[The Electric Company - Retro-style illustrated lyric page for "Jelly Belly." Art by Mell. From the Electric Company Original Cast album booklet, 1972. Courtesy: 4-Color Cowboy Vintage Print Collection]
Sigh. I’ve written about this, I’m experiencing it, heck, I’m stumped.
It’s a well-known fact that many women’s fat storage begins to shift as they go through menopause. However, many women are unaware that this fat storage pattern is downright dangerous, dramatically increasing the risk for conditions like diabetes, heart disease, stroke and even some cancers.
While experts have made the connection between declining estrogen levels and an increase in fat deposits in the mid section, they have not entirely understood how it happens. That is, until now. Indeed, when researchers from Concordia University in Canada and the Mayo Clinic joined forces, they discovered that cells are the culprit. Yup, cells.
Let me explain.
Professor Sylvia Santosa, the leading investigator, says that she and her colleagues undertook the investigation because of the dangers associated with belly fat in postmenopausal women, noting that she felt that it was important to understand how low estrogen levels redirect fat storage. Consequently, she compared fat storage in 12 premenopausal and 11 postmenopausal women who were, on average, roughly 50 years old. To insure accuracy, the women all consumed the same meals for 5 days before the study and were matched by age, weight, and similar body weight, BMI and body fat compositions. They also examined the activities of fatty acids and certain enzymes that promote and alter fatty acids so that they wind up stored in the last place we’d like them to be stored: our bellies.
What they discovered is that twice as many dietary fatty acids — the type found in meals instead of the type that flow freely in the bloodstream — were being deposited into abdominal storage in postmenopausal that premenopausal women. The reason for this doubling was that the decline in estrogen appears to increase a certain protein in tissue that stores fat in the belly, and that its partner in crime – an enzyme had as much as 40% higher activity in postmenopause.
To put it in plain English: the overall fat storage machinery in postmenopausal women is faulty. Not only are we storing more fat than ever before, but our cells also don’t want to let go of it. Yikes!
While researchers continue to tease out the culprits so that they can figure out how to optimally target them, we are left with a dilemma: what now? Short of changing your diet and re-upping your exercise, or paying for fat extraction, there’s not a whole lot of ‘what.’ Unfortunately, many of us may need to live with the jelly belly the best we can.Read More
I’ve been on a bit of a personal rage lately – a rage about weight gain and the ‘pause.
No time like the present to give yourselves the gift of a lifetime: aim for a healthy weight before you hit menopause.
We’ve discussed it time and again on Flashfree; weight gain and menopause go hand in hand like a horse and carriage. And with that weight gains comes an increased risk for developing heart disease, diabetes and the dreaded metabolic syndrome. However, last year, researchers from the University of Ottawa reported that entering full menopause with a healthy body mass index (BMI) actually confers protection.
In the study (which appeared online in the journal Menopause), researchers evaluated and observed 102 premenopausal women for body composition and changes in their cardiovascular health profiles. The women, all of whom were between 47 and 55 years of age, did not smoke, had a BMI between 20 and 29 and had had a stable weight for at least 6 months before the study started, were followed for five years. Each year, the researchers gauged if they had entered menopause, measured body composition (i.e. total fat mass, trunk fat mass and total fat free mass), waist size, the degree of abdominal fat and took blood to examine glucose, insulin and blood fat levels.
The study’s lead researcher, Dr. Denis Prud-homme explains that by simply observing the women and not imposing any structured interventions (e.g. diet or exercise) they were able to assess changes within a more naturalistic environment. At the study’s end, they discovered that despite significant increases in fat mass, visceral abdominal fat, blood glucose and cholesterol levels, most of which were the natural result of hormone fluctuations and aging, the women did not appear to have any declines in their heart or metabolic profiles that would indicate an increased risk for disease. Dr. Prud-homme says that a possible explanation might be that “even if the area of visceral fat is increased, it is still under the critical threshold associated with cardio-metabolic deterioration.” In other words, by maintaing a healthy lifestyle and BMI premenopausally, these women were able to change their risk equations once they fully entered menopause.
