Despite a healthy diet and regular exercise, many women gain some weight between the ages of 35 and 55. This is often caused by a hormone imbalance. Research shows that levels of the hormone progesterone and weight gain are closely related.
When a woman enters menopause, her progesterone levels will decrease. Lower levels of this female sex hormone may be responsible for many menopause symptoms, including both weight gain and the feeling or appearance of it, even if no weight has actually been gained. A women going through menopause will often retain water. Water weight and bloating are caused by decreased progesterone levels. This might not actually result in a gain of fat, but a woman's clothes may feel a bit tighter and she may feel heavier.
Low progesterone levels may also cause a woman's blood sugar levels to fluctuate. When this happens, she may feel hungrier and eat more. She may also be tempted to eat more high-sugar foods, resulting in weight gain. Low levels of progesterone also may slow the metabolism, meaning a woman may gain weight while eating the same calories as before.
Another relationship between progesterone and weight gain comes from the mood swings that are often the result of a hormone imbalance. When the levels of serotonins and endorphins in the brain drop, a woman may experience mood swings, depression and anxiety. When this happens, a woman instinctively turns to foods such as chocolate to raise those serotonin levels. When a woman goes through menopause, she may experience food cravings similar to those often experienced as part of pre-menstrual syndrome. Unlike with PMS, her hormones don’t return to a normal levels because the imbalance remains, so the food cravings may last longer than in the past, causing her to eat more of the foods that lead to weight gain.
Another connection between progesterone and weight gain may come from hormone replacement therapy. A doctor may prescribe progesterone, along with estrogen, to help minimize symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and fibroids. Progesterone comes in two forms, natural and synthetic. Synthetic progesterone has several side effects, including weight gain, fluid retention, breast tenderness and migraines; it also may put a woman at a greater risk for heart disease. Although natural progesterone has fewer side effects, not everyone can take it, including women who are allergic to peanuts.
A person can help severe the link between progesterone and weight gain by eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and other foods high in fiber. Intake of caffeinated beverages, such as coffee and soft drinks, should also be limited. These can make water retention worse.