One of the most often cited symptoms for women in peri-menopause and menopause is excess weight they can't get off, no matter what they do.
It doesn't matter if they are on a KETO diet, intermittent fasting, or reducing calories, exercising – it won't come off.
To make matters feel worse, their skin starts to sag, become crepey and wrinkles show up overnight. They feel like they are aging rapidly and becoming frumpy, and they blame their hormones.
And often these very same women are struggling with bouts of anger, depression, and anxiety. None of which is going to help you be motivated to hit the gym, go for a walk and stick to your diet plan.
Though weigh gain is often associated with peri-menopause and menopause, most often thyroid comes to mind. However, how do you know which is the cause in your case and is there even a connection between your thyroid and menopause?
Your thyroid might not be directly affected by menopause, but yes, your metabolism does get hit by it.
Additionally, if you are experiencing a lot of symptoms to include weight gain, your brain and body do not feel safe – it feels under constant threat, and one of the consequences for not feeling safe is the storage of fat.
All your hormones are connected, some are more directly linked than others, but they all affect each other in one way or another. As for your thyroid and menopause, lets connect some dots.
Menopause and Stress
When you are experiencing a lot of symptoms while moving through peri-menopause and menopause, even if your day to day life felt like a dream, if you have a lot of symptoms your body is experiencing stress.
And rarely is life a dream. It's more likely that you have added pressures and are not reacting well to them. You're not alone if you find yourself more often angry, irritated and feeling blue than you used to.
Stress is anything that triggers your stress response system. It can be external or internal. If you have an imbalance of relating to your sex hormones, it will trigger your stress response system.
In short, anything that triggers your brain to activate the hypothalamus which sends a signal to your pituitary gland which activates your adrenals and they release stress hormones – is a stressor.
Short bursts of stress hormones are not harmful and in fact can be a very good thing. It allows you to respond to an immediate threat and in some cases, that can save your life.
However, long-term stress is generally not immediately life-threatening and yet it can cause a lot of chaos and damage over time.
When stress hormones are released your body responds by sending more resources to certain processes, organs and tissues and pulls or slows down resources from others. Your brain and body prioritize stress over normal function.
This means that once a stressor triggers your stress response system, cortisol and other stress hormones redirect your body's normal functions to deprioritize anything that is not necessary for overcoming the stressor in front of you. Functions like digestion, immune response, and yes, thyroid hormone production and distribution, are temporarily put on hold or slowed down until the stress has passed.
So, if you are having a wild ride during peri-menopause and/or menopause, there are functions, organs and tissues that are not at the top of the priority list and they are not getting all the resources and space they need to do their job.
Stress and Thyroid
When stress hormones are released into your system, your metabolism slows down. This is due to a couple of reasons. First, cortisol decreases Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) which lowers thyroid production. It does this because, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland slow down when cortisol is present in your bloodstream. This is a safeguard for not producing too much cortisol, however, since your thyroid is also controlled by this pathway; the hypothalamus and pituitary, it also slows down.
Stress hormones also affect the enzymes that convert T4 to T3. Free T3 is the active form of thyroid, while Reverse T3 is the inactive form. When cortisol is high, instead producing Free T3, your Reverse T3 goes up, slamming the brakes on your metabolism.
Additionally, when you have elevated cortisol levels over a prolonged period of time, two situations can occur. Your cells become less sensitive to thyroid and T4 can become attached to thyroid binding globulin which makes is impossible to converted to Free T3.
Stress and Fat Storage
Cortisol, sex hormones and your thyroid all share the hypothalamus-pituitary pathway, so if the stress response is on high alert the hormones associated with the other two pathways are obviously affected. However, they are not the only hormones affected.
As mentioned earlier, when cortisol is released in response to a stressor, all non-essential bodily functions are temporarily put on hold in order to deal with the situation. And to deal with that situation, the body needs to have as much energy as possible available, in the form of blood glucose, so it signals insulin to restrict glucose uptake to the cells.
Cortisol also triggers glucagon to release stored glucose from the liver.
Once the threat has resolved, insulin rebalances blood glucose levels and glucose is welcomed back into the cells. At this point the body is ready to rest and store energy for next time.
This evolutionary adaptive response has ensured the survival of humans over time. The problem, however, lies in the repetitive and constant activation of the cycle.
