As you approach menopause, you're likely to notice the weight shift from your bottom to your tummy. Even women who eat well and exercise can expect to gain a few pounds around the middle as they age. Here's why it happens and what you can do...
See also: Coping with hot flushes
Why it happens
Your ovaries start to produce less oestrogen as you near menopause, and fat that was once stored on your hips, thighs and bottom (ready to be used for breastfeeding) moves to the abdomen. With the ovaries producing less oestrogen, the body attempts to find the hormone elsewhere. As fat cells produce oestrogen, the body starts converting calories into fat to help boost oestrogen levels.
At the same time, women's testosterone levels drop. Testosterone is needed to convert calories into lean muscle mass. With less muscle to burn calories, our metabolic rate drops.
To make it worse, insulin resistance can occur during the menopausal years. Insulin signals the cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream. If the muscles aren't able to absorb sugar properly, it gets laid down as fat.
Developing extra fat on the stomach is natural as you get older, but if you gain more than five pounds it's likely to go deeper into the abdomen. This deep-stored visceral or "toxic fat" increases inflammation in the body and can contribute to several conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
What you can do
As your metabolism slows down, you need to eat fewer calories than before. To combat the effects of insulin resistance, watch how much sugar you're eating, in the form of sweet treats and simple carbohydrates, and eat more lean protein and vegetables.
As well as cutting back on calories, and sugar and carbs in particular, you need to exercise regularly. A mix of cardio and weight training is best. Work out with weights to increase your muscle mass and eat protein 30 minutes pre- or post-workout, so it's available to be taken up by your muscles.
Spices such as caraway, nutmeg and cloves can help to combat inflammation in your body and improve blood-sugar metabolism. Eating more beta glucan, a water soluble fibre found in things like oats, barley and shitake mushrooms, can also help to stabilise blood-sugar levels.
Three products to help you through the menopause:
Holland & Barrett MenoCool Black Cohosh 30 Tablets, £7.49
Vitabiotics Menopace Plus Tablets, £15.95
Schwabe Pharma MenoMood Tablets, 16.99