By Linda Thorsen Bond for Northern Colorado Life
Menopause is like uninvited dinner guests—you didn’t invite them, you wish they hadn’t shown up, and it’s hard to prepare until they arrive. Then too, there’s that sneaky sidekick that comes with them. Along with hot flashes, night sweats and heart palpitations, many women find menopause brings weight gain.
According to the Women’s Health Clinic at Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota, nearly two-thirds of women ages 40 to 59 years and about three-fourths of women older than 60 years are overweight in the United States. That’s an unexpected symptom when they find they need to eat less and exercise more, just to maintain their current weight.
The Women’s Clinic of Northern Colorado in Loveland and Fort Collins has a specialty in aging and prevention that provides for the needs of women before, during and after menopause. That time of life is referred to in medical terms as “midlife.” Learning about menopause, weight gain and hormone therapy are coupled with support classes and services such as bone density scanning. There are several theories about weight gain and menopause, enough to mean that women with concerns should visit the local clinic and talk to physicians.
Ekta Kapoor, a consultant with the Mayo Women’s Health Clinic, said that midlife women may gain up to a pound and a half per year and demonstrate a change in body fat distribution, from greater lower-body fat to greater upper-body fat. Aging-related weight gain happens to all people, male and female, because there may be small changes in lean body mass and physical activity. Therefore, unless there are people change their dietary habits and physical activity, aging results in weight gain.
Stephanie S. Faubion, M.D., Mayo’s Women’s Health Clinic, said there’s cause for debate: “The current literature supports the aging theory, and that menopause, per se, after adjustment for aging, does not result in significant weight gain. However, menopause does result in body fat distribution changes, with a preferential deposition of body fat centrally, and an increase in abdominal obesity. This tendency persists despite adjustment for aging, total body fat and reduced physical activity level, all of which independently increase visceral fat deposition.”
There could be more causes, including restless sleeping and depression. Midlife women during the menopausal transition might experience unique symptoms that facilitate weight gain, including vasomotor symptoms, mood disorders, sleep disturbances and musculoskeletal complaints. The vasomotor symptoms are those that occur due to the constriction or dilation of blood vessels and include hot flashes, night sweats, heart palpitations, and changes in blood pressure.
“Perimenopausal women often underestimate the impact of vasomotor symptoms on so many aspects of their lives,” Alice Y. Chang, M.D., said. “For example, women with severe vasomotor symptoms, especially at night, might not realize how severe fatigue compromises their ability to remain active. Women are more prone to mood disorders in the perimenopausal period, and that can also interfere with their motivation to make lifestyle changes often required to prevent weight gain.
“On the other hand, women who are overweight or obese tend to have worse hot flashes than their normal-weight counterparts, and weight loss improves vasomotor symptoms. Resistance exercise training, which can prevent the muscle loss and decrease in energy expenditure related to aging in general, not only is shown to be as effective in perimenopausal women but can also help preserve bone mass during a period of accelerated bone loss and improve musculoskeletal symptoms.”
Dr. Kapoor said that menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) can help with favorable distribution of body fat. She said, “Women on MHT tend to have redistribution of the central fat to the peripheral sites. However, MHT use is not recommended for prevention or management of weight gain. Women who are on MHT for management of vasomotor symptoms can, nonetheless, be counseled regarding its beneficial effects on body fat distribution.”
The fear that MHT might increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and breast cancer is something that means it has to be undertaken with a physician’s care. It is definitely not recommended just as a way to lose weight.
Consumer Health Digest lists the factors regarding menopause and weight gain are androgen, stress, becoming insulin-resistant during menopause, and a drop in women’s testosterone levels that lead to lower muscle mass.
For more information, schedule an appointment with Women’s Clinic of Northern Colorado at their Loveland or Fort Collins location by calling 970-493-7442 or online at womensclinicnoco.com .