Women who undergo hormone therapy for menopause have less belly fat, a new study has found.
Hormone replacement therapies are intended to help assuage symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings that come with the end of women’s monthly periods.
The treatment is thought to help keep women’s bones strong, and lower their risks of heart diseases and bowel cancer, but the hormone infusion may also raise risks of stroke, breast cancer and blood clots.
A new Swiss study has found an added benefit – fighting age-related weight gain – to hormone therapy, but cautions that the effects practically vanish once the added hormones do.
Women who treat their menopause symptoms with hormone replacement therapy have less belly fat, but the benefits disappear once they stop taking it, new research reveals
All women will experience menopause in their lives, occurring for most between ages 48 and 55.
‘The change’ comes as ovaries age and produce less estrogen, the female sex hormone that regulates menstruation and other sexual functions.
For most women, this transition out of the reproductive years comes with a cascade of trying symptoms – both emotional and physical – including some weight gain, particularly around the middle.
Most research suggest that women gain an average of around five lbs during menopause, and somewhere around 10 lbs afterwards.
The gains are as much a result of aging – regardless of gender – as they are of menopause, but the hormonal changes do tend to shift fat to the abdomen for women.
This so-called ‘middle age spread’ happens because estrogen effects the enzymes and proteins that determine fat storage in the abdomen.
After menopause, as estrogen levels are falling, the mechanisms that tell the body to store abdominal fat rev up.
Worryingly, this particular kind of fat – located around the mid-section and having a lower density – is associated with higher risks of heart disease and diabetes.
But the new study’s findings, published by the Endocrine Society, suggest that taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – consisting of either just estrogen or both estrogen and progesterone – may counteract the belly fat collection.
We should try to warn women that they should try to work on the lifestyle changes like better diets and not rely on the hormones in order to not gain back the weight
Dr Georgios Papadakis, lead study author,Lausanne University department of Endocrinology
Researchers from Lausanne University in Switzerland recruited 1,086 women between ages 50 and 80 and assessed the locations, compositions and amount of their body fat.
The women that were on some form of HRT – whether a patch, a pill or an implant – had slightly less body fat and lower BMIs, and significantly less of the troublesome stomach fat than those who were not on hormone therapy.
But, for most women, HRT is not a permanent part of their lives as it can increase risks of stroke, breast cancer and blood clots – and the benefits for their bellies will not be either.
Regardless of how long any of the women had been on hormone therapy or how long ago they had stopped, once they were not getting replacement hormones, their weights and stomach fat distributions were the same as if they had never taken it at all.
‘What this adds to the discussion is the pros and cons of starting hormone therapy, including the fact that it protects against weight gain that we see after menopause,’ for non-obese women between 50 and 60, said lead study author Dr Georgios Papadakis.
But, he added: ‘We should try to warn women that they should try to work on the lifestyle [changes]’ like better diets and more exercise, ‘and not rely on the hormones in order to not gain back the weight.’