Does Progesterone Cause You To Gain Weight After Menopause? Get The Facts
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As menopause approaches, many women are concerned about the potential for weight gain due to hormone changes. One hormone in particular, progesterone, has been linked to weight gain in women after menopause. In this article, we will explore the link between progesterone and weight gain and what happens if you have low progesterone. We will also delve into how to increase progesterone levels and of course the benefits of the increase.
What is progesterone?
Progesterone is a hormone that is mainly produced in the ovaries.
Its most important job is to prepare your body for pregnancy.
Progesterone production will fluctuate during your menstrual cycle and pregnancy depending on your body’s needs.
Besides that important role progesterone also plays the director of various other hormonal goings-on in the body. Particularly in menopausal women.
What causes low progesterone?
During menopause, the ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone. At this time it is natural for progesterone levels to fall.
Other possible reasons can be:
- Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome
- Thyroid issues
- Chronic stress
- Low body fat
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What happens if I have low progesterone?
When progesterone levels drop you are left with the possibility of experiencing a wide variety of nasty symptoms such as:
- Sleep problems
- Hot flashes & night sweats
- Declining bone density levels
- Mood swings, anxiety and depression
When you have low progesterone levels your liver produces excess amounts of a protein called Thyroid Binding Globulin which as the name suggests binds to your thyroid hormones and cramps their style enough to not perform properly in your body. This can lead to a form of hyperthyroidism.
Is Progesterone An Effective Hormone Therapy?
Hormone replacement therapy is the most effective way to minimise menopause symptoms. That doesn’t mean you need to use it. It has been a controversial subject but at the end of the day, it is your decision if you use it or not. And that decision should be made in consultation with your doctor. Know your facts first.
Usually, if you have a uterus you would take a tablet of progesterone combined with estrogen. This is because estrogen on its own can thicken the lining of the uterus which can then put you at risk of developing uterine cancer. Progesterone has been shown to keep the lining thin which lessens that risk.
The number and intensity of hot flashes and night sweats can be reduced with progesterone.
Progesterone also lessens the effects of sleep deprivation as it has been found to improve the quality of sleep.
Does progesterone cause weight gain?
The answer to this isn’t as straightforward as you might think.
Firstly besides the usual culprits such as diet and exercise (or lack of), there is also cortisol, the stress hormone, insulin and leptin that could play a part in gaining weight.
But for women, there is also that relationship between estrogen and progesterone that works to maintain weight but when out of balance may cause weight gain.
Progesterone works to keep other hormones from getting out of control.
On its own, it won’t cause weight gain.
As mentioned previously in peri-menopause progesterone is usually the first hormone to start declining. If it declines faster than your estrogen, you can become estrogen dominant.
It is estrogen dominance that causes weight gain around the belly, butt, thighs, and hips. Unfortunately, fat cells in the body also produce estrogen which can then lead to a vicious cycle. When the body is estrogen dominant:
- Hypothyroidism slows your metabolism.
- Abdominal tissues retain water which leads to bloating.
- The insulin response to the imbalance results in constant hunger and food cravings for all the wrong things.
Unfortunately, fat cells in the body also produce estrogen which can then lead to a vicious cycle.
Progesterone also supports the thyroid which makes hormones that regulate your metabolism, or how quickly food is used for energy.
If progesterone is low and not giving your thyroid the support it needs it won’t make sufficient hormones to keep your metabolism running at a normal rate and your metabolism will slow down, meaning fewer calories are burned for energy. If you continue to eat the same amount of food you will gain weight.
What is bioidentical progesterone?
Progesterone is naturally occurring.
Bioidentical progesterone is a medication that has an identical DNA structure to natural progesterone but is produced from a plant chemical found in wild yam.
Will taking progesterone help me to lose weight?
When bioidentical hormone replacement therapy of progesterone is used to increase your progesterone levels enough to negate the estrogen dominance then:
- Your metabolism will increase allowing weight loss and hypothyroidism will be alleviated.
- Bloating will reduce.
- The insulin released into your bloodstream will return to normal which will reduce your cravings.
What can I do to ramp up my progesterone production naturally?
As I always say. When you’re looking to fix a hormonal imbalance in your body such as low progesterone, diet is a good place to start.
At this point, it’s worth pointing out that foods don’t contain progesterone. However, it is believed that some foods can activate the production of progesterone in the body or balance estrogen.
Here are some of the foods that will help boost progesterone:
Healthy fats – hormones such as estrogen and progesterone are made from fat, protein and cholesterol therefore if you’ve been eating a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet which may also be low in protein then progesterone and estrogen levels may suffer.
Include fatty fish, olive oil, avocado and linseeds to get a good mix of a few saturated fats and the rest in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
Protein – such as chicken, hemp, soy or chia.
Protein contains amino acids which are used to produce hormones such as progesterone. Our body doesn’t make amino acids so that’s where these foods come in. They contain all nine essential amino acids that are instrumental in maintaining the health of your body and hormone production.
Animal protein is a good choice but for those vegans among us, there are fortunately a few plant proteins that are considered complete.
Besides the three I have mentioned above Oats are also a great choice. They are particularly high in protein. Although they contain all nine essential amino acids a couple are only in small amounts. But if you sprinkle a few seeds on top well, boom! Your meal is complete.
Supplements to help you improve low progesterone levels
Diet is always a good place to start when you’re struggling with too little progesterone but sometimes we need a little more of a boost with a range of supplements or herbs.
Vitamin B6 – Studies show that taking vitamin B6 may increase levels of progesterone. You would need to take one to four 200mg tablets for this to be viable. Fortunately, this is one supplement that is safe to take in large doses.
Magnesium – This supplement is key in hormone production so is a good nutrient to take for boosting progesterone.
Vitamin C – Studies have shown taking vitamin C in levels up to 750mg a day can significantly boost your progesterone production.
Zinc – this nutrient may help improve progesterone in women who are still ovulating but could still be good to take for women in menopause also. It can help maintain collagen and tissue health and support the part of the brain responsible for keeping the stress response dialled down.
Lifestyle changes that may help with low progesterone
If the diet is the first and easiest place to start when it comes to addressing hormone imbalances such as low progesterone levels then lifestyle would be the second.
Exercise – To keep everything running smoothly of course it’s important to have a balanced exercise routine. This can help maintain body weight and help prevent weight gain however it’s important not to go too hard. Excessive exercise can cause high stress in the body which could further magnify any hormone imbalance.
Maintain a healthy weight – Being overweight may lead to hormonal imbalances and possibly insulin resistance, which can affect your production of progesterone.
A healthy weight alone won’t improve progesterone levels but will help keep hormonal balance.
Similarly, high blood sugar can spike insulin levels. Too much insulin in the body can cause weight gain as well as pump up the cortisol in your body which disrupts progesterone and can shrink your reserves. Try to avoid empty carbs and resist those sugar cravings.
Keep stress to a minimum – high stress causes all sorts of mayhem in the body by zapping up your cortisol levels. Cortisol limits the good stuff progesterone can get done. So although your levels of progesterone may not necessarily be low it can’t do the job it’s supposed to do triggering the same symptoms as low progesterone.
As women age, it can be more difficult to lose weight. Keeping informed about what is happening in your body is crucial in helping you to understand the strategies you can use to help lose belly fat and decrease the effects of menopause symptoms.