Menopause can put you in danger of metabolic syndrome, but there are steps you can take to limit your health risks.
This stage of life occurs when a woman’s ovaries stop producing hormones, either naturally or for medical reasons. Most women enter the first stage, perimenopause, sometime in their 40s or 50s. Estrogen and progesterone levels in the body can swing erratically as the ovaries begin to shut down. Menstrual periods become irregular and then stop. Women may experience hot flashes, disturbed sleep, dry skin, and emotional imbalances. Many women’s metabolisms begin to slow down. This can lead to weight gain, especially around the waistline. After one year without a period, a woman is officially in menopause.
For many years, it was thought that the female sex hormones had a protective effect on health. Unfortunately, long-range studies showed that hormone replacement can lead to increases in certain types of cancer and in blood clots, strokes and heart attacks.
So, if lack of hormones is not the problem, what is?
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of medical conditions occurring together that, if unaddressed, often leads to diabetes and heart problems.
The markers are the following:
- High blood pressure – which is defined as being over 140/90
- High blood sugar – defined as fasting glucose levels of over 100 mg/dL or a previous diagnosis of type 2 diabetes
- Obesity – especially when showing the classic “apple” shape or “beer belly” distribution of fat occurring around the center of the body
- Abnormal cholesterol levels – triglycerides over 150 mg/dL and HDL (the “good” cholesterol) levels less than 50 mg/dL for females
The Link Between Changing Hormone Levels and Increased Risk of Developing Metabolic Syndrome
The link may lie in a defect in energy metabolism. We have already seen that the change of life changes a woman’s metabolism pretty dramatically.
Many women experience energy loss and weight gain in the post-menopausal period, but what causes the weight gain and changes in energy metabolism?
The main suspect is insulin resistance.
Insulin is the hormone produced by the pancreas that moves glucose from the blood into the cells. Our cells cannot use glucose directly. Insulin acts as transporter that gets the glucose into the cells. After we eat, the pancreas releases insulin to remove the glucose from the blood stream and get it into the cells for use or storage. As the glucose is taken up, the pancreas slows production and the insulin levels drop. If insulin levels are low and no glucose is available, the body will burn stored fat for energy.
When exposed to too much glucose over time, the cells can become resistant to the insulin. Glucose is not taken into the cells, and the pancreas continues to produce more insulin in an attempt to move the glucose. This can result in hyperinsulinemia. Too much insulin in the body makes it harder for the body to use stored fat and can start the spiral into metabolic syndrome, diabetes and heart problems.
How to Avoid This
Getting older doesn’t have to mean getting this metabolic syndrome. It can be warded off, or if already present, reversed.
The key is changing your lifestyle. You probably already know what the first piece of advice will be: lose weight. Forget fad diets and try the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. This is a well-studied diet that was originally designed to treat high blood pressure. It focuses on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy. Limited amounts of meats, legumes and nuts are also on the diet. This healthy diet will help you lose weight and lower your blood pressure.
You can probably guess the second part as well. Yep, it’s exercise. You don’t have to run a marathon or take up bodybuilding. Walking 30 to 40 minutes a day can work wonders.
By taking a few simple steps today, you can plan for a longer and healthier future.