Why menopause is making women fat
- NEIL KEENE
- The Daily Telegraph
- January 06, 2013 10:44PM
IT’S the battle of the bulge waged by millions of middle-aged women, but nature might not be on their side.
Diet and lifestyle might not be the only factors for abs turning to flab when women hit their 40s, according to new research.
A study by scientists at Ohio State University in the US found the onset of menopause significantly increased activity in an enzyme responsible for producing fat, particularly around vital organs. Known as visceral fat, it’s a major contributor to serious conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
The female hormone oestrogen helps suppress the enzyme, known as aldh1a1, but a drop in oestrogen levels during menopause means the female body is suddenly less equipped to fight the flab.
“If you asked most people what they believe causes obesity, they would probably say high food consumption and a sedentary lifestyle,” study author and assistant professor of human nutrition Ouliana Ziouzenkova said.
“But we see genetic factors telling the body what to do with fat. A high-fat diet acts on our genetics to make us more fat or less fat. The diet is not powerful enough to do this on its own.”
But University of Sydney weight loss expert Amanda Sainsbury-Salis said that didn’t mean menopausal women should give up trying to stay trim. “There is not a menopause-induced weight gain, but there is a redistribution of fat to where you don’t want it,” she said.
Associate Professor Sainsbury-Salis, from the university’s Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise And Eating Disorders, said a lack of oestrogen to fight the fat-building enzyme was just one of many pathways contributing to a change in body shape after menopause.
“It has been shown that women who maintain or increase their level of physical activity during the transition don’t put on weight or waist circumference,” she said.
“So, yes, biology is working against us, but don’t give up because everything you do in terms of lifestyle has a very big impact as well.”
By targeting aldh1a1, researchers may be able to develop an obesity treatment specifically for women, Dr Ziouzenkova said.
The researchers surgically removed the ovaries of mice. As soon as the animals became menopausal and stopped producing oestrogen, they began to produce retinoic acid, which led to visceral fat formation.
“Oestrogen was sufficient to protect female mice from hormonal and, partially, diet-induced obesity,” Dr Ziouzenkova said.