Thursday, March 20, 2008

Menopause and Weight Gain...What's the Connection?

Numerous studies have shown that menopause and weight gain go hand in hand. There are probably many different factors that cause weight gain during menopause, but some studies suggest that the weight gain is related to decreased estrogen levels.

Gaining weight is frustrating and health threatening. It can also affect a woman's sense of well being. A two year study about menopause and weight gain was recently concluded in Australia. 7,270 healthy women between the ages of 45 and 50 were surveyed concerning their weight and their sense of physical and mental well-being. Only half were able to maintain the same weight with which they began the study. More than one third gained 5 pounds or more. Even this small weight change negatively affected the group's sense of mental well-being. Some sources say that the average weight gain during menopause is 12-15 pounds, if this is true, then it could account for the fact that a woman's risk of developing heart disease after menopause increases dramatically, approaching that of a man.

Controlling and preventing weight gain during menopause is important for many reasons. During mid-life, a woman's body tends to change from a pear shape (hips wider than waist) to a shape more like an apple, with the waist approaching the same size as the hips. Abdominal weight gain increases the risk of heart disease. And the American Cancer Society reports that maintaining an ideal weight throughout adult life reduces the risks for many types of cancer. Of major concern for cancer risks is, once again, abdominal weight gain. In menopausal women, this is where the extra pounds usually end up.

In order to try and determine the relationship between menopause and weight gain, scientists have removed the ovaries in lab animals and even one group of monkeys. During peri-menopause, a woman's ovaries begin to produce less and less estrogen, until they finally stop at menopause. Removing the ovaries from animals simulates menopause in a laboratory setting. In all of these studies, the female animals increased their food intake (in some cases by as much as 67%) and, of course, gained weight. These studies indicate that estrogen (or the lack of it) plays a direct role in appetite. Thus, weight gain during menopause could be caused by decreased estrogen levels.

Drugs for menopause and weight gain control have known risks. Experimental drugs that have an estrogen like effect have been shown to reduce the amount of weight that lab animals gain after having their ovaries removed. However, these drugs also caused cancerous growths in the uterus. Estrogen replacement in menopausal women has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, blood clots, heart disease and stroke, when used for long periods of time. An alternative to synthetic hormones exists in the plant world.

Phytoestrogens, which are plant compounds that have an "estrogen-like" effect on the body, are being recommended for women to help relieve the symptoms of menopause. Found in soy and red clover, if these plant components can reduce other symptoms of menopause, they may help reduce weight gain during menopause, as well. Undoubtedly, other factors play a role.

It is a known fact that a person's metabolism changes with age. A woman who is 55 cannot eat the same amount of food that she did when she was 25 (even when levels of physical activity stay the same), without gaining weight. Thus, weight gain during menopause cannot be controlled or prevented without reducing calories and/or increasing physical activity. But, if a woman is making efforts to control her weight and nothing seems to be working, phytoestrogens might help. Adding soy to the diet or replacing higher fat, higher calorie meats with soy products is one way to accomplish this.

Some dietary supplements contain soy isoflavones. Isoflavones are the phytoestrogens found in soy. Use of these supplements may relieve symptoms of menopause and weight gain may be avoided, as well. To learn more about them visit the Menopause and PMS guide website.

Patsy Hamilton was a health care professional for more than twenty years before becoming a freelance writer. Currently she writes informational health articles, focused on women's issues. You can read more at

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