Is Weight Loss Impossible During Menopause?
Interviewer: Gail Edgell
Gail Edgell: All of a sudden, women hit 40 or 45, and things start to change. They gain a lot of weight around the waist. What is really happening?
Dr. Chilkov: As we age, our metabolism slows down, and there are many changes in our hormonal balance. We have to look at changes in estrogen, insulin and thyroid function as well as changes in lifestyle. Women can get more sedentary as they age because of the demands of life.
All of these factors will cause an increase in body fat. It’s lovely to be thin for cosmetic reasons and vanity. But really, we want to have low body fat and more muscle mass. High body fat increases our risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis and depression. So many health issues are made worse by having a higher percentage of body fat. That should be our motivation for being leaner and thinner.
Gail Edgell: What can women do, starting in their 40s, to really combat this issue? Does it change as they are going into their 50s and 60s?
Dr. Chilkov: The bottom line is having a lifelong normal weight. Maintaining a normal fat-to-lean-body-mass ratio is a lifestyle. Then we deal specifically with metabolic issues with herbs and nutrients.
You have to include the lifestyle factor of regular exercise. If you want to maintain your weight, you want to exercise an hour three times a week. If you want to lose weight, you have to do that every day. You want to have a healthy diet and proper stress management — stress hormones cause your body to store fat. And you want to have adequate rest, so you aren’t swimming upstream against your own physiological factors.
There are a number of herbs and nutrients that we can use to help our body burn more fat, even while we are sitting. Let me introduce some of those.
The first one that I want to discuss is CLA; that is an abbreviation for conjugated linoleic acid. This is a type of fatty acid that promotes fat loss and muscle growth. It occurs in some foods — for example, it is very high in cottage cheese. I prescribe 1,000 milligrams, twice a day, in a capsule as part of a weight-loss program. It increases the burning of fat. That is how it helps us lose weight more efficiently. We are going to promote fat loss, but we also are going to promote muscle growth. Why is that important? Muscle has a higher metabolic rate, so it keeps us lean. If you have more muscle mass, you can eat more calories and still stay thin. You want to be using things that not only burn fat but also build muscle. That is a real key to staying lean.
CLA is used in treating other health concerns. It’s used in cancer care, in treating cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It’s not just used as a weight-loss supplement.
A lot of people have heard a lot about Green Tea and weight loss. It is a useful herb for weight loss because it, too, will improve fat metabolism. Green Tea also reduces appetite. It has a little bit of caffeine and the main medicinal component, ECGC. The decaffeinated form is not as effective for weight loss as the natural caffeinated form. It can be taken in capsules, or it can be taken as a beverage tea. When you take Green Tea in capsules, you want a fat-soluble capsule; it is much more effective. Green Tea really, really increases thermogenics, or energy expenditure (calorie burn), that can boost your metabolism by 4 percent a day.
Green Tea also helps keep blood sugar stable. That is why it reduces appetite. Keeping blood sugar stable is a big component of weight loss. If your blood sugar drops, your body will produce the stress hormone cortisol. That is a fat-storage hormone. Keeping your blood sugar stable during the day by eating small, frequent meals and not waiting too long to eat really makes weight loss much more efficient.
Green Tea is a fabulous antioxidant. It protects your cells from damage. Green Tea is also wonderful in cancer treatment and cancer prevention. There are many benefits to using Green Tea besides weight loss.
Gail Edgell: I know you spoke about Green Tea in a hot-tea formula, or a tea-bag formula. I know that there are hundreds out there on the market. What kind of Green Tea should people be purchasing?
Dr. Chilkov: When you buy teas, herbal medicines or nutritional supplements, you want to buy the absolute highest quality. Buying a cheap brand is not the best way to get a real therapeutic outcome.
Gail Edgell: Are there other supplements that women can possibly take?
Dr. Chilkov: There are two more that I wanted to discuss. One is carnitine. Carnitine is the main amino acid in our muscle. It is also very important for our brain. But carnitine is required for fat metabolism. Sometimes vegetarians have trouble with weight loss because they are carnitine-deficient. They have very little carnitine in their diet because carnitine primarily comes from flesh foods.
