AGING GRACEFULLY – PART 2
This is for the ladies!
NEW BODY, AND NOT THE ONE I ORDERED!
Men and women change shape as they age. Ladies go from a bikini to a one piece and most men should probably take note but they tend to have less shame and stay topless even when they can not see their own feet. The telltale sign of middle age is the thickening of the waistline. But it is avoidable if you understand what is going on.
Lipoprotein lipase (LPL) is that tricky enzyme that can increase the amount of fat a cell can hold. When it is active LPL will drive fat into cell storage but when it is suppressed fat does not accumulate in that area. LPL is responsible for our body shape and fat distribution.
Hormonal changes that occur with age affect LPL activity and so alter our body shape.
- Estrogen Inhibits LPL
- Stimulates lipolysis (fat breakdown) because of its affect on adrenaline
- Stimulates growth hormone (increases lean weight and increases lipolysis)
- Increases blood flow which makes exercise for fat loss more effective
- Estrogen holds fat on the lower body
- As estrogen declines with age it no longer inhibits LPL activity, so more fat can begin to be stored. The fat which estrogen once held below the belt falls away and is redistributed around the waist.
- Lipolysis (fat breakdown) is slowed, leading to the common complaint of what worked before doesn’t work anymore and staying in shape becomes more of a struggle.
- As LPL activity increases, more fat is being sent into storage, meaning that there is less available for energy. This triggers hunger and fatigue.
- If that increase in fatigue and hunger results in eating sugary snacks then the increase in blood sugar will trigger insulin and insulin itself upregulates LPL so even more fat can be stored.
- It becomes a real challenge to keep in shape as our energy diminishes and fat becomes easier to store and harder to burn off. Ladies that have been forced into menopause after having their ovaries removed generally experience increased appetite and weight gain. Interestingly, when women in the same situation did not allow themselves to eat more they still gained the same weight.
- Men have been studied too and men with no testicles tended to gain weight with female-like fat distribution.
As they age more of a man’s testosterone is converted into estrogen. The enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen (aromatase) becomes more active with age. Testosterone is already decreasing so any conversion to estrogen leaves even less free testosterone. The liver is responsible for breaking down estrogen so men can help themselves out by avoiding environmental estrogens (eat organic) and by detoxing their liver by consuming less alcohol and using milk thistle, dandelion root and eating cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and collard greens). Stinging nettle and Christine Passionflower are also used as anti-aromatic agents.
But ladies, it all gets a lot more complicated for us – no surprise there.
ESTROGEN (three hormones) and PROGESTERONE (one hormone)
E1 ESTRONE Made in the ovaries pre-menopause and then in the adrenals. Stored in body fat and reduces during pregnancy.
E2 ESTRADIOL Made in the ovaries and reduces during pregnancy.
E3 ESTRIOL Made in the placenta during pregnancy and a teeny bit comes from the E1 breakdown. During pregnancy, there is more E3 than E1 and E2 combined.
PROGESTERONE Made in the ovaries and in small amounts by the adrenals. Progesterone protects during the first three months of pregnancy until the placenta can take over. During pregnancy, progesterone is then produced by the placenta.
Both estrogen and progesterone protect against heart disease by increasing the “good” cholesterol, HDL. Women are more prone to heart issues later in life, partly due to the hormonal decline that comes with age.
WHAT A PAIR
Estrogen and Progesterone are quite the duo and, although both decline with age, progesterone usually declines more rapidly. Women don’t have to wait for menopause to experience the hormonal shifts that come with age. Estrogen and progesterone may both be declining but the sharp decline of progesterone leaves us, ironically, with estrogen dominance.
Dominance here refers to the ratio of the two hormones being altered to leave estrogen in more of a dominant role. Even though estrogen has decreased, the gap between the two hormones has widened, leaving estrogen in an even more dominant role.
Aging gracefully This started for me at 46, but for many women, it may start a decade sooner. Still not classed as even “perimenopause” this state of estrogen dominance can start to cause havoc and if your health is not the best I imagine the situation will be worse.
It started for me with a lot of water retention. What used to be four or five days a month was now over a week. My energy was down and my usual good mood was a little more doom and gloom with a pinch of worry thrown in. I recall one day in particular when I was driving to work and my thoughts were a little pessimistic. This is not me, especially first thing in the morning, my favorite time of day. Knowing what I know about hormones I ordered some bio identical progesterone cream online (I was surprised I could even do that). I tried it a day or so later and almost immediately I felt better.
A blood test showed me what I had already guessed and my doctor prescribed me a progesterone cream which made my life happier and a lot more comfortable.
I understand that many women do not want to take the hormone replacement route and I have no bias either way. Some women sail through their hormonal changes but for me it was a solution that squared with my belief system and a choice I was happy to make.