The bottom line is that the present you give yourself now will last long into your later years. Exercise. Eat right. And pay attention to your health.
No time like the present. For a present. Give yourself one.Read More
[Copyright: Doug Savage. Many thanks for use of this cartoon. Who doesn't love a chicken?! Show some love... www.savagechickens.com]
In literature, shapeshifting takes place when an individual finds her figure involuntarily changed by someone or something else, menopause for example! For women in midlife in particular, weight gain often becomes a primary concern. But it’s not just any weight gain — it’s the spare tire in the midsection, the sudden belly that seems to appear out of nowhere, that causes the most distress.
If you go back through the archives on weight gain during menopause, you’ll discover that the midsection bulge is a personal pet peeve. And while research has shown the mindful meditation, getting up from your chair during the workday, biking and perhaps even isoflavones may make a difference, a recent review in Climacteric journal goes one step further towards clarifying the ‘why.’
The findings may interest you. For example, weight gain itself does not appear to be affected by hormonal changes during menopause. “It’s a myth that menopause causes women to gain weight” says the leading review author Professor Susan Davis from Monash University. Rather, she says that “it’s really just a consequence of environmental factors and aging,” (i.e. absolute weight gain as we age is influenced by non-hormonal factors, such as low activity levels, previous pregnancies, family history of obesity and even the use of certain antidepressants or having undergone chemotherapy). However, hormones — namely the fall in estrogen — cause the fat to deposit itself in the belly (oh, joy!). In fact, data suggest that during perimenopause, there is a rapid increase in fat mass and redistribution of this fat to the abdominal area, leading to an increase in total body fat.
Whether or not you call it weight gain or shapshifting, the result of this excess weight goes well beyond physical appearance and self esteem. We know that excess weight, especially belly fat, can lead to metabolic syndrome and other serious issues. And it’s really difficult to get rid of once it decides to rest in the abdominal area. Still, if you don’t want to go the HRT route (which may help prevent the increase in abdominal fat), there’s really only one solution: diet and exercise. And more diet and exercise.
Frustrating, isn’t it? I’d like a do-over on the shapeshifting thing. Right now? The Beast is looking pretty darn attractive!
Mindfulness. It keeps popping up in different areas of health. Last time I posted about mindfulness training, it was within the context of hot flashes and how training your mind to reduce stress can influence how hot flashes are experienced. But what about stress eating?
Many women (and men) turn to emotional eating when they are stressed. And unfortunately, when it comes to weight gain, many of the most serious health affects of excess weight tend to be linked to that roll around the tummy area. In fact, abdominal (or visceral) obesity produces inflammation in the body that can increase the risk for diabetes and heart disease. In women in particular, who may be prone to weight gain in their abdominal area due in part to hormone fluctuations, it’s a double-edged sword. Add the fact that chronic stress increases levels of cortisol, which in turn, mobilizes the migration of fat cells to the midsection, and well, it’s a disaster in the waiting.
As I have written previously, cortisol is a hormone that is secreted by the adrenal glands. Its primary role in the body is to regulate energy (by producing blood sugar or metabolizing carbohydrates, protein and fats) and mobilize it to areas where is it most needed so, cortisol levels tend to peak in the early morning and then gradually decline throughout the day. Research has shown, however, that women have higher cortisol levels than men, and that certain women –especially those with greater amounts of abdominal fat — may be reacting to a large disruption in the release of cortisol that causes a greater than normal difference between morning and evening levels of the hormone. This disruption is believed to be related, at least in part, to exposure to prolonged physical and mental stress. This psychological component is huge, because it tends to trigger the desire to consumption of food that is high in fat and/or sugar, which also tends to promote abdominal weight gain.
How do you break the cycle?
Researchers are now saying that mindfulness may be an important strategy to beat the bulge and the stress. In fact, whey they looked at the effects of a program that focused on interrupting habitual thoughts, emotions and behaviors, that is exactly what they found.
