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Belly Fat and Menopause, Why It Happens and What To Do

belly fat and menopause

Belly fat and menopause are an unfortunate and frequently distressing combination that affects millions of women who want to know not only why it happens, but what they can do about it. Now scientists offer some new information about why it happens, which may lead to ways to help women do something about it.

Menopause brings many changes

As estrogen levels plummet with menopause, something else in women often rises: the amount of fat that accumulates in the abdominal area. Even thin women experience this change in fat storage, which is distressing not only because it alters a woman’s body image and her sense of well-being, but also because belly fat can dramatically increase a woman’s risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.

Many studies have explored and documented the fact that estrogen is behind the increase in fat stored in the abdominal area. Until now, however, experts have not understood why it happens.

A collaboration between Sylvia Santosa, assistant professor in the Department of Exercise Science at Concordia University in Canada, and Michael D. Jensen of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, has yielded some answers. After an indepth evaluation of the activities of certain proteins and enzymes from 23 premenopausal and postmenopausal women, this is what the researchers found.

Basically, they discovered that specific enzymes and proteins are more active in postmenopausal women than in premenopausal women, and that the proteins in postmenopausal women store more fat than they did before menopause.

To make matters worse, they found that women who had gone through menopause burned less fat than did premenopausal women. This combination of events is what makes postmenopausal women gain weight.

Although the increased activity of the proteins was not specific to belly fat, the fact that the body is storing more fat overall translates into more belly fat as well. According to Santosa, “A clearer picture of which proteins and enzymes increase fat storage makes those productive targets for future medical advances in the fight against obesity.”

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But what can postmenopausal women do about belly fat in the meantime?

How to fight belly fat
Since a postmenopausal body wants to hold onto fat and doesn’t burn it as well, women need to boost their metabolism, and a healthy way to accomplish that is through exercise. An increase in aerobic exercise, such as adding a brisk walk to your daily routine or doing jazzercise or zumba several times a week can help.

But you can do more. Numerous natural supplements, including many without caffeine, may be used along with exercise to boost metabolism and help burn belly fat.

In a review of fat modifying and weight loss supplements conducted by Thomas Jefferson University researchers, six items were evaluated: conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), chitosan, pyruvate (calcium pyruvate), Irvingia gabonensis, Garcinia cambogia, and chia seed. They determined that the first four appeared to be “effective in weight loss via fat modifying mechanisms.”

  • CLA: This is a naturally occurring fatty acid that has been shown in animal studies to reduce body fat, lower glucose levels, increase insulin, and also have some anticancer qualities. Conjugated linoleic acid is believed to work because it promotes the death of fat cells and boosts fat metabolism. A suggested dose is 1 to 2 grams up to three times a day with meals.
  • Chitosan: This supplement is a type of chitin that is derived from the shells of crustaceans such as crab, shrimp, and lobster. Numerous studies have shown that chitosan, at doses of 1 gram or more per day, can result in significant loss of fat and weight. However, chitosan can cause gastrointestinal side effects (e.g., constipation, heartburn, diarrhea, stomach pain) and should not be used by anyone who has a shellfish allergy.
  • Calcium pyruvate: Pyruvate is a byproduct of glucose metabolism. Supplements of calcium pyruvate are believed to help weight and fat loss by elevating resting metabolic rate. In studies conducted thus far, pyruvate has been shown to be effective in promoting weight loss and fat loss. Good results have been seen among women taking 6 grams of pyruvate daily, but anyone wanting to take this supplement should consult their healthcare provider first.
  • Irvingia gabonensis: Extracts of this mango-like fruit that grows in Africa may promote fat and weight loss by affecting the levels of certain substances (e.g., adiponectin, leptin) that are associated with weight gain and weight loss. The amount used in effective studies is 150 mg of seed extract twice daily, but women should consult their healthcare provider before attempting supplementation.

In addition, women who want to encourage fat burning, along with exercise, may consider the following supplements:

  • Licorice oil: A study published in Obesity Research & Clinical Practice reported that licorice oil helped overweight women and men lose body fat and weight. In particular, 900 mg daily was associated with a significant loss in belly fat.
  • Green tea extract, which does contain some caffeine. However, green tea also has epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a phytonutrient that appears to elevate metabolism. A suggested dose is 300 mg up to three times a day.
  • Fucoxanthin is derived from brown seaweed and has been shown to boost metabolism. This supplement does not contain caffeine and reportedly is effective at reducing belly fat because it raises fat-burning inside cells. A suggested dose is 100 to 200 mg two to three times daily.

Also read:
Serve up seaweed for your health, blood pressure
Belly fat may raise risk of osteoporosis in women

For postmenopausal women, the loss of estrogen and a monthly period is often replaced by an increase in belly fat. While new research may eventually lead to better ways to fight this problem, there are steps women can take now to fight belly fat after menopause.

Egras AM et al. An evidence-based review of fat modifying supplemental weight loss products. Journal of Obesity 2011; 2011
Kaats GR et al. Evaluating efficacy of a chitosan product using a double-blinded, placebo-controlled protocol. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2006 Oct; 25(5): 389-94
Kalman D et al. The effects of pyruvate supplementation on body composition in overweight individuals. Nutrition 1999 May; 15(5): 337-40
Santosa S, Jensen MD. Adipocyte fatty acid storage factors enhance subcutaneous fat storage in postmenopausal women. Diabetes 2013 Mar; 62:775-82 http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/62/3/775.long
Tominaga Y et al. Obesity Research & Clinical Practice 2009 Aug; 3(3): 169-78

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