A Lack of This Hormone May Be Causing You to Gain Weight

Are you mysteriously gaining excess weight or having more trouble shedding it as you get older? If so, you may have more than your slowing metabolism to blame. As surprising as it may sound, the culprit may be a hormone many women don’t even know they produce: testosterone.

“From 40 to 50+, you can gain 5 to 10 pounds per year without trying,” says Virtua OB/GYN Colleen McCleery, MD, FACOG. “That’s your testosterone levels falling.”

In addition to estrogen, progesterone and other reproductive hormones, women carry low doses of testosterone in their systems. Just like those other hormones, women start losing noticeable levels of testosterone as they age.

But women’s bodies usually start significantly dropping testosterone early … years before they start experiencing other signs of peri-menopause. Though the “normal” range for testosterone fluctuates widely, some physicians say that by the time you turn 40, you're probably only producing about half the testosterone – also called androgen – as you did at 20.

Although declining levels of testosterone can also trigger a sagging sex drive and a loss of energy in women, one of the first symptoms they tend to notice is unwanted weight gain. “You could eat a lettuce leaf a day and work out as much as you did in the past, but with low testosterone, you’re just going to keep going up on the scale,” says Dr. McCleery.

The Cause

Testosterone helps your body use insulin more efficiently. When your body doesn’t produce or use insulin effectively, the remaining sugar in your bloodstream turns to fat.

“If you have an accumulation of fat around your waistline, you may want to consider seeing your doctor for a blood test to measure your testosterone levels,” says Dr. McCleery.

Testosterone also has other benefits:

  • Increases bone density
  • Aids in the prevention of certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease
  • Increases energy and sense of well-being
  • Improves memory and ability to concentrate
  • Increases libido and sex drive

The Solution

After learning your testosterone levels, you might benefit from a hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) that boosts your hormone levels and helps you shed those extra pounds.

Your doctor can add testosterone to your regular HRT regimen in the form of a cream or gel. If you plan to use a gel or cream, it’s important to know the following:

  • When applied, the hormone level spikes and then steadily declines until the next application causing fluctuations in hormone levels.
  • Gels and creams can rub or wash off before they’ve been fully absorbed.
  • You cannot have any contact with others until the cream/gel is fully absorbed.

For these reasons, Dr. McCleery suggests a different delivery method – bio-identical hormone replacement therapy in the form of a pellet. “This form of HRT allows for higher and more consistent levels of HRT in the body,” explains Dr. McCleery and here’s why:

  • Pellets are comprised of hormones with the exact chemical structure of those naturally produced in the body.
  • Pellets are compounded from plants.
  • Each dose is personalized.
  • Pellet therapy keeps hormone levels consistent for 3 to 4 months in women.
  • Each patient’s hormone levels are watched closely with regular blood testing.

“Of course, HRT won’t be an automatic fix,” says Dr. McCleery. “Losing weight requires a combination of eating right and exercising too."

Updated December 29, 2017

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