In the UK, the average age for women to have their last period is around 52 years old. However, the menopause can occur both later and earlier and generally affects women at any age between 40 and 61.
Women going through this stage in their lives can experience physical changes and it seems that some weight gain is an inevitable part of the process and to be expected.
Sometimes this is attributed to unhealthy eating habits but most research shows that weight gain during the menopause is caused by hormonal changes rather than your lifestyle. According to scientific research, the menopause does not physically cause weight gain but it can be a significant contributory factor to putting on weight. So how and why does it happen?
What Is The Menopause?
The menopause is the point of life where a woman stops having her monthly periods because she is no longer ovulating – in simple terms when your ovaries stop producing the monthly egg. Once this happens, you will no longer be able to become pregnant.
The menopause does not happen over night and in most cases, the regularity of the periods will become erratic over time and gradually decrease before stopping completely.
The term perimenopause describes the physical condition around the time of the menopause and refers to the transition period when women move out of their fertile years. It generally takes between two to five years to get through this perimenopausal stage and the menopause is considered finished once a woman has experienced 12 months without any menstrual bleeding.
In the lead up to the menopause, women go through hormonal changes. Most notably oestrogen and progesterone levels start decreasing and it is this hormonal change that causes most of the side effects, including possible weight gain.
Side Effects of the Menopause
In the perimenopause time period, you can expect to experience some of a range of side effects. The severity will vary from person to person. Some women notice very few side effects; others will suffer with all of them! Side effects can include:
- Hot flushes and night sweats
- Extreme mood swings
- Vaginal dryness, sometimes a loss of interest in sex
- Irregular monthly bleeding – some women experience menorrhagia or extremely heavy bleeding
- Stomach cramps
Menopause Cause Weight Gain?
According to research, the menopause does not cause weight gain and there is no specific physical reason why we should put on weight at this time. However, some of the hormonal side effects of the menopause can be a strong contributory factor for putting on weight.
Hormones The Cause?
Hormones are chemicals that are made by the glands in your body such as the thyroid gland or the ovaries. A simple explanation is that hormones are chemicals that are manufactured by the glands in one part of the body to in order to send messages and instructions to the cells and other glands. All organisms including plants contain hormones and their role is to keep the body or organism functioning correctly and in balance.
Oestrogen is the female sex hormone and is vital for healthy reproduction. It is one of the hormones secreted by the ovaries and as a woman ages and the ovaries begin to work less well, oestrogen starts decreasing and causes most of the menopause side effects – especially those around mood and mental effects. Progesterone levels decrease too – this hormone is responsible for maintaining the lining of the uterus so has a more physical effect on menopausal bleeding.
Low Oestrogen Levels Cause Low Serotonin Levels
One of the major effects of the menopause is that of mood swings and irritability and depression and this has been attributed to the effects of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a hormone that needs oestrogen for its production. Called the brains “feel good” chemical, serotonin controls feelings of happiness and well-being and is also linked to appetite control.
When oestrogen levels are low it leads to low serotonin levels causing depression, mood swings and in some cases the desire to over eat and this may be a prime reason for putting on weight during the menopause.
Serotonin regulates energy levels, libido and mood, all common symptoms of the menopause. Depression and low serotonin levels are a contributory factor to putting on weight and eating problems.
Serotonin helps regulate the appetite and low levels of this hormone can lead to food cravings and over eating. That urge to eat some chocolate and then some more, may be caused by your body’s low serotonin levels and all helps to pile on the pounds.
The connection with menopausal weight gain and serotonin has not yet been clinically assessed. However, research into low serotonin levels as a cause of depression and the effect upon the appetite has been fully investigated and proven.
Low serotonin is a major cause of weight gain and may explain why some women put on so much weight as a consequence, during the menopause.
Low Oestrogen May Affect Your Body Shape
Oestrogen may have a physical effect upon your body shape. Studies indicate that lack of oestrogen may affect the way your body stores fat and many women tend to gain fat mass as their oestrogen levels decline.
Women of childbearing age are likely to store fat in the lower body and are likely to be more pear shaped. Post menopausal women tend to store fat around the stomach leading to being apple shaped. Although this is not necessarily weight gain it does mean that you may notice a difference to your body shape post menopause.
Practical Reasons for Weight gain During Menopause
There can be practical reasons for putting on weight during the menopause. You may be unable to exercise properly if you experience heavy bleeding. Feeling exhausted from yet another night’s insomnia and generally feeling “off” physically can have an effect on energy levels. You may be feeling fatigued and simply not in the mood for doing much. The menopause is not an illness but it can feel like one.
What Can You Do to Minimise the Menopause?
Many women within the menopause age range will be working in full time jobs and cannot afford to let the menopause get in the way of their mental and physical abilities. It is a competitive world out there and going through the menopause will not be taken seriously by male bosses or younger work colleagues as a reason for absence or poor performance
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Many women look to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) as a solution to counter the side effects of the menopause. HRT works by boosting oestrogen and progesterone levels therefore enabling your body to continue to function normally.
For many women this is a good solution and replacing lost hormones completely takes away the menopausal side effects.
HRT can be taken via a cream, tablets, stick on patch or an implant for up to five years. Most medical opinion is that the benefits outweigh the risks. Most women report that they feel great on HRT and lose all menopausal side effects. Contrary to popular belief, HRT does not cause you to put on weight.
Risks of HRT
HRT is not suitable for everyone and many women will be worried by the health risks. According to Cancer Research UK, HRT increases the risk of breast cancer, and ovarian cancer to a smaller degree. You will not be able to take HRT if you have any history of diabetic, heart problems, high blood pressure or liver disease. It is not suitable for women with a history of breast cancer because of the increased risk of contracting the disease. There is a strong argument that getting through the menopause without having to take HRT is much better for long term health.
Boosting your general health with a supplement may help to minimise your menopausal symptoms and keep your weight down. There are a range of natural remedies that may help minimise some of the side effects and taking a natural slimming supplement that contains high levels of antioxidants will help you manage your weight and may help with your energy levels. Antioxidants help to increase the metabolism and help you to burn off fat.
It is important to keep to a healthy diet and take care of yourself throughout the menopause. Cut yourself some slack and make sure that you get plenty of sleep as well as some exercise. A natural slimming supplement combined with a healthy lifestyle will help to keep you to a healthy weight.
Getting a Bit Older and Slowing Down Leads to Weight Gain?
Many people feel rather insulted by the accusation of slowing down a little but when it comes to physical activity, most people do decrease physical activity in middle age.
We do not all rush around aged 50 at the same rate as we once did and we no longer have small children to keep us busy.
Our metabolism slows down as we age too Research shows that the average person loses approximately 10% of muscle mass each decade after the age of 45. Because muscle mass burns off calories much faster when compared to fat, the daily amount of calories you need each day goes down. This means that you are less likely to burn off your food naturally so will have to watch your calorific intake and increase your exercise levels in compensation.
The menopause does not last forever although it can seem like it. One you have come out of the other side, you will probably find it easier to manage your weight, free from these side effects and hormonal changes that it causes.