Menopause and Weight Gain

Although it may seem inevitable, gaining weight during and following menopause may not be totally beyond your control. As women, we all know how much putting on extra pounds lessens our self-esteem and self-image, but there are health concerns regarding extra weight as well. Although nearly 90% of all women will experience at least some degree of weight gain during menopause, as well as that dreaded "spare tire" around the middle, women who educate themselves about the symptoms of menopause are more likely to avoid gaining excessive amounts of weight.

The Basics of Menopausal Weight Gain

While "typical" weight gain can cause an increase in body mass anywhere on the body, menopausal weight gain will generally cause increased amounts of fat around the mid-section, and the typical weight gain for women between 45 and 55 is 12 to 15 pounds. For many women, seeing the shape of their bodies slowly lose the typical "hour-glass" shape and take on a rounder shape can be very disheartening, to say the least. The symptoms of menopausal weight gain will include difficulty maintaining your usual weight, an increase in breast size, a steady weight gain, slower metabolism, a change in body shape, fat accumulation around the abdomen and an increase in body fat percentage.

Risks of Menopausal Weight Gain

While no one enjoys looking in the mirror and seeing a softer, plumper body, weight gain can lead to serious health conditions which go beyond looks. Several diseases and health conditions can occur as a result of your body being burdened with extra menopausal pounds, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, breast cancer, high cholesterol, kidney disease, sleep apnea and insulin resistance. In fact, women who gain in excess of 20 pounds after menopause increase their breast cancer risk by nearly 20%, while those who lose 20 pounds following menopause reduce their breast cancer risk by as much as 23%.

Causes of Weight Gain

With each progressing year, metabolism slows; add to this mix a woman's fluctuating hormones prior to menopause, and you have a sure recipe for weight gain As women, our hormones have very complex functions, including weight control. As our ovaries produce less estrogen during and after menopause, our bodies attempt to find estrogen in other places, and because fat cells produce estrogen, our bodies must work harder to convert calories into fat in order to keep estrogen levels where they want to be. The problem lies in the fact that fat cells don't burn calories in the same way muscle cells do, leading to weight gain. A decreased level of progesterone causes water retention and bloating, while an increase of androgen at the onset of menopause sends new weight gain straight to the middle. Testosterone levels drop, and since testosterone is responsible for helping our body create lean muscle mass out of consumed calories, this drop leads to a further metabolism slow down. In short, the drop in estrogen and progesterone increase a woman's appetite and cause her to eat up to 67% more; this increase in appetite coupled with a slower metabolism leads to weight gain.

Treatment for Weight Gain

Although there are no quick fixes for menopausal weight gain, lifestyle changes are the first place to begin. Because your metabolic rate decreases 5% per decade, you need approximately 200 fewer calories per day to maintain your weight, therefore you will need to decrease your calorie intake as well as increase your activity levels to keep your weight down. Alternative herbal supplements which are associated with bringing about a natural hormonal balance may help control menopausal weight gain, but essentially, you can only combat the natural weight gain of menopause with decreased calorie input and increased calorie expenditures.

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