“There is an interplay of hormonal issues and ageing that create a unique path for development of liver problems and liver disease in menopausal women, making chronic liver disease a significant burden on women’s health in their post-menopause years.” [Brady, C., 2015].*
It took me a long time to figure out that our liver and gall bladder is so affected by hormonal changes during menopause. Not one health or exercise professional I sought support from in terms of my weight, bloating and changing heart health spoke to me about my liver. And yes, my bloods were in the ‘normal range’. I had these checked too. Changing weight, cholesterol and bloating can send us into further health chaos as we move through menopause. It’s why I have an entire module in both of the MyMT™ programmes devoted to the scientific evidence about how to turn around our liver health and in so doing, we turn around our energy at this time of life.
For those who want to lose their abdominal and diaphragmatic fat, listening to this module is crucial. It’s how Dianne lost 20kg of menopause weight and she did this without having to do all the exhaustive exercise that we think that we need to do to burn calories for weight loss. As an exercise professional I used to believe this too. Meeting up with Dianne at my Brisbane seminar this week was so wonderful.
I worry about women in menopause going on a high-fat, high-protein diet that are popularised as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ diet these days. These diets don’t fit with the current scientific research on how we need to eat as we move through menopause. This is why positioning our menopause transition in women’s ageing and following the women’s health research changed my life too. It allowed me to better understand how our body is adjusting to our changing hormones in menopause – some of these changes have a lot to do with how the liver and gallbladder change as we get older.
Understanding that the liver is the hero in the story of your weight loss, energy and health as you age is important.
The work of Professor Carla Brady, who has researched the liver in menopause, helped me understand this. Her work changed my life and when my Doctor was concerned about my changing cholesterol and cardiac health, it’s why I turned to the liver instead.
Changes in diet and lifestyle have led to a dramatic increase in the prevalence of obesity and metabolic syndrome in Western countries and many Asian countries. This has resulted in a significant increase in the incidence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), [Watanabe, et al, 2015). Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) doubles in incidence in women as they move through menopause. This condition increases inflammation in the liver.
I have no idea if you have an over-burdened liver or not – only you and your Doctor do, but if you are putting on weight in menopause and feeling bloated, then please get your liver health checked. As a generation of women who have had over 40 years of living in a fast-changing society, with lots of emphasis on changing food production and chemical consumption and toxins that are harmful to our liver health, then we must understand that if we want to lose weight and achieve back our health as we age, then our liver matters. Apart from your heart, it’s your most precious organ. Your liver interacts with your pancreas, intestinal tract and fat storage cells, so it plays a crucial role in various aspects of not only carbohydrate metabolism but also in fat and protein metabolism too.
I always speak about our changing liver in my live Masterclass on Menopause events. I show those attending the effect of low oestrogen on liver blood vessels and liver structure. But it’s not just lowering oestrogen that affects the liver. It’s the inflammation that has been building up in the liver for decades. This can be due to diets high in processed foods, exposure to chemicals, foods higher in oestrogen and cholesterol and of course, alcohol consumption and stress.
The liver plays a central role in all metabolic processes in the body.
In fat metabolism the liver cells break down fats and produce energy. They also produce about 800 to 1,000 ml of bile per day. This yellow, brownish or olive green liquid is collected in small ducts and then passed on to the main bile duct, which carries the bile to a part of the small intestine called the duodenum. Bile is important for the breakdown and absorption of fats.
However, as we age our liver is changing. It shrinks in size and the gall-bladder produces less bile. Bile is the substance that helps to emulsify or break down fats. If our diet is high in fats (including animal fats), then our gallbladder cannot cope with the volume of fats that it has to emulsify. Our gall-bladder, which stores bile, where fats are broken down further, also changes.
We have around 20% less bile being produced as we move through menopause.
What this means is that we may not handle as many fats as we used to – and we must remember that all animal proteins contain fats. Add up all the foods and fluids (e.g. smoothies) that contain fats and over the course of a day, you may be getting a lot of fat in your diet. I used to be the same too. But these fats and proteins can be too much for our liver and gall-bladder to handle as we age because our liver is also involved in the metabolism of your carbohydrates as well. Your liver is very hard-working.
