The exact connection between estrogen and weight gain is largely unknown. But, a scientific study conducted by the Division of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, seems to indicate that decreasing estrogen levels can cause weight gain.
Many women have found that it is harder to lose weight during peri-menopause and menopause. In fact, many women gain weight as estrogen levels decline during these years, even though they may have made no changes in their diet or exercise programs. We know that our calorie requirements decrease with age, but we don’t know why. If a woman (or a man, for that matter) expends the same amount of energy throughout her life by remaining physically active, then why would caloric requirements decrease? The answer may be found in something called the “resting energy expenditure”.
The resting energy expenditure is the number of calories that the body naturally burns during periods of rest. Dietary experts know that people, who increase their physical activity, not only burn calories during the exercise, but increase the number of calories that the body burns at rest. Curious researchers wanted to know if there was a connection between levels of estrogen and weight gain, and if this connection was related to the resting energy expenditure.
In order to determine if estrogen levels alone played a role in resting energy expenditure, researchers enrolled a group of young women, not near the age of menopause and measured their resting energy rate. The women were then given drugs that block estrogen production, while being advised to make no other changes in their diet or exercise regimen, and the resting energy expenditure was measured again. The results showed a decrease of nearly 100 calories per day in resting energy expenditure. These results seem to indicate that menopausal decreases in estrogen and weight gain are connected.
Most women notice a change in body shape, which may or may not contribute to weight gain during menopause. A woman’s body has a tendency to gradually change from pear shaped, hips wider than the waist, to apple shaped, waist approaching the same width as the hips. No one knows if this change in body shape is related to decreasing estrogen levels or another part of the aging process, but most people know that it does frustrate menopausal women.
Hormone replacement therapy does not seem to prevent weight gain among women who use it. Neither does it normally stop the change in body shape. Some women notice these changes and others do not. Genetics may play a role, as could nutritional factors and of course diet and exercise programs. It is not a foregone conclusion that decreasing levels of estrogen and weight gain must accompany each other. In fact, dietary changes that are often recommended to relieve symptoms of menopause may also help prevent weight gain.
Plant foods are low fat and highly nutritious. They are often referred to as nutrient dense foods, because the number of vitamins and minerals they contain is so much higher than their caloric content. Plant foods contain a number of other compounds as well. One of these compounds is called phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens have an estrogen like effect on a woman’s body and can reduce some of the symptoms associated with decreased estrogen levels during menopause.
Isoflavones are a type of phytoestrogen and you may see isoflavones listed as an ingredient in dietary supplements designed for women approaching menopause. These dietary supplements alone may not prevent weight gain during menopause, but changing your diet from one that consists primarily of meats and processed foods to one that consists primarily of nutrient rich low calorie plant foods will definitely make a difference. This type of diet is recommended not only because of the possible connection between decreased levels of estrogen and weight gain , but also by the American Heart Association, because it is good for the heart and by the American Cancer Society, because it reduces the risk of many types of cancer. For more information, please visit the Menopause and PMS guide .
Patsy Hamilton was a healthcare professional for over twenty years before becoming a freelance writer. Currently she writes informational articles for the Menopause and PMS Guide. Visit http://www.menopause-and-pms-guide.com to learn more about menopause, PMS and natural remedies.