Belly fat: Is menopause to blame?

By The Health News Team | August 23, 2015
The link between weight gain and menopause

Along with hot flashes, insomnia, mood swings and other related symptoms, weight gain is a common concern among menopausal women and those transitioning into menopause (perimenopause). In fact, the rate in which women gain weight and accumulate abdominal fat tissue increases more rapidly during their mid-life years.

"The relationship between weight gain and menopause has been somewhat unclear," explains Dr. Frank Goicoechea, an OBGYN affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

"A better understanding of this relation enables women to make informed decisions about the best method for managing their weight during menopausal years."

Increase in weight among menopausal and premenopausal women is a function of age and is not caused by hormonal changes related to menopause. However, there is evidence that menopause causes an increase in body mass index (BMI) and an accumulation of abdominal fat in women.

"This distinction is important because of specific risk factors associated with abdominal obesity in women," says Dr. Goicoechea. "These include an increased risk of stroke, cardiac disease, heart attack, hypertension and diabetes."

The degree to which women experience menopausal symptoms correlates to the amount of weight they gain. There is an increased likelihood of more frequent hot flashes, night sweats and other menopause-related symptoms in those who are overweight or obese.

Healthy BMI is key

Keeping weight and body mass index (BMI) at a healthy level can help women reduce their risk of obesity and associated diseases, and decrease the unpleasant symptoms related to menopause.

A BMI of 25-29.9 indicates being overweight and a BMI of 30 or higher indicates obesity. Calculate your BMI by using our online calculator.

Women can manage their weight by doing the following:

  • Eat less and exercise more — reduced food intake combined with increased physical activity offers more benefit together than diet or exercise alone

  • Estrogen therapy — estrogen-related therapies can help reduce the accumulation of abdominal fat in menopausal women

  • Alternative therapy — acupuncture, yoga and Chinese herbal medicine may also be beneficial to weight loss

  • Medications — anti-obesity drugs can aid in weight loss by suppressing appetite, increasing the feeling of fullness, increasing the body's metabolism and reducing the ability for the body to absorb specific food nutrients

"There are multiple benefits to weight loss for women during their mid-life, including improvements in menopausal symptoms among previously obese and overweight women," says Dr. Goicoechea.

If you or a loved one are experiencing signs of menopause and age-related weight gain, talk with your doctor about an appropriate weight management and maintenance program.

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