Hitting the menopause really DOES create 'spare tyre' of fat around the waist
Women lose their natural supply of the female hormone oestrogen after the menopauseThis causes a shift of fat storage from the hips to the waist

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UPDATED:

16:04 GMT, 16 October 2012

It will come as little comfort for women of a certain age who already have mood swings and hot flushes to contend with.

Hitting the menopause really can result in the development of the dreaded ‘spare tyre’ of fat around the waist.

A comprehensive review by the International Menopause Society (IMS) has found, despite popular belief, going through the menopause does not in itself cause a woman to gain weight.

The middle-aged spread is not a myth, say researchers from Monash University

The middle-aged spread is not a myth, say researchers from Monash University

But it does cause fat to be distributed in a different way – meaning extra weight is more likely to settle on the waist, rather than the hips leading to more belly fat.

Rather than having an hour-glass or pear-shaped figure, older women become apple-shaped and more like men – the process often dubbed ‘middle-aged spread’.

They study also found that, contrary to popular opinion, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) does not cause women to put on weight – and can in fact help prevent abdominal fat increasing after menopause.

Review leader Professor Susan Davis of Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, said: ‘It is a myth that the menopause causes a woman to gain weight.

‘It’s really just a consequence of environmental factors and ageing which cause that.

‘But there is no doubt that the new spare tyre many women complain of after menopause is real, and not a consequence of any changes they have made.

‘Rather this is the body’s response to the fall in oestrogen at menopause: a shift of fat storage from the hips to the waist.’

Women lose their natural supply of the female hormone oestrogen after the menopause, which leads to symptoms such as hot flushes, mood changes and night sweats.

The loss of oestrogen also leads to accelerating bone loss and raises the risk of heart disease.

The latest review, carried out to mark World Menopause Day tomorrow (18th October), is published in the medical journal, Climacteric.

The review group found women tend to gain on average around 0.5 kg per year (around 1lb per year) throughout midlife.

It found that absolute weight gain is determined by non hormonal factors, rather than the menopause itself.

The key finding was that the way fat is deposited changes at the menopause due to falling oestrogen levels.

Irrespective as to whether women do or do not gain weight at midlife, women experience a shift in their fat stores to their abdomen after the menopause.

The review found higher levels of abdominal fat increases the risk of future metabolic disease, such as diabetes and heart disease, in postmenopausal women.

The IMS is calling for women to be more aware of the problems associated with excess weight, and to take early steps to ensure that they don’t gain excess weight after the menopause.

Professor Davis said ‘What this translates to in real terms is that women going through the menopause should begin to try to control their weight before it becomes a problem, so if you have not been looking after yourself before the menopause, you should certainly start to do so when it arrives.

‘This means for all women being thoughtful about what you eat and for many, being more active every day.

‘HRT can also help. But each woman is different, so at the menopause, it is important to discuss your health with your doctor.’ IMS President, Tobie de Villiers said ‘Weight gain is a major risk factor for a variety of diseases, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

‘Heart disease is by far the number one killer of postmenopausal women, and this risk is increased by excess weight.

‘Women need to be aware of this, especially at the menopause when oestrogen levels drop. A woman may need to adjust her lifestyle to ensure a healthier life after the menopause.

‘In fact, I would say that a woman should consider using the menopause as a marker, a reason to review her overall health, with her doctor, so that she can take her own decisions on how her life moves forward.’