Embarking on the journey through menopause often catches women by surprise. According to a study involving 1,039 women aged 40 to 65 across the U.S., a staggering 29% never sought information about menopause before they found themselves amidst its whirlwind. Frankly, this statistic doesn’t shock me. Life is cruising along smoothly, and then, out of nowhere, your first hot flash decides to make a grand entrance, perhaps in the middle of a crucial work meeting. You gracefully excuse yourself, but not without leaving behind a memorable display of sweat stains under your armpits—a wardrobe tragedy in that expensive Theory top. It’s a “WTF!” moment that throws many women off balance, especially when coupled with suddenly ill-fitting jeans and the unwelcome companionship of midnight awakenings that refuse to let you easily drift back into slumber.
The scenario described above is enough to send any woman into a spiral of worry and frustration. However, amidst the storm of menopausal symptoms, there’s a glimmer of hope and a comprehensive explanation. Enter: insulin resistance, a term many women are unfamiliar with despite its pivotal role in hormonal health, including the often-elusive ability to shed those extra pounds.
But before we unravel the intricacies of insulin resistance and its connections to weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, and the broader realm known as Metabolic Syndrome, let’s take a moment to understand the vital role insulin plays in our overall health.
Insulin, a tiny yet mighty protein, takes center stage as it’s secreted by the beta cells nestled within the pancreas.
Think of it as the traffic conductor in your bloodstream. Its primary gig? Clearing the blood of glucose and shuttling it to muscle or fat cells, where it transforms into the energy we tap into daily. But wait, there’s more—insulin is a meticulous organizer. It ensures any excess glucose finds a home, be it in muscle and fat cells for immediate use or in the liver, where it undergoes a magical transformation into glycogen. This glycogen stash is like the emergency fund for your body, ready to be deployed in times of crisis or “fight or flight” situations. You see, glucose isn’t one to linger in the blood; it likes to have a purpose and a place.
Now, I get it—this science talk can feel a tad technical. But here’s the thing: understanding this intricate dance inside your body lays the groundwork for metabolic health. It’s like having a blueprint for your well-being. Lifestyle changes become way more manageable when you’ve got a solid grasp on what’s happening beneath the surface, don’t you think?
Imagine our bodies as versatile engines that can switch between different fuel sources, kinda like a car that smoothly transitions from gas to electric power.
Now, during menopause, hormonal shifts can throw a bit of a curveball at this process. It’s like our body’s GPS is recalibrating, and sometimes it takes a moment to find the optimal route. Metabolic flexibility is essentially our body’s ability to adapt and efficiently use various fuels—like fats and carbs—based on what’s available. During menopause this flexibility becomes less and less. It’s one of the reasons why what you did in your twenties and thirties for weight loss no longer works when you’re fifty or more years old.
Insulin Resistance and Menopause
Insulin is the key player in regulating how we use energy. It’s like a conductor directing glucose into our cells, where it’s transformed into energy. Now, during menopause, the hormonal orchestra undergoes a change in composition.
Picture insulin as a key trying to unlock the cell door to let glucose in. However, in insulin resistance, it’s as if the lock on the cell door has gotten a bit rusty. The key (insulin) is still there, trying its best, but the door (cell) doesn’t respond as easily. The insulin receptors on the cells are having signaling problems.
This happens because the cells, influenced by hormonal shifts during menopause, become less responsive to insulin’s signal. It’s like the cells are saying, “Hold on, we need a bit more convincing.” This leads to higher levels of glucose circulating in the bloodstream, as the cells aren’t letting it in as efficiently.
In a nutshell, insulin resistance is like a miscommunication between insulin and cells, where the usual smooth process of energy utilization hits a bit of a snag.
The cells, influenced by hormonal changes, aren’t responding to insulin’s “open for glucose” signal as effectively. This leaves glucose hanging out in the bloodstream, unable to get into the cells efficiently. Now, our body, being the smart machine it is, tries to compensate by producing even more insulin, thinking, “Maybe if we send in more keys, one will work!”
