physically is the key to optimal health. Our balance comes from the right diet, exercise, vitamins and minerals.”
What does that mean in the day-to-day? Cutting out sugary snacks and sodas, finding a workout plan, and adding more fruits and vegetables to your meals are all natural ways to balance your hormones.
Persistent weight gain even after lifestyle changes is something you should talk to your doctor about, as it could be a sign of other medical concerns.
Want more information on weight loss after age 60? We have a blog post all about it!
There are options for those dealing with hormonal weight issues. Determining the cause of the imbalance can help you figure out what methods to use to combat the weight gain. However, all weight issues benefit from proper diet and exercise.
Many Medicare Advantage plans include no-cost gym memberships, fitness programs or nutritional counseling to help you address your concerns and build an action plan for a healthier you! Reach out to see what options are available in your area.
And a big thank you to Dr. Bruce Dorr, who consulted on this post!
Dr. Bruce Dorr is boarded in Obstetrics and Gynecology and subspecialty boarded in Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery. For the last 9 years, he has directed his practice toward a functional medicine practice of hormone health and wellness. He serves on faculty for medical education for Biote, a national leader in pelleted hormone optimization and nutraceuticals. Learn more about Dr. Dorr here.
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