How Overweight/Obesity Can Affect Menopausal Symptoms
The body goes through many transitions over the course of a lifetime that increases the susceptibility of weight gain in both men and women. Some of these include going through adolescence, having a stressful life event happen, or going through middle and older age. Other weight transitions happen only to women. These include having a child, having more than one child, and having to go through menopause.
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), being overweight is extremely common.
- About half of all women between the ages of 20 to 39 years can be classified as being overweight or obese.
- Among women in the menopausal years (ages 50 to 59 years), about 68 percent of women are considered to be overweight or obese.
These last few years occur during the time of menopause. These kinds of bodily changes increase the risk of several metabolic conditions, including diabetes and heart disease.
You may think these statistics are staggering and that you are doomed to be obese at some point in your life. In actuality, nothing could be further from the truth.
Being overweight or obese is a modifiable situation that you do have control over. Being overweight can adversely affect menopause and the risks of taking hormone replacement therapy so it is best if you try to be of a normal weight before you reach the menopausal years.
The Perimenopausal Years And Menopause
Going through menopause is a normal part of your life in middle age. It is defined as having a cessation of periods for at least 12 consecutive months. The ovaries stop making estrogen and progesterone gradually and you can begin to have difficulty maintaining your weight. If you lose your ovaries through surgery at any age, you will go through menopause but the symptoms will come on more suddenly.
In the time leading up to menopause, women go through perimenopause, also called the menopausal transition. During this time, the periods may be irregular and be close together sometimes and far apart at other times.
This can last for as little as 2 years or as many as 8 years. Most women go through perimenopause about 4 years before actually reaching menopause.
The average age at menopause is about 51 years of age but the normal range is between 40 years and 59 years. This means that women go through perimenopause sometime in their mid to late forties.
While in the perimenopausal years, you can have various symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, urinary tract symptoms, weight gain, and mood changes. This is the time when you should see your doctor to see if you are going through menopause or if your symptoms are due to something else, such as stress.
When you have stopped having periods for twelve consecutive months, it is said that you are in post-menopause. There are no fluctuations in hormones and some of the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause decrease during this time.
Health Risks associated with Obesity and Menopause
While most of the symptoms of menopause are temporary, some changes will last after menopause has passed.
These include the following:
- The HDL “good” cholesterol will decrease and the LDL “bad” cholesterol will increase. This increases the risk of heart disease, including stroke, heart attacks, and peripheral vascular disease.
- You will lose bone mass during the menopausal and post-menopausal years. This can contribute to the onset of osteoporosis or thinning of the bones that causes fractures of the spine, hip, and wrist in one’s later years.
- Your weight will go up and you will have an increased risk of diabetes mellitus.
- You may suffer from an increased risk of cognitive decline and degenerative arthritic changes of the joints.
Menopause And Weight Gain
The average increase in pounds in the perimenopausal woman is about 5 pounds, according to the Healthy Women Study. Some women (about a fifth) will gain ten pounds or greater.
This increase in weight is from a lowering of the estrogen levels and to a decrease for energy, you expend. Some women won’t notice a difference in their weight but the weight shifts so that it is less in the hips and more around the middle.
This is because estrogen plays an important role in the way fat is distributed and stored. Before menopause, fat is deposited mostly in the hips, thighs, and butt. During menopause and in the years afterward, the decrease in estrogen levels causes a shift in body fat so you have more visceral fat and more fat around your waist.
The visceral fat is the kind of fat that surrounds your vital organs. This is a more dangerous kind of fat because it contributes more to heart disease than fat in the hips, thighs, and buttock region.
Weight Gain Is Modifiable
While the risk of gaining weight during your middle-aged years is greater, it doesn’t mean that it will definitely happen. You will have to work harder to maintain your weight and to keep your risk factors for diabetes and heart disease low.
Ways you can do this include the following:
- Get support around losing weight. Join an exercise or weight loss group that can help you prevent weight gain in the menopausal years.
- Exercise more so that you can increase your metabolic rate and can reduce your chances of gaining weight during menopause. About 150 minutes of exercise, a week is necessary.
- Eat healthy foods. Stay away from highly processed foods or foods containing trans fats as these can increase your risk of heart disease.