But here’s the twist: higher insulin levels can actually promote fat storage, especially around the midsection. It’s like our body, in its attempt to manage the traffic jam, decides to store some of that excess energy as fat for later use. And guess where it loves to stash it during menopause? Yep, around the waist.
So, insulin resistance, by disrupting the usual energy flow, can contribute to weight gain, particularly around the belly area. It’s like a domino effect triggered by hormonal changes.
Low carb and keto based eating leads to weight loss and the reversal of metabolic syndrome
One of the biggest challenges I see, as a health coach, is the willingness to make dietary changes to improve one’s health.
Food is something we have a lot more control over than who’s going to win the super bowl. On the flip side, there can be strong emotional, social and cultural associations connected to what we eat. Challenging such strong ties can raise a lot of resistance. That’s something to consider when you want to make changes. That and the support of your family and friends helps with accountability.
According to a study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health (November 28, 2018),
“The prevalence of metabolic health in American adults is ‘alarmingly low,’ even among people who are normal weight, according to a new study. Only one in eight Americans is achieving optimal metabolic health. This carries serious implications for public health since poor metabolic health leaves people more vulnerable to developing Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other serious health issues.”
When I read this study, I thought to myself, “How can this be? How is a country with so many resources like the United States in such poor health?” If you dig into this and go back a few decades, you can find corruption between corporations and research studies. Such corruption was published in JAMA- Internal Medicine by Dr. Cristin Kearns at the University of California, San Francisco, a dentist-turned-researcher who found the sugar industry’s fingerprints while digging through boxes of letters in the basement of a Harvard library.
As nutrition debates raged in the 1960s, prominent Harvard nutritionists published two reviews in a top medical journal downplaying the role of sugar in coronary heart disease. Newly unearthed documents reveal what they didn’t say: A sugar industry trade group initiated and paid for the studies, examined drafts, and laid out a clear objective to protect sugar’s reputation in the public eye. The two Harvard scientists tore apart studies that implicated sugar and concluded that there was only one dietary modification — changing fat and cholesterol intake — that could prevent coronary heart disease. Their reviews were published in 1967 in the New England Journal of Medicine, which back then did not require researchers to disclose conflicts of interest.
I brought up this piece of history to point out the fact that the manipulation of public health policy on “The cause of heart disease” has for decades created the false belief that healthy saturated fats from whole food sources like butter, cheese and beef are bad. As a result, Americans gravitated to low fat (seed oils) higher carb diets and heart disease and obesity skyrocketed. And big pharma made millions dishing out statins. See how it works?
It may appear I’m going off topic, but you need some contextual history to see how we have all been misled where nutrition is concerned. I once believed in the low fat, high carb way, until I began my journey as a health coach. Research is a big part of what I do so I can present evidence based information to help clients and my readers make informed decisions about their health.
For the menopausal or postmenopausal woman eating a diet high in carbs and low in fat is not favorable for weight loss or hormonal health. When we cut back on carbs in our diet, we keep insulin (the hormone that manages our energy) at lower, more stable levels. Think of it like keeping the energy traffic cop on a break.
Now, with lower insulin around, the stored fat in our body gets the green light to break down into smaller parts called fatty acids. These fatty acids then go through a process, kind of like a power plant, called beta-oxidation, creating something called acetyl CoA, which is like the fuel for making ketones.
Now, what’s cool about this is that it puts our body into a state called nutritional ketosis. It’s like flipping a switch in our metabolism. With less insulin in the picture, our body shifts gears, becoming more efficient at burning fats and using those ketones for energy. This is how we can become metabolically flexible. Remember those two words I mentioned earlier? Menopause can temporarily cause your body to lose that flexibility, unless you switch to eating a lower carb based diet. Then that light will turn back on again and the pounds will come off more easily! In simpler terms, cutting down on carbs can lead to a metabolic makeover where our body becomes a fat-burning machine, using fatty acids and ketones for fuel.
