Battle of the midlife bulge: diet+gender=

Posted by on Sep 7, 2012 in aging, diet | 12 comments

I am on a roll! On a roll around my midsection, that is.

Ever wonder why women may be likelier than men to gain fat in their abdominal area, especially as they go through menopause? Yup, we’ve talked lots on Flashfree about estrogen, exercise and even stress and the release of cortisol and how they affect that growing tummy donut. However, researchers are now adding another factor into the mix that may occur especially in women: a high-fat diet. Mind you, this particular study, which is published online in Diabetes journal, was conducted in mice so it’s way too early to comment on how the findings affect actual humans. But what it does imply is that diet might not be the only factor at play and in women, genetics and gender play an equally important role.

Researchers say that when female mice were fed a high fat diet, it triggered the production of an enzyme (called aldehyde dehydrogenase 1) that produce a hormone — retinoic acid — that boosts the formation of fat around the abdomen. Let’s step back; high fat diet leads to enzyme, leads to retinoic acid leads to belly fat. Got it?

Interestingly, not only is this enzyme activated at nine times the level in female versus male mice, but when removed, this domino effect disappears. What’s more? Estrogen can suppress the enzyme so when it starts to decline, women become more prone to developing that midsection bulge.

The culprit here is vitamin A and how the female body processes it. One of the functions of vitamin A is to produce a molecule that supports how the body burns both fat for energy and retinoic acid. Evidently, high fat diets can directly shut down the fat burning molecule and the domino effect begins, resulting in the midlife bulge many of us have come to know so well.

The good news is that on a regular diet, female mice barely produced retinoic acid, meaning the simple solution for women may be to stay away from high fat meals as much as possible.

If you can’t burn it, and you can’t rely on estrogen to keep the fire going (or take it away -ironic, right?!), then take some steps and do it yourself.  D is for diet. F is for female. The endgoal? Do the math.


  1. 9-7-2012

     Liz Scherer this is fascinating. I can relate to the poor female mice. I have never had such a big midsection in my entire life and am not celebrating that fact…thanks for the info. It will be interesting to see if more research is done on this.

    • 9-7-2012

       @allenmireles  Liz Scherer I am going to keep an eye out. These researchers are doing some interesting studies with brown fat too. Thanks for commenting!

  2. 9-7-2012

    I am very frustrated with my body right now, 2 weeks of consuming no more than 1200 calories a day, and I have actually put weight on. My doctor tells me to eat more lean protien at lunch. I am in a fight to the death with my fat cells and to my dismay they are winning.

    • 9-7-2012

       @andrea bona Keep the faith Andrea. Your body needs to adjust metabolically. Meanwhile, step up the exercise and cut out the sugar and bad fats. It’s frustrating. 

  3. 9-7-2012

     @Liz As you know, having suffered POF and starting Menopause in my early 30’s, weight gain has been a huge issue for me.  Great post and thanks for all the posts you make.  Of course, my problem now is that I prefer to sit on the couch with m&ms’ than workout 🙂

    • 9-7-2012

       @jodiontheweb Ha! Maybe the trick is to eat half as many and get up from that damn couch often? 😉

      • 9-7-2012

         @Liz  @jodiontheweb Oh. Well sure. 😉

  4. 9-7-2012

    It’s exhausting. I eat a healthy diet and exercise like a fool and still my midsection is ridiculous. It wears a gal down, I’ll tell ya.

    • 9-7-2012

       @ShellyKramer This research, albeit in mice, gives me hope. It seems that they’re getting closer to the ‘why;’ now we just need to figure out the how!

  5. 9-7-2012

    @Liz, I know, I speed walk about an hour each day and eat really healthy, low fat, very little sugar, wine is my downfall, not a lot of wine, but enough to give the fat cells a reason to go on living.

    • 9-7-2012

       @andrea bona Wine is my downfall too. And it goes straight to the wrong place!

  6. 9-7-2012

    It’s called a beer belly at *my* house. 🙂 

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