"I am gaining weight, and I haven't changed anything—and it's all in my belly!"
As women age, many struggle with weight gain. In fact, 20% of women will gain 10 pounds or more during their midlife transition, and this weight tends to go to a pesky area—our waistlines. Midlife weight gain is complicated and can be reported as "normal aging." This explanation may be overlooking a major contributor to weight gain: insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance means exactly that—your cells stop responding to insulin. Insulin, secreted by the pancreas, helps move blood sugar called glucose into the cells for energy or storage. With high sugar volumes in your diet over time, your cells can stop responding to this insulin signal, leading to progressively higher blood sugars. This excess blood sugar is stored as fat, especially in the belly area. Without making some changes, insulin resistance can progress to prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, which puts women at risk for many chronic diseases, including heart disease, cognitive decline and cancer.
Without a doubt, midlife for women is busy, resulting in high-stress levels and sleep deprivation, leading to uncontrollable sugar cravings. Add menopause with falling levels of estrogen—resulting in lower muscle mass and changes to your sugar processing—and insulin resistance only increases, leading to further weight gain.
But wait, there is more good news. There is also a relationship between belly fat and chin hair growth. With extra belly fat cells, we store more prohormones which in excess are converted to testosterone, which can stimulate hair growth in areas like the chin, above the lip and many other unwanted places. These hormones can also be responsible for acne, which can return in midlife.
Now you know the "why" behind belly fat and chin hairs, but it's also important to look at who this affects: all women in menopause, especially those who already easily gain weight. Some women are genetically predisposed to insulin resistance, including women of Indian, Mexican and Asian descent. African American women are also at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes. Anyone can become diabetic by gaining extra weight, but your genes will determine at which weight it happens.
Thankfully, the dreaded belly fat and subsequent chin hair can be avoided if women understand what is happening and in turn make even small changes. At true. Women's Health, we partner with women to form a personalized plan to age healthy. Our team has specialized training in Obesity Medicine and how hormones affect your health. We can help you with all your healthcare needs.
Learn more at true. Women's Health.
Celia Egan, MD, NCMP, DABOM is a Menopause Society Certified Practitioner and is double board certified in Internal Medicine and Obesity Medicine.
Courtesy of true. Women's Health.
Photo Courtesy of Chase Loreto.