Menopause is a confusing period in the life of any woman. Hot flushes creep up at embarrassing moments, mood swings hit you out of the blue, and you start noticing definite changes to your body – especially around the waistline. No more menstruating but there is suddenly that middle-age spread that appears.
What causes menopause weight gain?
According to the Mayo Clinic¹, it’s a natural part of aging, lifestyle, and genetics, with hormones playing a relatively smaller role. As muscle mass decreases, fat increases and the loss of muscle also slows the metabolism (the rate at which calories are burned).
Another factor is lack of sleep, as people who sleep less tend to use some of that extra time snacking. A 2012 review² could not directly link weight gain to menopause per se but did find links associating the hormonal changes occurring during menopause with an increase in total body fat and an increase in abdominal fat.
More recently- in 2019, UCLA³ confirmed what menopausal women have long suspected: menopause does make fat go up. Women undergoing perimenopause lose lean body mass and more than double their fat mass.
We look at ways to identify and address this problem that has been facing women for centuries.
Does HRT Cause Weight Gain?
Hormones and weight gain after 50 are often discussed in the context of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Women recognize the menopause weight gain but it can be difficult to determine whether weight gain is exacerbated by HRT.
Fear of weight gain is often the reason why women either refuse HRT or don’t properly comply with HRT protocols. While HRT aids in alleviating some age-related problems – such as rehydration which alleviates loss of skin elasticity, the concern of additional weight is often a higher priority, adding to the unwanted increased hip-to-waist ratio that has appeared as a result of menopause.
The good news is that a study⁴ concluded that HRT does not contribute to weight gain and that some HRT regimens may actually help to prevent an increase in body fat mass and fat redistribution.
This is supported by the 2012 review² from which it appears that studies mostly indicate a reduction in overall fat mass when HRT such as estrogen and estrogen-progestin therapy is used.
The underlying problem remains in the menopausal phase of life.
How to Measure Menopausal Weight Gain: Scales, BMI Calculators, and Other Methods
Weight Watchers agree that keeping a record of progress is key to maximizing the effectiveness of any weight loss program. The difficulty comes in how this progress is measured, as there are different methods and measures, such as:
- Scales: Giving the total mass of the person is useful information to compare with previous readings, but offers limited scope as it is not a precise indicator. Bodybuilders – with increased muscle mass, often read as overweight, and scales don’t take account of medians and averages.
- Body Mass Index (BMI): Initially developed by the World Health Organization, BMI calculators are a set of tables that provide guidelines for the ideal weight of adult men and women, based on body mass (weight)and height. More useful than a scale alone, BMI doesn’t factor in things like body composition, age, or ethnicity. dated, biased measure that doesn’t account for several factors, such as body composition, ethnicity, race, gender, and age, although various tables have been developed over the last few years. A BMI calculator can be found here.
- Skin Fold Measurements: Calipers measure the skin folds on the right side of the body in millimeters by pulling the skin away from the underlying muscle. These measurements are then used to calculate the percentage of body fat. A body composition calculator can shed some light on the meaning of these measurements.
- Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA): Some scales in stores or online use bioelectrical impedance analysis which function using two points of contact, for example, each foot or one hand and one foot can be used as a point of contact. BIA devices measure the rate at which a low-level electrical current travels through the body to determine fat-free mass. It is painless, and different devices offer various configurations of data and algorithms, to provide useful data.
- Online weight calculators: One of many calculators can be found here, using different inputs to deliver a report on weight status.
- Hydrostatic weighing: Using Archimedes’ principle of displacement, hydrostatic underwater weighing measures total body density to establish body composition (ratio of body fat to lean mass). The method involves being weighed as normal, then being weighed completely submerged in water, with all air expelled from the lungs. As body muscle sinks while fat floats, someone with more body fat will weigh less underwater and be more buoyant. A person with more body muscle weighs more underwater. This method analyses the amount of water displaced.
