Why Your Body Shape Has Changed From Pear To Apple

Menopause Belly Fat

I never had belly fat before menopause

Jenny gave vent to her frustration about the change of her body shape since the onset of menopause, in a session with me recently. She said she now had what she called menopause belly fat, when she never had belly fat before, and her waist size had expended by several inches. She said that for most of her adult life her body shape could best be described as pear shaped and now she said that it had become apple shaped.

She said that she had always followed a healthy diet and exercised regularly …. and still did. She wanted to know if her menopause belly fat was caused by menopause or aging.

I began by telling her that the accumulation of belly fat is typical of most women during menopause years. Women tend to carry excess fat in their hips and thighs prior to menopause. It seems that “mother nature” arranged for that in the childbearing years, as a fuel reserve for breastfeeding. The menopause transition signals the end of child bearing years. As women progress from perimenopause to postmenopause, they store fat in the stomach area rather than in their hips and thighs.

A few year ago, a study of 543 menopause women was conducted to determine if changes in body size and body composition were related to aging and or to menopause. It found that there is an increase of menopause belly fat during perimenopause and that it becomes less pronounced after menstruation ends. However overall levels of body fat continues to increase after menstruation ends. This means that accumulation of menopause belly fat is caused more by ovarian aging (menopause) than chronological aging, whereas the increase of overall body fat is caused by getting older.

Many women notice an increase of menopause belly fat — even if they aren’t gaining weight. This is due to a decreasing level of estrogen, which influences where fat is distributed in the body. Estrogen levels begin to fall during early perimenopause and it continues to fall throughout the perimenopause stage. It stops falling when menstruation ends. It is during the perimenopausal stage that menopause belly fat accumulates. This is what creates the “apple shape”, from the “pear shape”, in many women. Your waist stops expanding after menstruation ends.

However the amount of overall fat on your body continues to increase after menstruation ends. After age 30, metabolism slows by about 2% per decade, thanks to a loss of muscle mass – we lose as much as 50% of our muscle mass between the ages of 20 and 90, and the rate of loss is especially pronounced from ages 50–70. We tend to lose 1/2 pound of muscle a year after the age of 30. After the age of 60, this muscle loss doubles. As we lose muscle mass, we gain weight in fat.

A recent study has identified the exact mechanism which causes postmenopausal women to increase their body fat mass. The researchers compared fat storage in premenopausal and postmenopausal women. It provided an insight into the connection between fat storage and estrogen. The researchers found that certain proteins and enzymes are more active in post-menopausal women. These proteins and enzymes promote fat storage. They cause more fat to be stored by postmenopausal women than premenopausal women. They also found that postmenopausal women burned less fat than did premenopausal women. This combination of events is what makes women accumulate body fat after menopause.

So there you have it……the reason why so many women experience a transition in their body shape during menopause and what happens to a woman’s body fat mass as she ages. The latter can be slowed by exercising, and following a healthy diet, for the rest of your life.


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