I would add is that if you are against hormonal replacement because of the nightmare stories from a few decades ago, please know that thankfully we are in a different place now. Bio identical hormones are not the synthetic hormones sourced from animals that were used in the 1970’s.
In my nutrition business, I often saw women who came to see me because of weight gain in their forties and fifties. What was a little surprising was some of these women had been prescribed only estrogen (no progesterone) These women were not yet menopausal and estrogen alone had made them even more estrogen dominant. They gained a lot of weight around their middle and were rather = emotional.
The ratio between estrogen and progesterone is key here and to add only estrogen threw them completely out of balance.
Increases body fat in hips and thigh Helps to use fat for fuel
Increases water retention Natural diuretic
Increases risk of certain breast cancers Restores Libido
Increases headaches Protects breast tissue
Changes blood sugar Normalizes blood sugar
Anxiety Natural antidepressant
If you are at an age where you are experiencing estrogen dominance, certain choices will make things even worse. Estrogenic foods, environmental estrogens, an estrogen-based pill or cream can all have an impact. If you are not inclined to choose bio-identical hormones there is still a lot you can do to help yourself during these challenging times.
We all want to look better and have a killer body, but for me it was my depressed mood that hit me hardest. I like to be happy and I am used to being happy. Life has thrown me some curve balls for sure but my general state of mind is a good one, and balancing my hormones brought me back to my happy place.
TO LOOK FORWARD TO
My mum said she “sailed” through menopause in her mid-fifties. I seem to recall some screaming and my dad telling me that is was just the “change” so there may be some different renditions of that time, Either way, it’s useful for me to know that my mother was 56 when she truly entered menopause. Your mother’s experience may not be your own but there is a definite hereditary relationship, so it is useful information to have. My mother also tried hormone replacement back in the 1970’s which may have had something to do with the screaming.
That initial introduction to hormone replacement was linked to some serious side effects, and it scared women off hormonal intervention for decades to come. Thankfully times have changed, and if you’re on the fence it’s certainly a conversation worth having with a doctor well versed in HRT.
Progesterone and estrogen decline until a point of “follicular depletion” (i.e. you run out of eggs).
Estrogen and Progesterone increase every month to prepare for the egg. When there are no more eggs the cycle itself stops. Menopause is defined when a woman has missed 12 cycles; this process may take years.
The changes leading up to menopause can start to occur years earlier. Ovaries peak in a ladies mid-twenties to early thirties. Generally, after 40 years of age the number of follicles drops and this leads to a drop in estrogen. When estrogen drops there is not enough estrogen to mature an egg and if there is no mature egg, and reduced progesterone, then periods become irregular and sometimes uncomfortably heavy.
These are the changes that get a woman’s attention but this state of flux has other repercussions. Estrogen and progesterone are useful in protecting against heart disease. They do this by keeping HDL (high-density lipoproteins) high. Premenopausal women have a much lower risk of heart disease than men their same age, but by 65 years old the rate of heart disease is almost comparable. A lady’s hormones drop, so their protective function drops and the risk of heart disease increases.
Bones are constantly being built up and broken down. When estrogen drops, the breakdown of bone dominates. This is a concern for women, although this bone loss does seem to stabilize a few years after menopause.
There are estrogen receptors in the bladder and the vagina. Estrogen influences collagen production which, in turn, affects connective tissue (ligaments and tendons). When estrogen drops, the pelvic floor weakens because of the changes in connective tissue. This can take a lady into an embarrassing era of UTI (urinary tract infections), incontinence and painful sex. Ladies can spend a third of their lives dealing with pre, post and menopause itself.
Estrogen also inhibits the production of the stress hormone, cortisol. When estrogen declines cortisol levels rise, this can increase blood sugar, blood pressure and for some unfortunate women, it can lead to mild to severe panic attacks. Furthermore, estrogen has a role in regulating the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a mood neurotransmitter, and estrogen helps prevent its reuptake, when estrogen declines unstable moods ensue, causing episodes of anxiety and panic.
We all know that lady that in her younger years could have taken on the world. She was ambitious, confident, a go-getter, a life shaker, but who, in her later years, became uncertain, anxious, fragile and depressed?
The majority of women (80%) suffer to some degree with:
1. Sleep disturbances
5. Skin changes
6. Reduced libido
7. Hot flushes
Men don’t get a pass either.
Men get grumpy, and women get scared,
Not the ideal scenario as you age with your partner.
Guys if your lady is becoming a little annoying ,please know that are you too.
We all know that guy that in his younger years was cheerful, full of fun and curiosity but in his later years, became grumpy, opinionated, argumentative and fatalistic?
It’s easy to point a critical finger at the ladies but you guys can become tough to be around. You’re need to be right only intensifies as you become more emotional with the passing years. Testosterone is converted into estrogen and as men age this conversion increases. Aromatase is an enzyme that converts androgens (testosterone) to estrogens. This enzyme can be found all over the body and it becomes more active with age, obesity, insulin and excessive alcohol intake.
