Weight loss can be quite challenging for most individuals no matter what age or stage they are in life. Add to this equation the difficulty of managing the symptoms of menopause and it all get out of hand if it is not managed properly. Aside from weight loss, however, individuals undergoing menopause and older adults can find that they are putting on the excess pounds and unwanted additional weight. This may be due to some of the changes associated with menopause particularly in terms of hormone levels such as those of estrogen and progesterone. In this article, we look at the link between progesterone, menopause, and weight gain and some of the things you need to know to better manage this transition. Read on to find out more!
Menopause and Weight Gain: How are They Linked?
Gaining weight during the menopausal stage is quite common. There are several variables to consider which include the individual’s genes, lifestyle choices, the aging process, and changes in the levels of the hormones. It must be noted though that menopause is a very unique and personal experience that can vary from person to person. To better understand how menopause affects female individuals, we look at the general life cycle experienced by women.
- Perimenopause- This stage is the reproductive stage of a woman’s life and where she can still conceive due to her active and fertile womb. This can start during puberty when the first menstrual period happens and ends with the last menstrual cycle. This stage can last for around 30 to 40 years.
- Menopause- This stage occurs once the individual has not had any menstrual cycle for 12 months straight (one year). On average, the onset of menopause occurs at around 51 years old. Until a woman reaches this age, she is identified as being perimenopause. Most women will experience the majority of the worst signs while under the perimenopausal stage while some can experience intensified symptoms during menopause’s first two years.
- Post-menopause- This stage begins immediately right after the one (1) year mark of not having any menstrual period. Postmenopause and menopause are often interchangeably used. Some physical and hormonal changes, though, can occur and continue to happen after the actual menopausal stage.
Metabolism and Menopause: What is the Effect?
While under the perimenopausal stage, the levels of progesterone slowly get reduced. On the other hand, the levels of estrogen can be erratic and fluctuate from one day to the next. During the early onset of perimenopause, the ovaries may undergo increased production of estrogen levels. This is attributed to impaired signal feedbacking among the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus, and the ovaries. During the later stages of perimenopause, once the cycle of menstruation becomes more erratic, the ovaries may produce reduced levels of estrogen. During menopause, the production of estrogen can be reduced even further.
Instead, androgens will be used to develop estrogen. An example of such an androgen is testosterone. This can occur in the different tissues of the body such as the tissues of the brain and the breast. However, the levels of estrogen in the blood can be characterized as extremely reduced. There are several studies that point out that levels of estrogen that are elevated can lead to weight gain. This is due to increased levels of estrogen are linked with higher body fat and added weight during the fertile years of the individual. Women tend to have fats stored in their thighs and hips as a form of fat that is subcutaneous from puberty up until perimenopause. This kind of fat can be challenging to lose but it also is not linked to increased risk for diseases and illnesses.
During menopause, however, levels of estrogen are reduced, leading to the promotion of the storage of fat known as visceral fat or the fat deposited in the area of the belly or the abdomen. This kind of fat is linked to different health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and increased resistance to insulin.
Perimenopause and Changes to the Weight
During the transition to the perimenopausal stage, women are observed to gain around 1-2 kilograms. However, some individuals experience more weight gain compared to others. Unfortunately, this seems to be the case for individuals who are already obese or overweight even before perimenopause started. Weight gain can also happen due to the aging process regardless of whether or not there are changes to hormonal levels. In one study where researchers looked at women who gained weight aged 42 to 52 years of age for almost three years, no difference was noted to the average gained weight for those who entered menopause and those who continued to have regular menstrual periods. The SWAN or the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation conducted an observational study that observed women who are middle-aged while they were undergoing the perimenopausal stage. The said study noted that the women experienced a loss of muscle mass and gained weight through added belly fat.
One other factor that may lead to the contribution of perimenopause weight gain is the increased intake of calories and generally increased appetite that can happen as the body responds to the changes in hormones. A separate study noted that ghrelin- the hormone responsible for hunger can be significantly increased for perimenopausal women versus those women who are postmenopausal or premenopausal. Impaired leptin functions, hormones that control appetite and fullness, can also be one of the major factors for weight gain.