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Obese Women May Have More Severe Menopause Symptoms

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

Every woman will, at some point in her life, go through menopause, which usually marks the end of her reproductive years. The average age in the United States is around 51 years old and a woman is “officially” in menopause if she hasn’t had a menstrual period for one year. Other than the end of menstruation, menopause also comes with a variety of symptoms whose intensity and frequency vary from woman-to-woman but include:

All are caused by the hormonal changes that take place during menopause and may last up to ten years for some women.

Obesity Makes Menopause Worse than It Needs to Be

While these symptoms are bothersome enough, and can even be debilitating, for normal-weight women, they are even more so for obese women. Recent studies are showing more and more that in addition to the other health risks of being obese, having a more severe menopause and a higher risk of being impacted by menopause-related diseases need to be added to the list.

What the studies are showing should be enough for obese women approaching menopause to have concern:

  • Vasomotor symptoms like hot flashes, joint pains and urinary symptoms were worse in obese women as found in a recent study done in Brazil (Menopause: The Journal of The North American Menopause Society, Vol. 24, No. 9).
  • Hot flashes were worse in women with BMI (Body mass index = wt in kg/ht in meter squared) over 30.
  • There were more joint and muscle symptoms in those with higher BMI as well as urinary symptoms of urgency and vaginal dryness.
  • There were increased urogenital symptoms, including itching and irritation.

And it is also becoming clear the more obese a woman is, the more severe her night sweats and hot flashes, muscle and joint problems, and bladder issues may be. This increase* in hot flashes or vasomotor symptoms is consistent with the “thermoregulatory theory”. Having a higher BMI means having more insulation from body fat which makes it harder to dissipate heat. These increases* in severity also increased the amount of “downtown” these women had from work and their daily life activities. The good news, however, is that menopausal women who have tried to lose* weight did report an improvement in symptoms.

One positive finding is that obesity in menopause has a positive effect on bone mineral density or risk for bone fractures as measured in the hips and lumbar areas. Being overweight and obese has a protective effect on the skeleton which has been known as the “obesity paradox” and remains controversial. That said, a case can readily be made that the risks of being obese in menopause far outweigh this one benefit.

How You Can Protect* Yourself?

Independent of why obesity impacts menopause, it is a fact that obese women don’t fare as well as normal weight woman during this life transition. Obese women either approaching menopause or already in menopause can take immediate steps to reduce* both the health risks of being obese as well as the severity of their menopause symptoms. These include:

  • Get Some Exercise – Studies have shown that increased exercise can reduce* the severity and frequency of hot flashes as well as other menopause symptoms.
  • Try to Eat Healthier Foods – Reducing* caloric intake while eating healthier foods, such as fruits, vegetables and lean protein, will help you lose* weight which, in turn, could reduce* the severity of menopause symptoms. Remember that as you enter your 50s, you need about 200 fewer calories a day than you did in your 30s and 40s.
  • Test Your Nutrients – The role of minerals in managing menopause symptoms is becoming clearer every day so have your mineral and other nutrient levels tested so that you can address any imbalances – key minerals impacting menopause symptoms include calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, copper and selenium.

While menopause is inevitable for all women, there are factors that can make it make it physically harder for some women than for others. More studies prove that obese women have more severe symptoms and greater menopause-related health risks than their normal-weight counterparts but these women can take tangible steps to reduce* this severity and make menopause easier.

Image Credits

Featured Image: Shutterstock

In-Post Images: 34-menopause-symptoms.com, Shutterstock