Menopause and weight gain: An inevitable pair?

Menopause is a natural phase that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years, typically between the ages of 45 and 55. While menopause brings about various changes in the body due to hormonal fluctuations, one common concern among women is the weight gain associated with it. Many women believe menopause is directly responsible for those extra kilos they see on the scale. 

However, the relationship between menopause and weight gain is not as straightforward as it may seem.

What happens to women during menopause?

Menopause is characterised by the cessation of menstruation and a decline in estrogen and progesterone production. It officially starts when a woman has not menstruated for 12 months.

Before menopause officially begins, there is a phase called perimenopause that usually starts about four years earlier. During this time, a woman’s ovaries start to slow down and produce less of the hormones called estrogen and progesterone. Eventually, the hormone levels drop to a point where the ovaries stop releasing eggs, and menstruation ceases. This marks the start of menopause.

Symptoms associated with this can include irregular periods, breast pain, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and changes in mood and libido.

These hormonal changes can also lead to shifts in body composition and fat distribution. While some women do experience weight gain during menopause, it is essential to recognise that menopause itself is not the sole cause of weight gain.

The menopause and weight gain correlation

According to a comprehensive analysis, menopause may contribute to changes in body fat distribution, with an increased tendency to store fat in the abdominal area. This shift can lead to a higher waist-to-hip ratio, commonly known as “menopausal belly fat”. However, the same study emphasises that not all women gain weight during menopause and those who do often have other factors at play.

These factors may include aging and lifestyle choices, hormonal changes, insulin resistance, sleep disruptions, and emotional factors such as stress and emotional eating. Understanding these factors is essential in developing effective strategies to manage weight and promote well-being during this transformative life stage.

  • Aging and lifestyle factors – As women age, their metabolic rate tends to slow down, and they may become less physically active. These changes can contribute to weight gain, irrespective of menopause. A sedentary lifestyle, poor dietary habits, and decreased muscle mass can all play significant roles in weight gain.

  • Hormonal changes – Hormonal fluctuations during menopause can influence hunger and satiety hormones, potentially leading to increased appetite and overeating. Estrogen, in particular, may impact how the body stores fat. Lower estrogen levels could prompt the body to store more fat to compensate for the decline, particularly around the midsection.

  • Insulin resistance – Menopausal women may become more insulin resistant, making it easier for the body to store excess calories as fat, especially around the abdomen. Unhealthy eating habits and a lack of regular exercise can exacerbate this condition.

  • Sleep disruptions – Menopause can bring about sleep disturbances, such as insomnia and night sweats. Poor sleep quality is associated with weight gain and can disrupt the body’s metabolic processes, leading to weight management challenges.

  • Stress and emotional factors – The hormonal changes and life transitions accompanying menopause can increase stress and emotional eating. Stress hormones like cortisol can promote fat accumulation, particularly in the abdominal area.

Expert insights and recommendations

To manage weight during menopause, the emphasis should be on adopting a healthy lifestyle, including regular physical activity and a balanced diet. Experts from The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists suggest hormone therapy (HT) could be a potential solution for managing menopausal symptoms, including weight gain. However, it comes with its risks and benefits, and decisions regarding its use should be made in consultation with a healthcare provider.

The Royal Women’s Hospital advises against crash diets and extreme weight loss methods during menopause, which can lead to muscle loss and metabolic slowdown. Instead, they recommend a sustainable, balanced diet and regular exercise to promote overall health and well-being.

Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, an Australian women’s health organisation, emphasises the importance of staying physically active during menopause to maintain muscle mass and boost metabolism. Aerobic exercises, strength training, and flexibility workouts can help manage weight and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

The Australasian Menopause Society reminds women that individual responses to menopause vary, and weight changes are not universal. While some women may gain weight during this time, others may experience weight loss or remain stable. They stress the significance of personalised approaches to managing weight and overall health during menopause, with guidance from healthcare professionals. 

If you have questions about menopause or menopause-related weight gain, you can also have a chat with our pharmacists – particularly Jenny, Michelle, Amy, Maria or Jill. They can answer practical questions about your options to deal with this difficult stage of life, and even recommend a specialist if required.

Opinions or facts expressed within the content have been sourced from various news sources. While every effort has been taken to source them accurately, the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates do not take any responsibility for errors in these sources. Patients should not rely on the facts or opinions in the content to manage their own health, and should seek the advice of an appropriate medical professional. Further, the opinions or facts in the content do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates. 

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