Researchers Learn More about Weight Control in Menopause
Maintaining a health body weight can be a significant challenge at every phase of a woman's life. Between the competing responsibilities of career, household, family, and social life, it can be hard to find the time and energy to devote to healthy eating and exercise.
To compound matters further, women's unique physiology can actually contribute to weight struggles. From the onset of puberty to the "change of life" that marks the end of the childbearing years, hormonal fluctuations can make it difficult to maintain healthy weight. As any dieter can attest, weeks out of every month can often elapse without any weight loss at all due to PMS-related bloating and water retention.
Menopause is the phase of life when middle-aged women gradually stop experiencing monthly periods. During this stage, the amount of estrogen naturally present in the body begins to decline. Although this may sound like it could eliminate some of the frustration associated with hormone-related weight gain, many women find that the onset of menopause actually makes the challenge of staying fit and healthy even more difficult.
Still, medical professionals are acutely aware of the fact that a normal body weight is a vital component of overall health as women transition to the later stages of their lives. This week, we will review some recent research that has delved into the complex challenge of weight control in menopause.
Studies Help Explain the Relationship between Estrogen Levels and Body Weight
Even after decades of dedicated research, scientists are still working to untangle the complex role that estrogen plays in the body's ability to stay within a healthy weight range. The results of a recent study conducted by an investigative team at the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center may help shed new light on this issue.
According to the researchers, the rapidly fluctuating estrogen levels that often accompany menopause can wreak havoc upon the hunger receptors in the brain. When estrogen levels taper off, the part of the hypothalamus that is dedicated to regulating hunger and controlling caloric requirements can go haywire. This may account for the sharp increase in appetite, food consumption, and weight gain that many women report as side effects of entering menopause.
Although the preliminary results of this study need further confirmation before they can be applied to the treatment of menopausal women, the researchers predict that future treatments may be developed that address estrogen's role in hunger regulation. Short-term hormone replacement could also be used to help women maintain a healthy weight during the transition to menopause.
Scientists Investigate Link between Menopause, Obesity, and Heart Disease Risk
Weight gain can be distressing for emotional and psychological reasons, but from a medical point of view, it can be the harbinger of a number of serious diseases, as well. Because the hormonal fluctuations of menopause often prompt a weight gain during late middle age, many women enter their later years with enough excess weight to pose a considerable health risk. Heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and respiratory problems are all common diagnoses among older women who are overweight.
Researchers at National Cheng Kung University Hospital in China recently designed a study to determine the degree of risk for cardiovascular disease among overweight and obese menopausal women. The results showed that many menopausal women were overweight and obese, and that most of them also had the signs of elevated risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular disorders. In addition, it was found that the more fat was accumulated around the abdominal region (a condition known as 'central' obesity), the greater the degree of cardiovascular risk.
Study Probes Estrogen's Role in Hunger Regulation
The hormone estrogen is responsible for controlling a wide array of different physiological mechanisms in women's bodies. In recent years, the weight gain that many women report as a nearly inevitable side effect of entering menopause has prompted researchers to explore the connection between this hormone and weight regulation.
In one recent study, scientists at the Yale School of Medicine attempted to further define and clarify the role of estrogen in the hunger process. They found that estrogen has similar effects on the neurological experience of hunger to another hormone, leptin, which has long been identified as playing a central role in the brain's control of hunger sensations and food intake.
Based on the study's findings, the researchers hypothesized that impaired estrogen signaling in the brain may be the root cause of the weight gain that is often associated with menopause. They further predict that future drugs may be able to target these shortcomings by mimicking the action of the estrogen receptors in the brain, thus eliminating the hormonal fluctuation and minimizing the risk of a sudden weight gain as women enter menopause.
If you're concerned about the challenge of maintaining a healthy weight as you transition to menopause, a doctor, nutritionist, or another licensed professional may be able to help you develop a personalized diet and exercise plan that will meet your needs. Please check back each week for the research news you need to ensure that your journey to a healthy weight will be successful.
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