Menopause Weight Gain: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments and More

Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.
 

How Menopause and Weight Gain are Linked?

Weight gain during menopause is one of the many symptoms caused by the fluctuating hormonal levels in a woman’s body. In most cases, women who experience drastic changes in their weight during this time have not had any problems with their weight before. It may be more difficult than usual to maintain the usual weight during menopause. Weight gain during menopause is relatively prevalent, with research studies indicating that up to 30% of women between the ages of 50 and 59 are obese.

Symptoms of Menopause Weight Gain?

1. High Blood Pressure:

Menopause and Weight Gain

Weight gain during menopause is usually accompanied by high blood pressure. This is because as the body deposits more fat into the body, it may block the blood veins, causing the heart to pump harder in order to get the blood to all parts of the body. This in turn raises the blood pressure levels.

2. High Cholesterol:

High levels of cholesterol in the body are a symptom of menopausal weight gain. This is because bad cholesterol cannot be processed by the body, and end up as fat deposits below the skin.

3. Heart Disease:

Weight gain during menopause can increase* a woman’s risk of heart disease. This is discussed in detail later in this article.

4. Kidney Disease:

Kidney disease can result from weight gain during menopause. This is because the fat deposits from the blood can slow down the work of the kidney.

5. Type 2 Diabetes:

Type 2 diabetes can lead to weight gain during menopause because a woman becomes insulin intolerant during this time. She therefore has trouble processing certain carbohydrates, which are then converted to fat and stored by the body.

What Causes Menopause Weight Gain?

1. Hormonal Causes of Weight Gain:

Hormonal changes during menopause are partly responsible for weight gain during this period. However, research studies have shown that hormonal fluctuations may cause weight gain around the abdomen only. Weight gain in other parts of the body is related to other factors.

2. Estrogen:

Estrogen has many functions in a woman’s body, including helping the body to regulate its weight. Animal studies have indicated that those with lower levels of estrogen are likely to be less physically active while eating more. Lower estrogen levels are also believed to lower the rate of metabolism. The metabolic rate is how fast the body works to convert stored energy into working energy. If metabolism is slower, then more energy than necessary is stored. Consequently, the body will not have enough energy for the physical activities it needs.

3. Progesterone:

The decrease* in progesterone during menopause has a subtle effect on weight gain. Although a woman does not necessarily gain weight as a direct effect of lower progesterone levels, she does retain more water and feels bloated as a result of this. When the body retains more water than it needs to, clothes tend to feel tighter.

4. Androgen:

The levels of this hormone decrease* during the menopausal years as a result of aging. With the loss of the androgen hormone in the body, a woman may gain weight in the middle section of the body. The lower and upper parts of the body remain unaffected by this hormone.

5. Testosterone:

Although testosterone is a male hormone, it is produced in women’s bodies in lesser quantities. This hormone is responsible for building up muscle and brute strength. During menopause, a woman’s testosterone levels drop significantly, leading to lower muscle mass. The decrease* in muscle mass and the consequent increase* in the body’s fat lead to weight gain.

6. Insulin Resistance:

A woman may become resistant to insulin during menopause as a result of lower levels of estrogen in the body. This brings changes in the way her body processes and uses glucose and starches. This increases* the amount of fat deposited in the body, leading to weight gain. Insulin resistance can also lead to other health complications like diabetes.

7. Stroke:

A stroke does not necessarily cause weight gain during menopause. However, gaining weight can increase* the chances of getting a stroke. The fat deposits can clog the arteries or blood vessels. This makes it difficult for the body to effectively pump blood. If the blood vessels in the brain get clogged with fat deposits, it can lead to a stroke.

8. Heart Disease:

The probability of getting heart disease if you have gained weight during menopause also increases*. This is because increased weight means there is higher bad cholesterol and fat in the body. This fat can block an artery, which may eventually lead to a heart attack. Furthermore, if the body has to carry around all that weight, then it weakens the heart. Research studies have also shown that fat cells are dangerous in the body as they manufacture inflammatory substances and hormones that may lead to heart disease.

Considering that most menopausal women gain most of their weight around the midsection, it is important to note that this is the most dangerous type of weight gain. A woman who has gained weight only around the waist section has the same heart disease risk as woman who is obese. This is because fat deposited in the midsection produces dangerous chemicals that can speed up the onset of heart disease, while fat in the thighs and arms does not have the same effect.

9. Osteoarthritis:

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that affects the joints and the underlying bones. This condition is most common during middle age. Osteoarthritis seems to mostly affect the joints that bear the most weight, namely the knees and the hips, although other joints can be affected by the disease as well. Research studies indicate that weight gain seems to play a major role in determining the onset and progression of this disease. Therefore, if a menopausal woman maintains her body weight, she may prevent the early onset of this degenerative and painful disease. If she already has it, she can slow down its progression through her body by losing excess weight.

10. Breast Cancer:

Weight gain increases* the risk of breast cancer, especially if this weight gain occurs during menopause. A research study indicated that women who have been overweight since childhood actually have a lower risk for breast cancer than women who gain most of the weight during menopause. Weight gain is a risk factor for breast cancer. This is because estrogen accumulates in the fat tissue. This condition can potentially lead to cancer cell growth in the breast.

