Estrogen Helps Prevent Belly Fat in Menopause

The role of estrogen on fat distribution

Measuring Belly with Tape
Estrogen and Belly Fat.

Are you noticing your pants are getting tighter? Do you have a closet full of clothes that are a size too small? Are you having other symptoms of menopause but worried that treatment with estrogen would cause you to gain even more weight?

You're not alone. Not only is obesity a major health problem in the United States; it is often associated with menopause. A lot of women believe that taking estrogen causes weight gain and belly fat, and for many, it stops them from considering estrogen as a treatment.

But is it true? Does estrogen really cause weight gain or an increase in belly fat?

Does Estrogen Cause Weight Gain?

To answer that question a group of researchers conducted a study that was in the October issue of the journal Menopause. Their goal was to clear up some of the confusion. Does low estrogen lead to belly fat and would taking estrogen prevent that from happening? They also wanted to know if low estrogen let to poor bone health and osteoporosis and would estrogen prevent that as well.

Most people gain weight as they get older because metabolism slows down. To prevent age from being a variable, Dr. Karen L. Shea and her colleagues at the University of Colorado studied women who were not yet in menopause. A total of 70 women who were on average about 36 years old with normal menstrual cycles were studied.

The Study

All of the women received a medication to temporarily cause them to go into menopause for  5 months.

It the end of 5 months, the medication was continued and half the women were then given the medication plus the estrogen estradiol. The other half ware continued on the menopause causing medicine plus they were given a placebo. They received no estrogen.

Neither group had a change in their Body Mass Index (BMI) which is a measurement of a person’s weight with respect to height.

It is more of an indicator than a direct measurement of a person’s total body fat. The half that took the placebo had a significant increase in belly fat and a loss of bone mass in their spines and hips, meaning their bones got thinner. In other words, low estrogen led to thinner bones and a fatter abdomen. Those women in the group who got the placebo lost less bone and their bellies stayed thinner if they regularly exercised.

But what about the women who were taking estrogen? There was no change in the belly fat or bone thickness in the half of women who received the estradiol. So if you are thinking of estrogen but avoiding it because you may gain weight, think again. The facts are that estrogen helps to prevent fat from migrating to the belly from other areas of the body. There are also other studies that show that taking estrogen only (without progestogen) lowers weight gain. So the rumors that estrogen causes weight gain and belly fat are just that - rumors. And that's the skinny on estrogen and belly fat.

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