News - Belly fat and the menopause
During the menopause, there is usually an increase in abdominal or visceral fat (also known as ‘middle-age spread’). Researchers believe that visceral fat behaves like an organ, producing hormones and other substances that impact our health. It is not surprising then, that increases in visceral fat can disrupt the normal balance and functioning of these hormones. Scientists have also shown that visceral fat can actually be thought of as a component of our immune system because it produces immune system chemicals called cytokines, an excess of which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Visceral fat is directly linked with inflammation, an increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol, a decrease in HDL (good) cholesterol and insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that helps carry glucose into the body’s cells and insulin resistance is where the body’s muscle and liver cells become resistant to the effects of insulin, that is, the normal response to a given amount of insulin is reduced. As a result, glucose in the blood rises, increasing the risk of diabetes. In women, visceral fat is also associated with breast cancer and the need for gallbladder surgery. Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine, writing in the peer-reviewed medical journal Annals of Neurology,conducted a recent study that showed that excess visceral fat was also associated with a lower brain volume, a risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Why does visceral fat accumulate during the menopause?
Studies published in the peer-reviewed medical journals Archives of Internal Medicine and Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental suggest that an increase in the levels of free testosterone (testosterone that is not bound to a protein called SHBG), caused by a reduction in the production of oestrogen during the menopause, may be responsible. An increase in free testosterone has also been linked to insulin resistance.