MEN HAVE ESTROGEN TOO
Yes, men do have a female side and it is not just puppies and chick flicks that bring it to the surface. Estradiol is the estrogen in men that mainly comes from the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. As men get older the production of testosterone decreases yet the conversion of the hormones continues, especially in fatty tissue.
As men get older their male hormone drops while their estradiol levels remain high. This is due to the increased activity of that aromatase enzyme that happily converts testosterone to estrogen, and the process is enhanced by the increase of fat associated with age.
Fat releases and stores hormones, and abdominal fat produces estrogen which then enters a man’s bloodstream.
How do you know if this is happening to you or your man? Their emotional disposition might be the giveaway but also feeling constantly tired, losing muscle, gaining fat on the chest and, of course, that increasing waistline.
We can become difficult as we age, putting a strain on our friends, family, and children. Some would say it’s the circle of life. Your kids drive you crazy, and then you drive your kids crazy. It becomes a challenge for everyone involved and yet there are three obvious ways to help this transition into your golden years.
1. Don’t get fat. As we get older we often have more time on our hands and this can lead to mindless eating. How we look may be less important and this also makes irresponsible food choices more likely. Controlling the hormone insulin by managing our carbohydrate intake would be a very wise choice, as insulin is the primary fat storage hormone and is linked to a host of other age-related conditions, which we will shortly discuss.
2. Keep moving. Aches, pains and less energy lead to less activity and our world becomes smaller. You used to go out a lot more and now your world becomes your own four walls because anything else just becomes too much of an effort. As a result of this inactivity, we have muscle loss and fat gain. The hardest thing of all in our later years might be to stay active but we all know those older people that do; they are more energetic, more positive and more youthful.
3. Drink less alcohol. Alcohol puts a strain on the liver and the liver also has to break down fat. Alcohol seems to increase the conversion of testosterone to estrogen, it saps our energy and increases fat storage.
Chrysin (extracted from passion flower) and flaxseed are thought to help as anti-aromatizing agents while zinc and stinging nettle are associated with testosterone production and the increase of free testosterone in the blood. Stinging nettle is also thought to help with the neutralization of the aromatizing agents.
Milk thistle and dandelion roots have long been used to detox the liver along with Indole-3-Carbinol, which is also found in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, bok choy, watercress, turnip, and radishes). These vegetables are rich in sulfur which helps with detoxification and may reduce the risk of breast, colon and lung cancers.
As well as the cruciferous vegetables, which seem to be a go-to for every ailment of every age, women may also find relief with the following:
Black Cohosh hot flashes, mood disturbances, and vaginal dryness
Chasteberry aka Vitex Agnus-cactus, used for irregular bleeding, PMS, increasing progesterone and so preventing some miscarriages
Dang Guai detoxifies the blood and regulation of menstrual cycle
Rhodiola Rosea fatigue, poor attention, memory, and vitality
Wild Yam Menstrual cramps. Contains Diosgenin a plant-based estrogen that can be converted into progesterone
Ginseng vitality, supports sleep and relaxation, possible cardiovascular support
Licorice hot flashes and night sweats
Red Clover potentially helpful with bone density, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and inflammation
Plant-based hormones are not identical to our own hormones and can’t be expected to work in exactly the same way. This concerns some health professionals. The importance and the potency of herbs can be understated and I wouldn’t advise you to just start filling your cart with these products. Female hormones are a delicate matter and deserve the attention which a naturopath or certified herbologist can give you.
Discussing the changes of age is no longer taboo. Women are the ones that usually love to talk and it’s men that keep tight-lipped, except when the topic is age. Women were told to age gracefully while men have been publicly tackling their declining hormones since the 1940’s. The male conversation has been going on so long that we don’t even blush at an erectile dysfunction commercial on television, and no one gets judged if a blue pill is used in the bedroom. Men expect a better quality of life as they age; for decades they have demanded ways to preserve their vigor and vitality.
Ladies, please step forward.
Ladies, on the other hand, still get that critical eyebrow raise if they demand the same from their doctors. There is this martyr-like strength in embracing “the change” and rising above the superficial importance placed on youth. I, for one, am not going with that. I want to look good, I want to be energetic, I want to be positive and happy, I don’t want a head full of worry, and I don’t want age to dictate my hair length or a one-piece bathing suit.
Women deal with the rollercoaster of hormones from being a young teenager onwards and maybe it’s because hormonal change is part of being a women that it is not as acceptable to want to control the tide.
Men have a pretty chill ride for most of their lives and maybe that’s why, when things do start to deviate from the mean, it’s so much more unacceptable to them – and to society.
“Getting old is not for the weak” – a well-worn phrase that sums it up quite nicely
Part 3 of this blog on aging is my favorite and coming up tomorrow
I would love any feedback on this article – please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org