Menopause marks the end of fertility in women. A normal, natural event that occurs some time after age 45, menopause involves reduced functioning of the ovaries and lower levels of estrogen and progesterone, two hormones involved in reproduction. The change in hormonal activity can produce well-known symptoms such as hot flashes, but menopause also changes energy systems in your body responsible for controlling your appetite and weight. In many cases, women around menopausal age experience an increase in appetite that contributes to the much-maligned middle-aged spread.
You have officially entered menopause when you stop having your period for at least 12 months. Besides ceasing menstruation, you may experience night sweats, insomnia, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, growth of facial hair and vaginal dryness. Weight control is a particular challenge for women who enter menopause because of changes in your metabolism. In addition, your lifestyle may not be as active, yet your appetite may increase. According to the North American Menopause Society, the incidence of metabolism-related illnesses such as diabetes, sleep apnea and thyroid dysfunction rises during menopause.
Menopause and Appetite Hormones
Hormones such as ghrelin, leptin, adiponectin and insulin affect your appetite, particularly ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin comes from your stomach. It increases your sense of hunger and slows down your fat-burning ability and metabolism. Leptin is produced by fat cells while you sleep. They bind to receptors in your brain that tell your brain when you’re satisfied. Leptin has the ability to shut down your appetite and increase your calorie-burning ability. Online research published by the journal “Menopause” in March 2011 found ghrelin and adiponectin increased in menopause, while leptin and insulin decreased in a sample of 200 overweight postmenopausal women. The decrease in leptin was the biggest predictor of weight gain.
Weight Gain and Body Fat
Changes in body fat can also affect your appetite hormones. Research published in the June 2008 “European Journal of Endocrinology” said belly fat in postmenopausal women produced the greatest amounts of change in leptin, ghrelin, adiponectin and insulin. They concluded that minimizing weight gain while you transition into menopause may facilitate appetite control and weight maintenance.
Stage of Menopause
Your appetite level may change based on your particular stage of menopause, according to a study published in the February 2009 “Maturitas.” Studying women in pre-, peri- and postmenopause, the authors found the highest levels of ghrelin came during perimenopause, occurring about three to five years before your periods stop. Premenopausal women had the most leptin, unless they were obese.
Loss of Appetite
After menopause, leptin levels tend to decrease and some women also experience a ghrelin decrease. In women of healthy weight, this can slightly dampen appetite, according to the “Maturitas” researchers. Generally, loss of appetite is rare among menopausal women. When it does occur, it may be related to depression, stress and anxiety about life changes, role shifts and aging. If you lose your appetite, tell your doctor.
- “Menopause”; Ghrelin, Leptin, Adiponectin, and Insulin Levels and Concurrent and Future Weight Change in Overweight, Postmenopausal Women; Amy C. Soni et al.; epub March 29, 2011
- MedlinePlus: Menopause
- "Maturitas"; Change in Adipocytokines and Ghrelin with Menopause; MaryFran R. Sowers et al.; February 2008