Most women are keenly aware of what their weight was in their twenties. It’s a good idea to start with a simple weight measurement to compare to one’s younger self, then move into the more complex methods to find a good fit.
How to stop menopause weight gain? Prevention and Remedies
With various magical solutions advertised, it’s difficult to find one’s way through the maze of suggestions. While many programs deal with weight loss generally, the following are specific to menopause weight gain:
- Vitamins: While increasing bone health, vitamins such as Vitamin D and calcium could also assist in redirecting calories to muscle according to Oprah Magazine⁵. Scientific studies⁶ also stress the important role of compounds from the group of vitamin B.
Vitamin B6 specifically often comes up as an aid to reducing the risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease but- while Vitamin B6 may be beneficial, test results are controversial and the does not appear to be a link between this vitamin and menopause weight gain or loss.
Specific medical advice should be obtained to find the optimal vitamin balance to improve the quality of life.
- Best supplements for menopause weight gain: Omega-3 fatty acids⁵- found in fish oil and supplement form, are beneficial in the menopause years and help to improve overall wellness.
Some weight loss successes have been reported but it is generally accepted that the weight loss properties of omega-3 are limited. If combined with a healthier diet, the supplement can be of assistance. A chromium picolinate trial⁷ with 80 healthy but overweight participants was tested over 24 weeks.
The results showed no specific reduction in weight loss compared with participants who ingested the placebo, so while chromium is an important mineral, it should not be relied on for weight loss.
- Semaglutide: This drug treatment targets areas of the brain that regulate appetite and food intake, increasing the medication dose gradually over 16 to 20 weeks⁸.
The drug is available under different brands and medical doctors are best placed to advise on the most suitable product. During FDA trials, the mean change in body weight from baseline to week 68 was a reduction of 15.3kg (14.9%) in the semaglutide group as compared with a reduction of 2.6kg (2.4%) in the placebo group.
While these results are impressive, the side effects- such as nausea and diarrhea can result in a lower level of adherence to the treatment.
- Natural Remedies for Menopause weight gain: Several natural products have been suggested for the relief of menopause symptoms. These include maintaining a heart-healthy diet⁹ which will have positive benefits on any weight loss program and includes eating nutrient-rich foods.
This makes superfoods such as broccoli, kale, and berries perfect for managing menopause weight gain, while also improving energy and general health. Herbal remedies for weight loss are quite prolific, but going back to basics, certain age-old spices such as ginger and cinnamon are valuable.
A study of overweight diabetic rats¹⁰ (the study does not disclose whether they were menopausal) found that their elements resulted in anti-obesity, hepatoprotective, hypolipidemic, antidiabetic, and antioxidant effects in obese diabetic rats. Easily incorporated into an average diet, it is worth inclusion in healthy eating plans.
- Menopause tea for weight loss: A review¹¹ in 2019 found that there were differing views, but many women report that teas designed specifically for menopause weight loss help them to relax, and to become better focused on weight issues in general. It seems unlikely that there is a miracle tea but even the ritual of tea-making can be therapeutic.
- Food to avoid menopause weight gain: Added sugars¹ can add 300 calories a day to the average American diet. Found in candy, donuts, beverages, and many other products, it’s critical to examine the ingredients label on any product. If sugar (or a variation such as fructose) is high on the list, it will increase belly fat. Similarly, alcohol has a high sugar content and this gets worse if a sugar-based soda is added as a mixer.
What’s the best way to prevent weight gain after menopause?
Good health is a gift. Maintaining it- including a healthy weight takes work, but a few adjustments can make a difference. Investigate the option available, but ensure that you include some tried and tested methods such as:
- Get moving: Exercise is beneficial and even a short walk aids menopause weight loss and also gets the feel-good endorphins flowing
- Fewer calories: If halving food allowances sounds too extreme, aim to do this over a period, by small incremental reductions. Fewer calories mean that there is less fat that needs to be burned by the body to maintain a healthy weight
- Get support: Having people who support your weight goals around- who encourage you when the going gets tough is important. Joining a group with similar goals is even better.