Women's Health

Hormones – the Enemy in Weight Loss?

Spectrum Health Expert Has Tips for Postmenopausal Women

For many reasons, women are expected and encouraged by their physicians to maintain a healthy weight, even as they age. Obesity and excess weight carried at the waistline have been linked to significant medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and cancer.

But are postmenopausal women fighting an uphill battle to lose weight, particularly those on hormone replacement therapy?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 80 percent of women have some menopause symptoms and approximately 20 percent of women in the United States are on hormone replacement therapy to treat menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness.

Diana Bitner, MD, a gynecologist with Spectrum Health Medical Group, says that weight loss and healthy weight maintenance is possible for older women, whether or not they are taking hormones.

“As women lose their natural estrogen, either from natural or surgical menopause, their bodies become much more sensitive to sugar and simple carbohydrate cravings. Any carbs in their diet get stored right at the waistline,” explains Bitner. “Estrogen replacement can, however, cause many women to become frustrated because they start gaining weight, even though they are doing what they have always done – eating right, exercising. The answer is that the body needs variation, to be challenged to fight against a slowing metabolism.”

Bitner strongly encourages that women who had diabetes in pregnancy, have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOD) or have been told they have pre-diabetes work with their primary care provider to keep a close eye on their blood sugar levels throughout menopause.

Bitner recommends that menopausal women:

  • Make the effort to maintain muscle mass with strength or resistance training, walking or taking high-energy classes like Zumba or spinning.
  • Take a look at your diet. It may be time to try a Mediterranean-style diet. Even just eating more whole grains, fresh vegetables, healthy protein and fewer processed foods can have an impact.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Too many women of all ages are sleep-deprived, staying up too late and/or getting up too early to accommodate a busy schedule. Adding more sleep to your routine can help support weight loss or maintenance.

Bitner says that postmenopausal women should be optimistic.

“The good news is that it is possible to age with better health. You just need to understand what is going on with your body so you can make good decisions.”

More information is available at www.shmg.org/womenshealthnetwork.

Spectrum Health is a not-for-profit health system in West Michigan offering a full continuum of care through the Spectrum Health Hospital Group, which is comprised of nine hospitals including Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, a state of the art children’s hospital that opened in January 2011, and 140 service sites; the Spectrum Health Medical Group and West Michigan Heart, physician groups totaling more than 700 providers; and Priority Health, a health plan with 600,000 members. Spectrum Health is West Michigan’s largest employer with 19,000 employees. The organization provided $204 million in community benefit during its 2012 fiscal year.