To some women, menopause can be an unexpected and relieving experience. The hassle, pain, and stress of having a monthly period vanishes. The financial pressure of having to buy tampons and pads is alleviated, the draining monthly symptoms dissipate, and there’s no longer any need to keep menstruation logs in their desk calendars or have menstruation tracking app on their phones. However, menopause comes with its own share of uncomfortable symptoms, most notably weight gain.
Sylvia Santosa of Concordia University released a research article on menopausal weight gain. One of the findings of her study is that weight gain during menopause is normal and biological. It isn’t just as a result of getting older, a sedentary lifestyle, or cravings like with PMS. The biological changes that occur in a woman’s body during menopause are significant enough to completely alter her reproductive system, so naturally she’s going to experience symptoms while her body is adjusting to the numerous changes and even after she has experienced menopause.
The study suggests a correlation between estrogen and how fat is carried in the body. Estrogen is the hormone that is responsible for keeping a woman’s reproductive system functioning at an optimal level. Estrogen helps regulate the body’s metabolic rate, which helps keep excess fat at bay. During menopause, the body’s estrogen levels decrease significantly. The decrease in estrogen accounts for the weight gain as well as the difference in where post-menopausal women store fat in their bodies compared to where their bodies stored excess weight when they were still menstruating.
The key to understanding weight gain during menopause is looking at the way women gain weight versus the way men gain weight. When women gain weight, they often accumulate unnecessary fat in their thighs and hips, which makes them different from men. Men accumulate unnecessary fat in their abdominal area. The study noted that during menopause, women tend to stop gaining weight in their thighs and hips and start gaining it in their abdominal areas. The study attributes this to the body’s decrease in estrogen levels. Women experiencing menopause have around the same levels of estrogen as the average man, so naturally their bodies would store fat in a similar manner.
The study goes on to assert that gaining weight in the abdomen is more harmful than gaining weight in the thighs. In the five days or so before a woman’s period, weight gain in the thighs is normal because her body retains more fluids. This weight is usually resolved once the woman’s period begins and is therefore not an issue. When a woman’s body goes through menopause, it’s harder to maintain her weight because of the lack of estrogen. The weight that she gains in her stomach is harder to lose, which puts her at risk for multiple diseases. Women who gain weight after they have already experienced menopause are more likely to develop high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease than women who have yet to experience menopause.