11. Sleep Apnea:

Sleep apnea is a condition where sleep is disrupted because of irregular breathing. A woman suffering from sleep apnea awakes during the night because she has stopped breathing briefly. She is up for a short period of time while normal breathing is restored. This disturbed sleep pattern can lead to fatigue, grogginess and irritability because of a lack of sleep. Weight gain is a particular risk factor for sleep apnea. The airways may become smaller, making it difficult to breathe while sleeping.

12. Age and Weight Gain:

Age is probably the most significant factor in weight gain during menopause. As a woman ages, her muscle mass diminishes* significantly, and in turn fat increases* in the body. As the muscle mass diminishes*, the body slows down its use of calories. Hence, the body needs fewer calories as we grow older. If a woman, therefore, continues eating the same amount she has been eating all along, without increasing* the amount of physical activity, she is likely to gain weight during menopause.

13. Lifestyle and Weight Gain:

In order to maintain her weight during menopause, a woman needs to adopt a change in lifestyle and incorporate healthy habits into her daily routine. She needs to maintain an active lifestyle with a daily exercise routine. She also needs to eat healthy, and avoid foods that are high in calories. Some changes in a woman’s life may also trigger stress, which leads to weight gain. For example, children usually leave home when the woman is in menopause.

Factors Regarding Menopause and Weight Gain

1. Androgen:

Although androgen is better known as a male hormone, it is also found in women’s bodies in much lower quantities. This hormone is responsible for regulating the functions of a number of important organs in the body, including the liver, kidneys, muscles and the reproductive tract. With lower levels of androgen, estrogen synthesis is slower than usual. This leads to weight gain in the midsection. A woman also has lower energy levels, making it difficult for her to exercise.

2. Stress:

Stress contributes to weight gain during menopause in different ways. Firstly, a woman who is highly stressed is more likely to eat more and to eat in between meals to combat the high stress levels. This change in diet will lead to a weight gain if it occurs during menopause. Secondly, stress raises the levels of adrenaline in the body. This tricks the body into thinking that it needs to store more food for the crisis at hand. The body then stores more food than it needs as a response to this. This naturally leads to weight gain.

3. Insulin Resistance:

During menopause, a woman may become resistant to insulin as a direct result of lower levels of estrogen. This brings changes in the way her body processes and uses glucose and starches. This increases* the amount of fat deposited in the body, leading to weight gain. Insulin resistance can also lead to other health complications like diabetes.

4. Testosterone:

Although testosterone is a male hormone, it is produced in women’s bodies in lesser quantities. This hormone is responsible for building up muscle and brute strength. During menopause, a woman’s testosterone levels drop significantly, leading to lower muscle mass. The decrease* in muscle mass and the consequent increase* in the body’s fat lead to weight gain.

Why Women Gain Weight During Menopause?

Slower metabolism is one of the leading causes of weight gain during menopause. A woman should therefore carefully monitor her diet and exercise programme to ensure that she consumes only the calories her body needs and takes part in physical activity to burn off any extra calories.

Is Weight Gain After Menopause Risky?

Research studies have shown that gaining weight during and after menopause places a woman at risk. These studies report that weight gain at menopause is worse than someone who has been overweight all her life. Gaining weight after menopause increases* the risk of breast and endometrial cancer as well as heart diseases.

HRT and Weight Gain

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has some effect on weight during menopause. A woman should focus on controlling her diet and taking part in daily rigorous physical activities in order to control her weight during menopause.

What is the Best Way to Prevent Weight Gain After Menopause?

During the years after menopause (post menopause), it may become more difficult for a woman to keep the weight off. Even though there are no changes to her normal diet, she may keep gaining weight. In order to prevent weight gain in menopause, a woman should follow a strict diet high in the nutrients her body needs. She should keep her stress levels low and engage in a regular exercise programme.

How to Fight Weight Gain in Menopause?

The best way to fight weight gain in menopause is a change in lifestyle. This holistic change has a lasting and more effective effect on weight than any medications or diet programmes.

Treatments for Menopause Weight Gain

There are three alternatives for treating weight gain during menopause. The first of these has already been addressed in this article – a change in lifestyle. The second treatment method is to use alternative medicines and supplements that can help the body fight the fat. There are two types of herbs that can be used to manage weight gain during menopause. These are phytoestrogenic herbs like black cohosh and hormone-regulating herbs like macafem. These herbs work by replacing the body’s estrogen and stimulating the natural production of hormons in the body, respectively. The treatment with the highest risk in terms of cost and side effects is medications and surgery.

A woman will usually use a combination of treatments in order to combat weight gain in the menopause years. Most women prefer to use a combination of a change in lifestyle and with herbal treatments.

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Author

Expert Author : Lisiana Carter (Consumer Health Digest)

Lisiana Carter has been a freelance health writer for over ten years having written books, blogs and articles. She is the author of a number of websites and teaches people how to enter the freelance writing field.