Study: Menopause Linked to Belly Fat, But Not Weight Gain

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • So which came first in menopause, the belly fat or the weight gain? It turns out only one of these is truly connected to menopause while one is just a myth.

    A new study out of Australia found that belly fat is actually the body’s response to the fall in estrogen during menopause. This response moves fat storage from the hips to the waist. This change can be problematic since it can increase a woman’s risk for metabolic disease that can lead to some serious threats to a woman’s health.

    Interestingly, though, the meta-analysis of previous studies found that weight gain during middle age – which averages about 1 pound per year for a woman – is not linked to menopause.  “It is a myth that the menopause causes a woman to gain weight. It’s really just a consequence of environmental factors and aging which cause that,” said Dr. Susan Davis of Monash University, who led the review.  “What this translates to in real terms is that women going through the menopause should begin to try to control their weight before it becomes a problem, so if you have not been looking after yourself before the menopause, you should certainly start to do so when it arrives. This means for all women being thoughtful about what you eat and for many, being more active every day.” Watching one’s weight is importance since researchers have linked being overweight or obese to a variety of conditions, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression.

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    The researchers also determined that estrogen therapy does not cause women to gain weight; instead, the study found that this therapy actually can stop abdominal fat from accumulating after a woman goes through menopause. “But each woman is different, so at the menopause, it is important to discuss your health with your doctor,” Dr. Davis said.

    So why should you be concerned about belly fat? “The trouble with belly fat is that it’s not limited to the extra layer of padding located just below the skin (subcutaneous fat),” the Mayo Clinic's website explains. “It also includes visceral fat – which lies deep inside your abdomen, surrounding your internal organs.” This type of fat produces hormones and other types of substances that can lead to higher blood pressure, impaired use of insulin, and dangerous changes in cholesterol levels. In addition, this type of fat can boost estrogen levels. These changes can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer and colorectal cancer. In addition, felly fat has been associated with an increased risk of premature death, even if a woman has a normal weight.

    Unfortunately, exercises such as crunches will not help you lose the belly fat. Instead, you need to follow diet and exercise guidelines that are the basis of weight loss. According to the Mayo Clinic, these include:

    • A healthy diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables and whole grains and that includes lean sources of protein and low-fat dairy products.  You should also limit meats and high-rat dairy products (cheese and butter) that are high in saturated fats. In their place, consume a moderate amount of fish, nuts and certain vegetable oils, which have monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
    • Watch portion sizes in order to limit calories. Try using a smaller plate when eating at home. If eating out, share a meal with a family member or friend. Another option is to eat half of the meal and then take the rest home to eat during another mealtime.
    • Get daily exercise. You should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise each week. In addition, make sure you do strength training exercises at least twice a week.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

  • Mayo Clinic. (2011). Belly fat in women: Taking – and keeping – it off.

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    International Menopause Society. (2012). Major review finds menopause does not cause weight gain, but increases belly fat.

Published On: October 19, 2012