Tackling the Misconceptions Surrounding Menopause

Menopause makes you fat?  Menopause always starts at 50? Sex drive plummets with menopause?

Do any of these sound familiar? 

We’ll delve into these intriguing questions and explore the myths surrounding menopause in many future blog posts. This can be a time of confusion and anxiety – if not even flat out frustration! Who do you trust? Where do you go for answers? 

Interestingly, while gathering information regarding on-line resources for menopause, I found multiple errors and mistruths, even in some of the more-respected sites. This is the primary impetus behind my decision to develop the Amazing Over 40 website and online community. As a passionate, board-certified Ob/Gyn, my mission is to provide you with the most up-to-date and accurate information so you can make the best decisions about your health at 40, 50, 60 and beyond! And you are not alone!  Did you know that over 6,000 women are entering menopause every day?

Let’s first define menopause. Menopause is defined as the time during a woman’s life when her menstrual cycles cease for 12 straight months- one whole year without bleeding – going from a reproductive state to a non-reproductive state.  Prior to this time, cycles become irregular and many other symptoms can occur such as hot flashes, night sweats, irritability and mood swings – this is called “perimenopause” and can last from 4-12 years before menopause.  The average age in the United States for women is 51-52 years of age.

As we go through the top questions regarding menopause, I will provide you with more detailed information regarding each issue- I don’t want to overload you all at once!

Let’s tackle the first question today:

Menopause makes you fat? This is a complicated issue and needs some clarification. The average weight gain during the menopause transition is approximately 5 lbs, which has been attributed to menopause or treatment of menopause-related conditions, including hormone therapy (HT). Yet, the scientific evidence does NOT support this. Weight gain during this time is due to aging and lifestyle. Body fat accumulates throughout adult life and lean body mass decreases, leading to less muscle mass and more fat mass. Having less muscle mass and a more sedentary lifestyle burns fewer calories, which also contributes to weight gain.

Although research suggests that age, rather than menopause, is associated with weight gain, research has shown that menopause can lead to changes in body composition and fat distribution. Several studies have shown that during the menopause transition increased fat is deposited in the abdominal region, especially in the visceral fat region rather than subcutaneous. Subcutaneous fat is what lies beneath your skin, while visceral fat can’t be seen – it’s the fat that surrounds the organs in your peritoneal cavity, the space that contains your gi tract and other organs. This change in body fat distribution is known as the trunk-mass-to-leg-fat-mass ratio and leads to detrimental health conditions such as increased blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, and cardiovascular plaque formation increasing the risk for stroke or heart attack.

Don’t get discouraged though – there are ways to combat these changes.  

Here Are 2 Key Tips to Help.

1. Get your ZZZ’s: Sleep deprivation has been associated with weight gain, causing changes in serum leptin and ghrelin levels. Leptin is known as the satiety hormone, letting you know when you are full and ghrelin is the hunger hormone, letting you know when you are hungry and need to eat. Sleep deprivation leads to higher ghrelin and lower leptin levels- subsequently increasing hunger and appetite. Researchers from the Nurses’ Health Study, involving 68,000 women followed over a median of 12 years, found that women who slept 5 hours or less gained 2.5 lb more than those sleeping 7 hours. Women sleeping 6 hours gained 1.6 lb more than those sleeping 7 hours.   

2. Pick up those weights: Although doing cardio work-outs (spinning, running or treadmill) will burn calories and help decrease weight, recent studies have shown that perimenopausal and menopausal women striving for a lower body-fat ratio will benefit more from resistance-type exercise (weight lifting and resistance training). This type of training leads to more lean body muscle tissue and sculpts the body to a slender shape. As we know, lean muscle is more metabolically active (burns more calories) than fat tissue, causing an increase in our basal metabolic rate (BMR). In one randomized study of 107 nonobese menopausal women, resistance exercise plus caloric restriction resulted in greater losses in fat mass parameters than did calorie restriction alone. 

Stay posted as we explore more menopausal myths and navigate the waters of the menopausal transition! 

In health and happiness,

- Dr. Diana