But there’s more to the liver story and that is our blood. Blood flows through the liver carrying all sorts of nutrients and also toxic substances. If our liver cells are blocked with the burden of excess fats, then our blood doesn’t detox efficiently either. We end up more tired, breathless and susceptible to immune changes. Turning this around in mid-life is crucial to reducing our bloating and restoring our energy levels as well.
Liver tissue is made up of lots of smaller units of liver cells called lobules. Many canals carrying blood and bile run between the liver cells. Blood coming from the digestive organs flows through the portal vein to the liver, carrying nutrients, medication and also toxic substances. Once they reach the liver, these substances are processed, stored, altered, detoxified, and passed back into the blood or released in the bowel to be eliminated. In this way the liver can, for example, remove alcohol from your blood and get rid of by-products from the breakdown of medications.
But here’s the thing – with all the amount of fats and proteins that our liver has to process in a day, then other vital nutrients and mineral salts may not be able to be readily absorbed into the blood. Hence I worry about all the women coming through menopause, who have a high-fat and high protein diet. This can over-burden the gall-bladder and, as I often say in my seminars, as we get older, because our bile production reduces by around 20-30%. This makes it challenging to break down fats and cholesterol which the liver makes as well.
Your beautiful liver has evolved it’s function to store glucose. This is because in ancient times we didn’t have access to food that is so readily available now. Men could be away hunting for days on end and women were left to tend the fire, look after children and ‘gather’ fruits, berries and whatever plant foods they could find. They ate less that we typically do today and certainly didn’t have access to processed foods. As such when they did eat, their liver stored up glucose ready for times of scarcity. Over the course of our lifetime, our liver and gallbladder have weakened as these precious organs have been exposed to toxic substances and high fat, protein and processed carbohydrate foods.
I think it’s time to turn that around, don’t you? 🙂
There are numerous ways you can restore liver health in menopause, but here are two of my favourite:
- Eat mainly plant fats and until you improve your liver health, then decrease your total fat intake to around 15% of your diet, unless you are doing lots of endurance exercise. (In which case you can go up to around 20-25%).
- Stretch in ways that help to lengthen your diaphragm and massage your liver when you can (in the shower is great). This image below of me stretching is not only a great stretch for our hip-flexor muscles in the front of the thigh, but if you sit all day at a desk and your liver is compressed from fat that accumulates under the diaphragm as it did for me, then it’s a great stretch for your liver and gall-bladder to do at the end of the day.
When we love our liver and gall-bladder by using food as our medicine and we move in ways that unblock our energy meridians, then we begin to restore our energy and our health. With this as the focus in the MyMT programmes as well as learning how to sleep all night, then this is the path you need to take to get back to feeling like ‘you’ again.
The ageing of our organs offers a ‘perfect-storm’ when menopause arrives. This means that we have to learn how to make some lifestyle adjustments to accommodate these changes. Otherwise our weight gain creeps on and on as the years advance.
But we mustn’t ignore it. If we don’t stop the menopause weight gain mayhem, then we already know from our mother’s generation, that weight gain around the trunk at this time of life sends women into post-menopause heart disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes. For many women putting on a lot of belly fat, or if you have the ‘hard-fat’ sitting around your abdomen, then please try to come on board into my ‘Transform Me’ weight loss programme. In my own desperation to feel better and improve my health, I’ve researched how to turn around our symptoms in menopause, including our liver health.
I am so passionate about women following a progressive step-by-step process to turn around their weight and their health during menopause. Too many women are turning to crazy diets and exercise programmes when their hormones are changing, but what we need to is to restore the balancing act that our hormones require to pass through menopause. If we do this by improving our sleep, losing excess fat, improving liver health, regulating insulin levels, reducing inflammation in our joints and hold onto muscle, then women’s healthy ageing research consistently reports that we are more resilient to the health changes that occur in older age.
I would love to help you and I want to encourage you to join the hundreds of women who have experienced the power of MyMT™ where they learn how to put menopause into ‘wellness’ not ‘sickness’.
Brady, C. (2015). Liver disease and menopause. World J Gastroenterology, 21(25): 7613-7620
Watanabe, S., Hashimoto, E. et al. (2015). Evidence-based clinical practice guidelines for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease/nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. J. Gastroenterology, 50: 364–377.
Wenxia Lu, Sainan Li,Jingjing Li, et al. (2016). Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acid in Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: A Meta-Analysis. Gastroenterology Research and Practice, Article ID 1459790, 1-11.