Hunger Hormones

Hunger Hormones

Earlier this month, we blogged about menopausal weight gain and weight redistribution. Here, we take a closer look at two important chemicals in our bodies—known as hunger hormones—responsible for regulating our weight and eating. Read on to understand who these hormones are and how they engage with our bodies (and minds) in menopausal years.

Meet Ghrelin and Leptin: you may not know them by name, but they know you. Ghrelin and Leptin are chemicals, or hormones, that we have in our bodies to regulate our weight and eating. Specifically, Leptin, made from fat cells, decreases the appetite, whereas Ghrelin increases the appetite and also affects body weight. As with most of our bodily functions, these hormones respond to how we treat ourselves—essentially, they are a blueprint for how we put what we put into our bodies.

Think of Leptin as an appetite suppressor. Leptin levels are lower in people who are thin and higher in people who are overweight. This makes sense, right? If you are eating less, you likely have a lower appetite, just as, if you eat more than you need, you are growing (not suppressing) your appetite. Among people who are obese, some build up resistance to what Leptin does best—send signals to suppress the appetite, this according to Mary Dallman, PhD, University of California at San Francisco.

Ghrelin—think of it as an appetite increaser—gets primarily released in the stomach and sends hunger signals to our brains. The body responds to what we do with it: if someone is undereating, Ghrelin will increase (you need to eat more!), whereas if someone overeats, Ghrelin will decrease (it is a good idea to scale back!). It is amazing how sensitive—and holding your best interest at heart—our bodies are in their natural state, isn’t it?

So, what do these two mean for menopause?

As we discussed earlier this month, weight gets tricky during menopause because weight tends to accumulate (or redistribute) around a woman’s middle section. If you naturally tend to gain or store weight around your middle, menopause may be an extra challenge for you.

Eating and exercising well are, of course, still applicable to regulating your appetite yourself, and getting enough sleep is equally important. In fact, newer research suggests the disordered sleep menopausal women experience may impact their ability to maintain weight. Who knew?

By regulating your appetite, we mean exactly that—Leptin and Ghrelin are less arbitrators of your health than they are indicators—responders—to how you are doing with your food intake.

But, is there anything specific we can do to support our health and food intake and patterns around menopause years, knowing Leptin and Ghrelin are watching every move and responding accordingly?

Dr. Sophocles weighs in:

“Menopausal aged women need 200-250 fewer calories daily. This means just saying no to dessert at a restaurant is not enough to avoid weight gain. Even regular exercise, which should include balance and strengthening exercises as well as aerobic exercise— only contributes 20% towards what we weigh. Women have to eat less and pay attention to what they are eating. How much of their calorie intake is divided between proteins, fats, and carbohydrates? There is a lot to learn, and women often come to us after they have gained weight, wondering: ‘How did this happen?’”

Gaining knowledge about how our bodies work with us on a chemical level can guide us in making changes towards a more optimum health. At WHP, we advocate you being an advocate for yourself, and we want to help you reach—and sustain—a health that feels good to you.

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