Related Topics: Opinion, World Menopause Month

Why a Bit of Belly Fat is a Good Thing – by guest writer, Virginia Hopkins

For a menopausal woman, a little bit of belly fat is natural, healthy and put there for a purpose, which is to make estrogen.

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Belly fat is the trendy new “no no” for women—everybody’s talking about it. But I beg to differ. For a menopausal woman, a little bit of belly fat is natural, healthy and put there for a purpose, which is to make estrogen. I understand perfectly well how much we would all like to maintain that youthful slim profile, but aging gracefully may well mean that we surrender to some belly fat.

I’m not talking about a flabby fat-laden, carbohydrate-and-high insulin-induced belly that creates multi-layerd muffin tops; or a pregnancy-like bloated constipation belly; or the low pooch of a high cortisol stress-induced belly; I’m talking about the normal roundness of belly that comes with middle age and menopause, that’s nearly impossible to get rid of, even with diet and exercise.

As we approach our 50s, the ovaries wind down their production of progesterone and estrogen, but they keep making androgens (male hormones) well into our 70s. Belly fat converts androgens into estrogen, in both men and women. (Which is why men with a lot of belly fat start to look, well… feminine.)

Although excessive estrogen can predispose women to breast and uterine cancer, the amount created by a little menopausal belly fat is often just enough to maintain good skin tone, keep the brain clicking, create some vaginal lubrication and encourage bone maintenance. It’s the thin menopausal woman with a flat belly who is most likely to have hot flashes, wrinkles, brain fog, vaginal dryness and thinning bones.

The “Blue Zone” episodes on Oprah showcased cultures worldwide with the longest-lived and healthiest populations. These vignettes of rural mountain communities focused primarily on thin, muscular old men who had spent their lives working outside. The old women were there in the background and while their arms were thin and muscled, they were universally thick around the middle.

I did some research on body weight and death rates in older women. Sure enough, it’s well established that once you’re menopausal, falling into the “overweight” category reduces your risk of death. Again, it’s important to make the distinction between overweight and obese. At any age, obesity will increase your risk of dying.

I agree that if you’re 30 or even 40 and have significant belly fat, that’s unhealthy and is probably due to poor diet and lack of exercise. But a bit of a belly in a menopausal woman is undoubtedly a feature of healthy aging.

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Virginia Hopkins worked for many years with Dr John Lee on his books and articles.  Since his death, she has set up Healthwatch whose mission is to educate women and men about the safe use of bioidentical (natural) hormones, and to share helpful, useful and commonsense information about health and nutrition based on solid scientific research. Virginia Hopkins Health Watch Newsletter can be found at her website www.virginiahopkinstestkits.com


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Comments 8
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jr | 4:11 am, October 8th, 2010

this assertion is wrong. estrogen produced in the fat cells of menopausal women does NOT boost brain health. quite the contrary – several studies, including the rotterdam study and the honolulu asian aging men study, showed that elderly adults with the highest levels of estradiol had increased risks of alzheimer’s, vascular, dementia, and hippocampal atrophy. while being overweight after menopause certainly lowers fracture risk (due to estrogen), the increased levels of estrogen from body fat are potentially harmful and raise the risk of breast and uterine cancer, stroke, (probably) heart disease, and cognitive decline. i have yet to see definitive data showing that estrogen itself is responsible for youthful looking skin in elderly women. it’s possible, but currently unproven…..

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wb | 2:31 pm, October 9th, 2010

jr is wrong. WHI results clearly showed that women put on ERT near menopause had lower rates of heart disease. Stroke risk can be eliminated with low-dose ERT, and VTE risk with transdermal ERT. And cancer risk is lowered with progesterone. The benefits of estrogen far outweigh its drawbacks.

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jr | 6:08 am, October 11th, 2010

wb – that is totally false! WHI did not show a statistically significant effect of estrogen alone based on age; the researchers who reported a suggestive trend to benefit said it was inconclusive. also, recent analyses (from feb. ’10) showed that women in their 50s taking estrogen and progestin also had a higher risk of heart disease.

there are no clinical trials on transdermal estrogen and stroke/clotting risks. the same thing applies to bioidenticals and cancer risk. in fact recent studies showed that regular dose estrogen in patch form is RISKIER for stroke than pills. and as for cancer, it is a woman’s own hormones that are the biggest risk factor. as for other problems, only one clinical trial of low dose estradiol in patch form has been done (called ULTRA) and it found the hormone WORSENED women’s memory.

i am struck by the fact that breast cancer trials studying aromatase inhibitors have shown no heart or memory risks from the drugs vs. placebo. yet these drugs knock estrogen down to nearly undetectable levels. don’t believe me, look it up.

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