Over time the signaling process becomes impaired and cells become resistant to insulin, which has far reaching consequences to include weight gain and the inability to lose weight.
Menopause and Thyroid
There's another dot to consider, menopause. One of the reasons why you experience symptoms during menopause is because there are mixed signals being sent. For instance, it is believed that hot flashes are due to your brain being sent a signal that indicates your body temperature has gone up and you need to be cooled down rapidly.
As the production of your sex hormones is being reset and hormones levels are lowering, mixed signals are being sent. Remember, along with your sex hormones, your stress response system and your thyroid are part of the same larger system; the Endocrine system. Within the endocrine system you have a network on glands and running the show is the hypothalamus which talks directly to the pituitary. Their functions including directing activity and monitoring the situation. If mixed signals are sent up the chain, they respond with bad intel.
Miscommunications can be caused by the mixed signals being sent up for your ovaries, but there could also be other factors at play besides menopause.
Environmental Pollutants and Toxins
With over 120,000 toxic chemicals swirling around in our environment, their effects were bound to catch up to us, and according to the climb in thyroid disorders it's certainly showing. Some of these chemicals have been classified as endocrine disruptors, meaning they directly negatively impact your glands and hormones.
Endocrine disrupting chemicals include agents such as chlorine found in our shower and drinking water, BPA found in plastic or canned goods, phthalates found in lotions and personal care products and even fire retardants that coat our walls and furniture.
Poor Liver and/ or Gut Function
Your liver and gut convert the largest majority of your T4 to T3 thyroid hormone, hence another reason why a thyroid disorder may not be your thyroid's fault but actually the result of a faulty liver or poor gut function.
The liver can get clogged or burdened by various reasons to include too much sugar, think back to stress and insulin, and foreign particles it has to filter. For instance, medication and processed food often include synthetic substances unrecognizable by your body.
Your gut function can be degraded by numerous reasons as well, leaky gut or intestinal permeability, dysbiosis or imbalanced gut flora, and intestinal pathogen infections to name a few.
What You Can Do
First and foremost, take care of the basics. Eat a healthy well-rounded diet that does not include a lot of processed foods or sugar. You want to support the liver and minimize the work it has to do.
Also drink lots of water and move your body. Simple.
Finally, get plenty of rest and prioritize sleep.
All of these steps are basic good sense to support your body's natural ability to heal, repair and function properly.
Second, reduce your toxic load by swapping out your cleaning supplies and health & beauty products with more natural products that don't include a lot of chemicals. Filtering your water to reduce chlorine is also a good idea.
Third, reduce stress. You have a lot more power to reduce stress than you may imagine.
Unplug, from news, digital media of any kind and give your mind a break. Take walks with friends, meditate, read good books, volunteer or find a hobby that is relaxing and check out for a while.
Monitor and influence your environments. If your house is cluttered and you feel agitated or overly tired in the evenings – straightening up may help to improve that.
If you are in your car a lot, make it a sanctuary. Keep it clean, use essential oils to improve the air quality and listen to audio books or music that uplift your mood.
Be more aware of what triggers you and makes you feel agitated, drained or moody. Be more aware of make you happy, lighter and more energize. Then avoid the things that bring you down and cultivate what lifts you up.
Finally, if you need help get it. You might need lab testing done to discover what's going on, and you may need some clarity, direction and focus to support your efforts to make some changes. Even taking care of the basics can be difficult, and you may need addition support and specific strategies to overcome challenges and obstacles.
If you need help, I invite you to contact my office. I have set aside time to speak with individuals who need some guidance to figure out where their challenges lie or may know what to do, but can't seem to get it done.
You are responsible, though you don't have to do it all on your own.
Not only can I help you determine what lab tests you need and address root causes, I can help you learn how to manage your life systematically. In a way that is designed by you, so you have less stress and experience more freedom – daily.
It's not that hard, but no one has taught you how to do it. I wasn't taught directly how either. I had to learn over time using various systems and then broke it down into a system for myself.
The exact methods and strategies that work for me might not work for you, but the principles are still the same. That's the beauty of this approach.
If you want more information, need some clarity or want to learn how to do this and develop a process that will help you solve your real problems systematically, contact me.
If you're interested or just curious, click on the button below and schedule your Hormone Trouble Shooting session at a time that is convenient for you.
You can feel like yourself again and feel confident in your body, while supporting it naturally in a way that truly works for you.
Your partner in health,
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