Menopause should be a reason to bust out the bubbly and celebrate the end of periods, period pain, leaking, mood swings and for any women living with daughters or other women, shark week. However, most women will report that menopause has been the cause of unwanted fat that has besieged their bodies. It’s not fair that menopause can deliver a coup de grace of kilos after all we’ve been through. But is menopause really to blame for our middle-aged expansion?
What do we know? We know women tend to gain weight around menopause. Also, we know most Australians don’t meet the exercise recommendations. Plus, we lose muscle as we age, and we don’t make a compensatory reduction in our diets. These four factors are the perfect storm for weight gain. Let’s examine these points in detail.
Firstly, between 45 and 55, women gain an average of half a kilo a year and a total of 2.3 kg during perimenopause. Unfortunately, the decline in oestrogen tends to shift fat from our hips, butts and thighs to our waistlines. The hormonal changes that accompany menopause are associated with increases in total body fat and abdominal fat, even in lean women but not necessarily weight gain.
Dr Mia Schaumberg is a Senior Lecturer in Physiology at the University of the Sunshine Coast. She says that without the protective effect of oestrogen after menopause, more fat, that is, adipose tissue, is deposited around the waist. The problem with adipose tissue is that it produces adipokines, molecules that are associated with chronic inflammation.
“The adipose tissue also produces oestrogen throughout menopause, but the pathway is changed because it is not the ovaries producing the oestrogen,” says Dr Schaumberg. “After menopause, the adipokines and chronic inflammation can lead to cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and dementia in later life.”
Can we simply lose our bellies?
Unfortunately, not, says Dr Schaumberg. “There just isn’t the evidence that we can spot reduce weight. You need to target healthy habits with a combination of diet and exercise.”
So, menopause might leave us with a bigger belly but why do so many women believe menopause causes weight gain? Now to our second point, that we are a sedentary population.
In 2017-18, over half of Australian adults did not meet the recommended levels of physical activity. Data shows we become less active as we age. And if you think things can’t get worse, women are less physically active than men overall. Also, in 2017-18, 75% of men were overweight or obese compared to 60% of women. If menopause were to blame for our weight gain, this would show in the over 45 age group.
Finally, and this is the hardest bit of information to digest, ageing and lifestyle are the likely culprits behind those extra kilos, for both men and women.
Dr Schaumberg says, “We are ageing chronologically, but during the process of menopause, those changes are faster.”
The problem for women is…….