“Preclinical data has shown that either surgical menopause or declines in estrogen accelerates fat accumulation, primarily visceral or abdominal fat,” said Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, executive director of the North American Menopause Society. “Changes over time in how women look — such as noticing more abdominal fat, having increases in waist size, pants no longer fitting in the waist or increases in breast size — all may be signs.”
Unfortunately, that extra fat can be life-threatening.
“A body fat percentage of 35% or more for postmenopausal women means a higher risk of obesity-related heart and diabetes risks,” Pinkerton explained, “including higher total and LDL (bad) cholesterol and insulin resistance.”
Fighting belly fat
Belly fat, along with hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia and irritability, is one of the many downsides of the end of a woman’s menstrual cycles. Those symptoms can last for years as fertility shuts down; many women find it extremely difficult to cope. Doctors may offer artificial replacements of estrogen, progesterone or a combination, which is called menopausal hormone therapy (formerly hormone replacement therapy, or HRT).
Years of fear and confusion
“Many women who may benefit fromhormone therapy have been denied safe and effective therapies because of fear generated from the initial reports from the large Women’s Health Initiative Study,” Pinkerton said.
As studies continue to explore the nuances of hormone replacement, recommendations have continued to evolve.
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to decisions about hormone therapy,” Pinkerton explained. “The risks and benefits vary, depending on the woman’s own characteristics as well as the type of hormone therapy, the dose used, the duration of use and especially age and time from menopause when therapy is initiated.”