Many women find themselves gaining weight after menopause. It’s very common for women to feel that they’re suddenly putting on fat tissue, especially around the waistline. It makes sense to wonder whether this change in weight is related to the changes in hormones that are also occurring during this time. For example, levels of estrogen drop dramatically during the menopausal transition.
Does estrogen increase appetite, or decrease it? Can menopause cause loss of appetite? Or do women feel hungrier as they go through menopause?
Estrogen and Appetite
It’s well-established that estrogen acts as an appetite suppressant, meaning that higher levels of estrogen cause a person to eat less. Although researchers are still working out all the mechanisms of the association between estrogen and appetite, it’s believed that it works in a few different ways.
- Estradiol (a type of estrogen) acts directly on certain brain regions, and changes how the brain responds to food.
- Estrogen suppresses ghrelin, a hormone that causes people to feel hungry, and promotes the secretion of leptin, a hormone that causes people to feel full.
- Estrogen promotes the function of cholecystokinin, a hormone released in the gut that causes a person to feel full after eating enough.
Researchers are still discovering more ways that estrogen affects appetite, and there may well be more mechanisms by which appetite changes with changing estrogen levels.
Hunger and Menopause
When women go through menopause, their levels of estrogen drop dramatically. This can lead to a variety of symptoms. Because estrogen acts to suppress appetite, many women find that after menopause, their appetite goes up dramatically. There’s an association between low estrogen and constant hunger or increased appetite. This is one reason why women tend to gain weight after menopause. Estrogen also impacts the distribution of fat tissue around the body, causing many women to experience a shift in weight gain from the hips and thighs to the abdomen.
Besides the effects of estrogen on appetite, there are also other reasons why women may gain weight after menopause. Many women have trouble sleeping during the menopausal transition, and lack of sleep is associated with weight gain. In addition, it’s very common to feel anxiety during this time, and many people use food as a way to cope with anxiety. As they age, both men and women tend to lose muscle mass and become less physically active, and even small changes in these factors can lead to major changes in weight over time.
Besides menopause, there are other potential causes of low estrogen in women. Levels of this hormone can be affected by various conditions that affect the ovaries, pituitary gland, or hypothalamus (a part of the brain), including genetic and autoimmune disorders. Any of these could stimulate an increase in appetite due to the reduction of estrogen’s appetite-suppressing effects.
Low Estrogen and Increased Appetite
If you’re experiencing an increase in appetite, then you might want to consider checking your estrogen levels. Women can begin to experience a drop in estrogen levels years before they finally go through menopause. During this transitional period, called perimenopause, levels of estrogen tend to drop, but they do so unpredictably. It can be difficult for women to be sure where they’re at in this process.
To find out whether your estrogen levels are low (or high), you’ll need to get a blood test. You can visit your doctor and ask them to order a lab test, then go to the lab to get your blood drawn. Another option is to order a home test kit, which uses a blood sample that you take yourself using a small fingerprick. You then mail the sample to the lab, and get your results online within a few days. If your results are abnormal, then you’ll have the opportunity to talk with a medical professional to decide what your next steps should be.
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