Metabolism and Menopause
Menopause is an inevitable event that happens in women, and the process is different for everyone. Menopause comes with changes in a woman’s body, many of which might feel unfamiliar, or may be difficult to handle. Most women undergo changes in metabolism during menopause, resulting in weight gain and alterations in body image.
Menopause occurs when a woman stops having menstrual periods. This is caused by a decrease in the production of hormones, resulting in fewer periods. Many women have irregular periods before completely stopping menstruation. For most, menopause occurs during the 40s to 50s, with the average age being 51. In addition to the end of menstruation, menopause can cause symptoms of hot flashes, fatigue, depression and irritability, weight gain, a decrease in sexual interest, night sweats and insomnia.
The years preceding menopause show a decline in metabolism, often resulting in weight gain. Women gain approximately one pound per year during this time. The distribution of weight changes for a woman during menopause as well, accumulating around the abdomen as belly fat, as opposed to the hips and thighs. This leads to a body figure that is more of an apple shape, compared to the pear shape of some younger women.
Hormone changes during menopause can be blamed for some of the decrease in metabolism during menopause. The ovaries create lesser amounts of estrogen, causing fat cells to take up production of this hormone. Additionally, testosterone levels may also drop, causing fewer calories to be converted into muscle. A drop in hormones, particularly estrogen and progesterone, may also cause a woman’s appetite to increase, resulting in more food consumption.
Insulin resistance can occur during menopausal years, and is another cause of changes in metabolism. Because many diets are high in carbohydrates, the body secretes more insulin to maintain steady glucose levels in the bloodstream. Consequently, extra fat cells are produced due to the excess glucose. Because fat cells can create estrogen, fluctuations in estrogen levels occur in menopausal woman, causing fluid retention and weight gain.
While changes in metabolism and weight gain are common in menopause, there are several strategies for women who want to reverse some of the effects. Increasing activity to include at least 30 minutes a day of some form of exercise helps burn calories and increases muscle mass. Reducing calorie intake, following a balanced diet and decreasing consumption of high fat foods will all help the body’s metabolism, and can slow the process of weight gain for women who are menopausal.
- Ohio State University Medical Center: Staying Healthy after Menopause
- Older cool woman image by Frenk_Danielle Kaufmann from Fotolia.com