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Menopause and Midlife Weight Gain

Hormonal Changes Linked to Appetite Increase

Pears and Apples continued...

Researchers reported results at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans. Findings from the same group of monkeys also show evidence against the popular belief that nighttime eating is associated with weight gain. The researchers found that monkeys who ingested most of their calories at night were no more likely to gain weight than those who ate more during the day.

Cameron says the idea that eating at night leads to packing on the pounds is an "urban myth" she has seen in countless fitness and women's magazines.

"This does not appear to be based on solid science, but it is a very popular notion," she says.

Monkey Model

Menopause expert Nanette Santoro, MD, says studying primates instead of people allowed the researchers to better control conditions that could influence weight gain. The main disadvantage is that it is not clear if young monkeys with surgically removed ovaries are an appropriate model for human menopause. Santoro directs the division of reproductive endocrinology at New York's Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center.

"There are all kinds of hormonal changes happening in women at the time of menopause that may also have something to do with weight changes," she says. "Insulin resistance changes with age, for example, but in this experimental model the only variable was estrogen."

The researchers are now studying the same group of monkeys to determine whether giving hormone replacement therapy lowers appetite. Studies assessing the impact of menopausal hormone therapy on weight among menopausal women have been mixed, with some showing a protective benefit for hormone therapy and others showing none.

No matter what the studies show, menopausal hormone therapy expert Barbara Sherwin, PhD, says it is clear that taking hormones will not allow middle-aged women to eat like they could in their 20s.

"The only way to maintain weight as we grow older is to eat less and exercise more," she tells WebMD. "If you eat the same number of calories at 55 that you ate at 25 you are guaranteed to gain weight because your body is not burning calories in the same way."

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