Carnitine is another supplement that increases fat-burning and builds muscle. There are certain groups of people who really want to be careful about losing too much muscle — for example, the elderly, people who have chronic illnesses, and people who have cancers. When we want to build muscle, we put carnitine in the body. We can also use it when we want to lose fat. Carnitine enters a pathway in the cell that is part of the energy factory inside the cell. If you push that forward, you are going to burn more fat. Carnitine is required for that pathway in our cells. Without carnitine, we cannot burn fat for energy. Therefore, carnitine will benefit people who are suffering from fatigue as well as obesity. Carnitine is also helpful in treating some forms of depression.
About 800 to 1,000 milligrams three times a day is the dose I recommend. Carnitine can be taken in a powder form or a capsule form. Some supplement companies even make it in a liquid form, which I have found is useful in children.
Gail Edgell: Is there a possibility that individuals can overdose on these? I know that you have been making some recommendations — for example, 800 to 1,000 milligrams of carnitine three times a day. If people were to take more than that, what would happen? Are they urinating it out?
Dr. Chilkov: There’s really not a lot of benefit from taking double or triple the doses. You want to stay in a therapeutic dose range, where you are going to alter your metabolism in a healthy way. I want to emphasize that what we want is healthy weight loss. And at the end of the weight loss, we want a healthy woman. If you lose weight in a healthy fashion, you will also keep it off. That will relieve you of yo-yo dieting.
Gail Edgell: You said that you had one last supplement to recommend?
Dr. Chilkov: I have one more that is not well known. It’s Coleus forskohlii, which is a plant. The main active constituent in that is called forskolin. Again, it increases your metabolism and thermogenesis — fat-burning, calorie burning and energy expenditure. The other thing about Coleus is that it will stimulate your thyroid. Of course, that will increase metabolism and weight loss as well.
Coleus also has another benefit in that it regulates insulin and blood sugar. I want to say a little bit about that because regulating insulin and blood sugar is another key to weight loss. CLA, which I mentioned at the beginning of this talk, also does that. You asked me why we gain weight around the middle as we age. The reason that happens is because a syndrome called insulin resistance develops. Insulin, the hormone that unlocks the door for sugar to go inside the cells, starts to become less efficient. We start to store our calories as fat rather than burn them as energy. When you use something like CLA or Coleus, you’re counteracting that pattern. That pattern develops more in people who abuse sugar and eat too many sweets. By limiting carbohydrates and sweets, you stop yourself from developing this fat storage around your abdomen due to insulin resistance. If you have a history of diabetes in your family, you are going to be much more prone to something like this.
Coleus is also a slight mood elevator. That, of course, will affect food cravings, our motivation to exercise and eat right. By dealing with things that affect our mood, levels of stress, anxiety and depression, we will be able to engage in healthy choices that cause us to be lean and to lose weight. I think it’s important to include things in your plan to address that aspect.
Gail Edgell: Did you say that Coleus forskohlii comes in a supplement form or liquid?
Dr. Chilkov: Typically, you will see it in capsule form. You will see weight-loss products that contain all of these ingredients. There are a number of good products out on the market, or variations of these. These four things that I have talked about can be used individually or together.
To summarize, what you want to do in a weight-loss program is make sure you are eating a diet that is appropriate for you. You do not want to be on an extreme low-calorie diet. You want a good balance between your proteins, carbohydrates and healthy fat. (Older women do better by limiting their carbohydrates. They will lose more weight by doing this because of the insulin relationship.) You want to have regular exercise. You want to make sure that you get adequate rest, keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day, and manage your stress well. If you do all of those things, you will become lean.
Gail Edgell: Sounds easier than it really is, right?
Dr. Chilkov: If you set up some structure for yourself and stick with it, this is not extreme. This is very doable.
Note: This article is an edited transcript of an audio interview. Changes have been made.