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URMC / Patients & Families / Health Matters / June 2015 / Belly Fat: What’s Estrogen Got to Do with It?

Belly Fat: What’s Estrogen Got to Do with It?

Pot belly, beer belly… call it what you will, but the fact is no one likes belly fat. It’s not uncommon for women to gain belly fat during menopause, but is it inevitable? UR Medicine menopause specialist Dr. James Woods sheds light on the role of this hormone in gaining fat.
woman holding measuring tape around waist
Estrogen plays an important role in a woman’s physical development, triggering typical female fat distribution patterns as she matures. During her reproductive years, she will gain additional fat in the pelvis, buttocks, thighs, and breasts, which provide an energy source for eventual pregnancy and lactation. Paradoxically, though her estrogen level drops during menopause, she is likely to gain weight. 
A study that followed newly menopausal healthy women for four years showed an increase in weight and body fat, which coincided with a drop in estrogen levels and a decrease in physical activity and energy expenditure. In lab studies of female mice in menopause, those who got estrogen maintained their weight, while those who didn’t gained weight rapidly. Studies have shown that estrogen incorporates crucial elements into the DNA responsible for weight control. Without estrogen and these crucial elements, weight gain is virtually inevitable.
Alas, along with typical menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, irregular periods, irritability and depression, women have to deal with a tendency to gain weight and visceral body fat that can affect their long‐term health.
As is the case in coping with other symptoms, exercise and nutritious eating are the best approaches to maintaining a healthy weight through menopause and beyond. You might also consider talking with your doctor about hormone replacement therapy. Though it’s not for everyone, short-term use is helpful to many women.
James Woods, M.D.
James Woods, M.D., professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UR Medicine, specializes in caring for women during and beyond menopause at the Hess/Woods Gynecology PracticeHe is editor of the blog menoPAUSE.


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