Insulin is the hormone produced by the pancreas to regulate blood sugar. When the body’s cells become less sensitive to insulin, as often occurs with menopause, there’s extra sugar in the blood. Excess sugar is stored in fat. Insulin resistance contributes to the occurrence of hot flashes in post-menopausal women.
Leptin is produced by adipose (fat) cells, increasing energy consumption and acting as neurotransmitters to tell the hypothalamus region of the brain that you’ve eaten enough. The higher the blood sugar level, the more leptin is secreted. Just as cells can become resistant to insulin when sugar levels are higher than normal, cells can become resistant to leptin, causing you to overeat. The more weight you gain, the less sensitive to leptin you become. One mechanism compounds the other.
4. Thyroid Hormones
Thyroid hormones regulate metabolic processes throughout the body. They are instrumental in bone metabolism and weight control; if inadequate hormones are produced, bones can weaken, metabolism slows, and you gain weight. There are several hormones produced by the thyroid; some of them increase with age while others decrease. Menopause doesn’t affect thyroid function per se, only the levels of hormones secreted.
Thyroid function is tied to the reproductive system. The decrease of sex hormone estrogen during and post-menopause, therefor, affects thyroid hormones as well. Their interactions are not fully understood. The symptoms of hypothyroidism and menopause are similar. Combined, symptoms are magnified; however, menopause doesn’t cause hypothyroidism.
“The complexity of the relationships can be summarized in three aspects: thyroid status does not influence significantly the climacteric syndrome [hot flashes, night sweats, other symptoms of menopause]; menopause may modify the clinical expression of some thyroid diseases, particularly the autoimmune ones; thyroid function is not directly involved in the pathogenesis of the complications of menopause.”
Thyroid hormones also help to determine how cells burn fuel (carbohydrates and fats). Changes that occur during menopause tell the body to slow and store more fat. Blood cholesterol is known to rise after menopause (higher low-density lipoprotein [LDL] and lower high-density lipoprotein [HDL]) because the fats aren’t consumed for energy as efficiently as before menopause.
How to Help Your Body Maintain Balance
Knowing what’s going on is the biggest part of the equation. Working with your body rather than against it can help to adjust to the new you and avoid the pitfalls of menopause.
1. Stay Active
Nothing keeps weight off and boosts your metabolism like an active lifestyle. Avoid the blahs of becoming sedentary in your dotage and keep fit. Something as simple as walking for half an hour a day will help. Do as much as you comfortably can and occasionally push yourself to do more. Regular exercise—especially the weight-bearing kind—will stave off osteoporosis as well.