In this small exercise, 24 overweight and obese women not yet in menopause learned to use guided meditation as a way to introduce mindful eating (i.e. paying attention to their physical sensations of hunger, stomach fullness, taste satisfaction and food cravings). They were also taught to be more aware of emotional eating triggers and negative emotions as well as to be more loving and accepting of both themselves. Over nine weeks, they were able to share their challenges, concerns and experiences and then learned new meditations to overcome what they felt were roadblocks in their progress. During the same four week period, 23 women were placed on a waiting list for comparison purposes.
Regularly engaging in mindfulness training set these women off on the right foot upon awakening and in fact, lowered their cortisol levels in the early am hours. What’s more, women who reported having the greatest improvements in their response to stress and emotional eating triggers tended to have the largest reductions in abdominal fat. Additionally, reductions in waking cortisol levels were related to reductions in abdominal fat as well.
Mind you, the women in this particular study were premenopausal, namely because the researchers say that hormonal declines naturally lead to deposits of fat in the midsection. However, if psychological stress compounds weight gain in this area as much as it affects overall wellbeing and menopausal symptoms, it might be worthwhile considering if incorporating ‘a little mindfulness’ into one’s life could help shift fat away from the abdomen as well. It’s an interesting idea and definitely worth exploring…especially as we move into what many regard to be the most stressful and eating laden season of the year: the holidays!
Try a little mindfulness. Not only can it benefit your brain but your tummy might reap the benefits as well.Read More
I love this post. Which I originally ran in January of ’10.
The reason I love it?
I am tired of hearing that women need to do something about their bodies, especially as they age. So this one is for you, and you and you. Because if you’ve got ‘back,’ good on ya!
Maybe Sir Mix-a-Lot has a point. It seems that a large derriere and thighs may actually extend your life. The reason? Researchers say that fat particles that end up in these areas help trap harmful fatty acids in our diet.
Although they are unsure of the exact reasons why, researchers do say that unlike abdominal fat, which has been linked to metabolic syndrome, lower body fat, i.e., fat that accumulates in the thighs and backside, has actually been confirmed to play a protective role in the body. In fact, it not only stores unhealthy fatty acids, but may also release harmful compounds more slowly than say, abdominal fat.
So if you’ve got back, are you in the clear to eat whatever you want? Not so fast. Even though “back” may offer a protective role, there are other reasons to eat and stay healthy – not only to maintain optimal cholesterol levels, but also to counteract some of the natural effects of declining estrogen, such as weakening bones.
(The study appeared in the January 12 online edition of the International Journal of Obesity.)Read More
I’d love to be writing to tell you that researchers have discovered a bicycle specifically built to boost weight loss. However, better yet, it seems that any bicycle may be able to help you prevent weight gain during the premenopausal years. Moreover, the more you need to lose, the greater the benefits.
For some time now, experts have been telling us that daily exercise, even walking can help stave off weight gain. But is all walking created equal? And what about bicycling, which evidently, only 5% of the population over the age of 16, and mostly women, engage in?
Researchers report that among a pool of over 18,000 women studied between 1989 and 2005 (as part of the ongoing Nurses Health Study):
- Increasing the amount of biking over the study period seemed to hold weight gain to a mininum even if that biking equaled only 5 minutes a day.
- Women with normal weight who biked for more than 4 hours a week by the study weight had about a third lower odds of gaining about 5% of their body weight than women who did not bike at all.
- Women who were considered overweight and obese had about half the odds of gaining weight if they biked for at least 2 to 3 hours a week.
- Brisk walking was much better at holding off weight than slow walking — by about a half pound.
The key take-away points of this study is that exercising is not created equal as we age. In this case, more is less is the rule of thumb, meaning that if you weigh more, you may gain less over time if you start bicycling at least 2 to 3 hours a week. If you are lean and mean, well, biking can still yield some significant benefits when it comes to weight gain.
Biking is definitely built for staving off weight gain. Go for it!Read More