Menopause: Weight management and conception by Prof. Oladapo Ashiru
Menopause is defined as the time when there has been no menstrual period for 12 consecutive months and no other biological or physiological cause identified. It is a reasonable condition that all women experience as they age. Most women reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, but menopause may occur as earlier as ages 30s or 40s, or may not happen until a woman reaches her 60s.
What happens is that the ovaries stop producing eggs and sex hormones; thus, there is the cessation of ovulation and menstruation. The process starts gradually, that is the perimenopausal period, which is when your body makes less of the hormones that control your period – estrogen and progesterone. It will lead to fewer eggs in the ovaries and irregular menstruation. It continues for a year or more before menopause starts.
Most women gain weight as they age, but it is not inevitable. How can you minimise weight gain after menopause? Step up your activity level and enjoy a healthy diet.
Have you noticed a few extra pounds padding your waistline? You may be in the throes of midlife expansion, a familiar complaint among women in their 40s and 50s. During this time, you either gain weight, or you find that maintaining your healthy weight has somehow become more difficult. You also discover that the weight you gain tends to accumulate around your abdomen rather than your hips and thighs. But you don’t have to accept weight gain as inevitable.
One of the first menopausal symptoms seems to be weight gain and change in the overall shape of your body. Though you may not be so happy about this, it is crucial to keep in mind that this weight gain is average and expected. About 90 per cent of menopausal women gain some weight between the ages of 35 and 55. You may not necessarily blame yourself for this newly acquired weight – research now shows that weight gain during menopause is caused by shifts in your hormones, not greedy eating. Take steps to prevent weight gain before it starts, and if you have already begun adding to your waistline, it is never too late to reverse the course through proper diet and exercise.
Factors involved in middle age weight gain
For most women, increases, and shifts in weight begin during perimenopause, the years leading up to menopause. On the average, women gain about a pound a year during this time, but changing hormone levels associated with menopause are not only necessarily the cause of weight gain. Aging and lifestyle factors play a significant role in your changing body composition, including:
Less exercise: Menopausal women tend to exercise less than other women, which can lead to weight gain.
Eating more: Eating more means that you will take in more calories which are converted into fat if you don’t burn them for energy.
Burning fewer calories: The number of calories you need for energy decreases as you age because aging promotes the replacement of muscle with fat. Muscles burn more calories than fat does. When your body composition shifts to more fat and less muscle, your metabolism slows down.
Early menopause: Women who have experienced early menopause or surgical menopause (from the removal of reproductive organs) may experience more rapid and extreme weight gain. You will start to notice that the weight is not distributing itself as it used to. During menopause, you will begin to put on more weight around your abdomen instead of around your hips, thighs, and rear. People commonly refer to this as an “apple” shape because the stomach area becomes rounder. You may miss your old “pear” shape that you had during your childbearing years, but it will be harder to redistribute your weight evenly around your body.
Genetic factors: Genetic factors may play a role in weight gain as well. If your parents or other close relatives carry extra weight around the abdomen, you may be predisposed to do so too.
Weight gain can also have severe implications for your health. Excess weight increases your risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and insulin resistance, which can lead to Type II Diabetes. These factors also put you at high risk of heart disease and stroke. Arthritis of weight-bearing joints and susceptibility to fractures are complications related to excessive weight gain after menopause.
There are some very encouraging statistical data with regards to weight loss in menopausal women. This suggests that women who lose weight after menopause can reduce the risk of breast cancer. Weight gain during the menopausal years increases the risk of breast cancer. Women who gain weight over 20 pounds increase their breast cancer risk by nearly 20 per cent, but women who lose 20 pounds after menopause reduce their breast cancer risk by as much as 23 per cent.
Real causes of middle age weight gain
Many women are quite shocked and frustrated when they begin to notice those extra pounds provided by menopause. You may be eating and exercising the same as you always were but still can’t seem to maintain your weight. As you enter the early stages of menopause, maintaining weight becomes more and more complicated and losing weight becomes almost impossible. It is because of the fluctuation in your hormones.
Your body’s hormones have a direct impact on your appetite, metabolism, and fat storage. It is why it is difficult to control your weight during menopause no matter what you do. Fluctuating estrogen, testosterone, and androgen levels will fight you all the way.
What happens is that the ovaries stop producing eggs and sex hormones; thus, there is the cessation of ovulation and menstruation. It starts gradually, that is the perimenopausal period, which is when your body makes less of the hormones that control your period –estrogen and progesterone. It will lead to fewer eggs in the ovaries and irregular menstruation. It continues for a year or more before menopause starts. During menopause, women experience symptoms like iregular periods, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, chills, sleep problems, mood changes, weight gain and slowed metabolism and loss of breast fullness. Here, there is a complete cessation of menstruation and production of eggs in the ovaries.
After menopause, there are two biological clocks: One for the ovary which runs out, and one for the rest of the reproductive system which seems to go on. And because the eggs succumb to the biological clock, menopausal women can’t conceive naturally.