Fat cell metabolism may change during menopause

October 1, 2002 in Menopause, Weight Management

Fat cell metabolism may change during menopause

Women who see the pounds creep on as they get older may be happy to know that the weight gain isn't entirely their fault. Maryland researchers report that during menopause, fat metabolism appears to change and women are more likely to store (and less likely to get rid of) body fat.

Researchers from the University of Maryland in Baltimore, extracted fat tissue from the abdomen and buttocks of 24 women of similar weight and body mass index (BMI). BMI is a measure of weight and height used to gauge obesity. Twelve women were postmenopausal and 12 were in perimenopause, the several years before and the one-year following the final menstrual period. Women in perimenopause often have irregular menstrual cycles, decreased ovarian function, hormonal changes and fat redistribution.

The researchers found that an enzyme that breaks down fat into its separate components for uptake by fat cells [called adipose tissue lipoprotein lipase (AT-LPL)] was more active in postmenopausal women compared with perimenopausal women. The study also showed that postmenopausal women had reduced lipolysis, the process by which stored fat is released from fat cells. In the buttocks, the amount of lipolysis was cut by 75% in postmenopausal women compared with perimenopausal women. The lower fat breakdown and higher AT-LPL activity in postmenopausal women may predispose them to gain body fat after menopause.

It is not clear why fat cell metabolism changes at that time, though a number of possible explanations exist. Hormonal changes during menopause, particularly lower levels of estrogen produced by the ovaries, and factors secreted by the fat cells may also affect LPL activity, and the amount secreted may differ. Despite these seemingly unavoidable changes, experts recommend diet and regular exercise to try to prevent weight gain as women age.

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