Menopause and weight gain are intricately linked due to various factors. During the menstrual cycle, the ovary develops a mature follicle that secretes the hormone estrogen. Estrogen helps thicken the lining of the uterus or the endometrium. Upon maturation, the follicle releases an egg or ovum in the process known as ovulation. The remaining part of the follicle, called corpus luteum, releases the hormone called progesterone, which stabilizes the endometrial lining. If no fertilization occurs, estrogen and progesterone levels go down, inducing the menses.
Menopause usually occurs between the ages 40 and 55. If you are a menopausal woman, the menstrual process ceases, leading to greatly reduced levels of estrogen and progesterone in your body. The undesirable effects of menopause can be attributed to this drop in hormone levels. Although estrogen is more commonly known as a female menstrual hormone, it plays an important role in regulating the body’s metabolic processes.
How Fat Takes Over
Aside from the follicle in the ovary, fat or adipose tissues can also produce estrogen. This is because the precursor molecule of estrogen is cholesterol, which is abundant in fat tissues. Because estrogen is such an essential hormone for life processes, the body tries to make up for the reduction in ovarian production of estrogen by depositing more adipose tissues. Since the natural location of adiposity is in the abdomen, breasts and buttocks, fat deposits occur mainly in these areas. The increased fat leads to increased girth and weight.
Weight Gain Mechanisms
Other mechanisms of weight gain during menopause that are still linked to decreased estrogen include reduced levels of thyroid hormones and a decreased basal metabolic rate due to decreased muscle mass. When your metabolic rate is lowered, your caloric needs lessen, so you do not have to eat as much food as you did previously in order to gain your needed energy. Muscles are among the parts of the body that use up a lot of calories. Therefore, when your muscle mass is reduced, your caloric needs are also lessened.
Managing Weight Gain
Weight gain associated with menopause is not always easy to manage, but there are ways that are scientifically proven as effective. For instance, physical activity, such as aerobic exercises and strength training exercises, can help prevent the increase in body fat. Additionally, regular physical activity can decrease other menopausal symptoms, such as decreased bone strength, fatigue, hot flashes and unsatisfactory sleep.
Modifying the diet is another way of avoiding weight gain and addressing other menopausal effects. The iron needs during menopause are generally lesser because the menses have ceased. Therefore, it is best to reduce consumption of foods that are rich in iron, such as red meats, liver and kidney. Increased intake of water is highly recommended.
Foods such as legumes, soy and other beans are good sources of phytoestrogens, which are plant compounds that are structurally similar to estrogen. These can help alleviate the symptoms of menopause. Decreased fat intake and total caloric intake should be observed to prevent any further weight gain. Increased dietary fiber intake could improve digestion and decrease the risk for gastrointestinal and cardiovascular diseases.