We gain weight due to a wide range of reasons such as lack of physical activity, binge eating, water retention, as a side effect of some medications or health conditions, and many others. Understanding the causes behind weight loss helps us create an effective strategy to slim down. It is a well-known fact that menopause is associated with weight gain in many women, just like thyroid disorders. But what happens when these factors collide? The relationship happens before menopause itself i.e. during perimenopause. How are thyroid and perimenopause related? Do they affect one another? Keep reading to find out.
What is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause, meaning around menopause, starts a few years prior to menopause. During this time, ovaries start producing a lower amount of estrogen. Even though perimenopause usually starts in the 40s, some women can go through this phase in their 30s too. In perimenopause, you still have your period but some changes are noticeable. For example, monthly cycles may shorten or lengthen. It is not uncommon for women in perimenopause to have their menstrual cycles wherein their ovaries don’t release an egg i.e. they don’t ovulate.
What are the Symptoms of Perimenopause?
Just like menopause, perimenopause also induces a number of different symptoms. In fact, many of them are similar to those of menopause. During this stage, women experience some subtle and not-so-subtle symptoms including:
- Breast tenderness
- Changes in sexual function
- Fertility problems
- Hot flashes
- Increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Irregular periods
- Loss of bone and increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures
- Low sex drive
- Mood swings
- Sleep problems
- Urine leakage with sneezing or coughing
- Vaginal and bladder problems
- Vaginal dryness
- Weight gain
How Long does Perimenopause Last?
As mentioned above, perimenopause lasts a few years i.e. until you finally enter menopause. But, how long does it last precisely? The average length of perimenopause is four years. However, for some women, this phase can last a few months only or extend to 10 years. Basically, your perimenopause ends and menopause starts when you have gone 12 months without a menstrual period.
How Perimenopause affects the Thyroid?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland situated at the base of your neck. The gland is about two inches long and lies in front of your throat and it belongs to the endocrine system. The primary purpose of this gland is to release hormones that regulate a person’s metabolism. Hormones produced by the thyroid also take part in breathing, body weight, heart rate, muscle strength, cholesterol levels, and many other processes. Proper functioning of the gland is crucial for your health and wellbeing. That being said, millions of people experience thyroid-related disorders and women are more prone to them than men.
Despite wide prevalence of thyroid disorders, their impact on perimenopause and menopause isn’t overly discussed. This isn’t practical because many women experience these problems and they don’t know how to find a solution because info on this subject is unreliable or nonexistent. So, is there any connection between the function of thyroid and perimenopause?
Perimenopause affects the way your thyroid works due to the hormonal imbalance. Both estrogen and progesterone levels drop in perimenopause, but production of the latter decreases more rapidly. This leads to estrogen dominance, a condition wherein a woman can have deficient, excessive, or normal estrogen and little or no progesterone to balance its effects in your body.
An excessive amount of estrogen doesn’t allow thyroid hormone to function properly and prevent it from converting into an active form. More precisely, estrogen dominance affects the conversion of T4 into T3 hormone. This leads to low levels of T3. In addition, too much estrogen compared to progesterone levels has the potential to block the uptake of thyroid hormone. This action aggravates symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Another mechanism behind the impact of perimenopause on thyroid is the increase in TGB (thyroid binding globulin) which is a protein that transports thyroid hormones to the cells. The consequence of this action is decreased production of T3 and T4. These hormones don’t reach and enter cells, thus inducing hypothyroidism symptoms.
How Thyroid Weight Gain impacts Perimenopause?
Thyroid function and body composition are closely related. How? That’s because thyroid hormones regulate basal metabolism, thermogenesis, and they also play an important role in lipid and glucose metabolism, food intake and fat oxidation. Thyroid dysfunction is strongly related to changes in body weight independent of physical activity. A growing body of evidence confirms that hypothyroidism is linked with decreased thermogenesis, higher BMI, and decreased metabolic rate. What’s more, even mild dysfunction in thyroid causes significant changes in body weight and metabolism.
As you can see, problems with thyroid include can induce weight gain. At the same time, perimenopause can also lead to weight gain meaning these two factors overlap to a great extent. That’s why thyroid problems can worsen perimenopause symptoms and make them more frustrating for you.
If the thyroid is out of control, then all your effort to manage perimenopause symptoms will not prove to be as effective as you’d like it to be. Again, this leads us to the fact that sometimes perimenopause and thyroid problems overlap and symptoms you experience may not be the result of perimenopause only, but problems with the butterfly-shaped gland. That’s why you should consult your doctor about symptoms you experience.
Your doctor will ask you to mention all symptoms you experience and he/she may also order some tests and check thyroid hormone levels to diagnose the problem. If tests show dysfunction in thyroid e.g. hypothyroidism, then management of the condition can also help you alleviate symptoms of perimenopause, including weight gain.
Tips to Manage Weight in Perimenopause
As you can see, thyroid and perimenopause are deeply connected and disorders such as hypothyroidism are associated with weight gain, just like the period around menopause. To keep your weight in a healthy range, it is important to normalize production of thyroid hormones by taking medications and listening to doctor’s orders.
Managing the underlying problem with thyroid will help you control your weight and other symptoms of perimenopause more effectively. Besides this, other things you can do to manage weight in perimenopause include:
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Don’t starve yourself, eat your meals regularly
- Control portion sizes
- Do resistance and aerobic exercise
- Get enough sleep
- Manage stress
- Keep yourself motivated e.g. create your own mantra and repeat it every day
- Eat fiber-rich foods that promote healthy digestion
- Drink green tea
- Decrease alcohol consumption
Perimenopause is a phase before menopause and it lasts about four years on average. During this time, levels of estrogen start to decline and induce a wide range of symptoms. Many symptoms of perimenopause are similar to those of menopause. Perimenopause affects thyroid function and may affect the production of hormones which leads to weight gain and aggravates other symptoms. Fortunately, by the normalizing function of thyroid, it becomes easier to manage perimenopause symptoms and manage your weight. Thyroid and perimenopause relationship is complex and requires more research.
You may also consider DIM Plus BioPurine to deal with the symptoms of perimenopause.