So, when you’re in a state of nutritional ketosis (that’s when your body is burning fat for fuel), it seems that the ketone bodies your body produces might have a nifty side effect—they can help put the brakes on your appetite. Some studies found that people who followed a very low-carb, high-fat diet reported eating less without feeling super hungry.
In one study, even though folks on this diet were eating way fewer calories, they didn’t feel as hungry as those on a low-fat diet eating more. Another study found that after just one week on a low-carb diet, people reported feeling 50% less hungry.
And get this, when researchers compared two diets with the same amount of protein—one low in carbs and the other not—they found that the low-carb group not only felt less hungry but also ate less and lost more weight. The scientists think this might be because of the extra energy your body uses to turn fat into fuel.
So, in a nutshell, being in ketosis might help you eat less without feeling like you’re missing out, which could contribute to weight loss.
Discover the Truth: Achieving Metabolic Health by Embracing a Higher Fat Diet!
When you cut down on carbs to get into ketosis, it can do wonders for your blood fat profile, even if you’re eating more saturated fats. Here’s how:
Going low-carb can significantly lower the levels of triglycerides in your blood. Think of triglycerides as little fat molecules that can sometimes be too much of a good thing. Lowering them is a plus for heart health.
It’s not just about total cholesterol; it’s about the good stuff too. Low-carb diets can boost your HDL cholesterol—the friendly kind that helps keep your heart happy.
Imagine cholesterol as a bunch of cars on the highway. Low-carb diets can change the size and type of these cars (Low Density Lipoprotein; LDL particles). It’s like going from compact cars that might cause issues to bigger, safer ones. Large particle size LDL do not cause atherosclerosis and pose no danger to your health. If the particle size is small and dense, then it becomes a problem. You can request from your doctor to have an LDL diameter test for more detailed information about your LDL health.
Weight Loss Waltz:
In studies, people on low-carb diets consistently lost weight and fat. They also saw improvements in blood sugar and insulin levels, which are key players in metabolic health.
Now, let’s dive a bit into the science behind it:
When we eat carbs, our insulin levels can spike, leading to some not-so-great changes in our blood fat levels. Going low-carb can help keep insulin in check, preventing these negative shifts.
When carbs are low, our body produces ketones for energy instead of turning everything into cholesterol. This can lead to a cleaner, healthier lipid profile.
The idea that eating more fat automatically means bad blood lipids has been debunked. Different types of fats and proteins can affect cholesterol differently, and the devil is in the details.
One cautionary note
Some studies link low-carb diets to an increase in total LDL (bad) cholesterol, but it’s crucial to consider the size and type of these particles. Not all LDL is created equal, and the devil is in the details here too.
So, in a nutshell, going low-carb for ketosis can give your blood fats a positive makeover, but as with anything, the specifics of the other variables matter when it comes to being metabolically healthy. Low carb diets have a beneficial effect on LDL particle size; they become bigger and fluffier which is not associated with heart disease. Another cholesterol paradox to make you think differently about LDL’s is a study from the annals of epidemiology and public health that shows people with higher LDL’s live longer, have better immune systems and are less prone to cancer. This makes you realize what a great impact diet and lifestyle has on our health!
As always, I hope you found this information helpful so you can look, feel and be Kuhle!
Nutritional Ketosis for Weight Management and Reversal of Metabolic Syndrome – PMC
Low-Carbohydrate Diet – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf
Reversing Chronic Disease And Aging By Fixing Insulin Resistance – Dr. Mark Hyman
Why we need animal fats – The Weston A. Price Foundation
Estrogen improves insulin sensitivity and suppresses gluconeogenesis via the transcription factor Foxo 1
The importance of saturated fats for biological functions
Only 12 percent of American adults are metabolically healthy, study finds/ ScienceDaily
The LDL Paradox – Higher LDL Cholesterol is Associated with Greater Longevity