Hormonal changes during menopause are well-known for causing hot flashes, mood swings and loss of libido. But another frequent side effect is weight gain, in particular extra pounds added around your midsection. You may be tempted to turn to weight loss pills to help, although clinical evidence is mixed regarding how effective they are, and there may also be potentially serious side effects.
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The Mayo Clinic Online defines menopause as occurring when you’ve gone for 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period, although the hormones progesterone and estrogen begin to fluctuate for months -- even years -- before that time. The reduction in hormone levels due to menopause, combined with the decline of muscle mass as you age, means you will be more prone to weight gain, and your body composition includes less muscle and more fat.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the percentage of women aged 50 to 79 who are obese increased by nearly 50 percent in the 1990s, with the Institute for Women’s Health Research at Northwestern University adding that about 30 percent of women aged 50 to 59 can be classified as obese. Menopausal weight gain can lead to a greater risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, with research indicating that gaining as little as 4.4 lb. during menopause increases your risk of breast cancer by 30 percent, according to the Mayo Clinic Online.
The Mayo Clinic lists a number of over-the-counter weight loss pills, but adds that dietary supplements and weight-loss aids aren't subject to the same rigorous standards as prescription drugs by the Food and Drug Administration and can be sold with limited proof of effectiveness or safety. One of the most recent to come on the market, in 2007, is Alli, a reduced-strength version of the obesity prescription medication orlistat, which works by decreasing absorption of fat in your intestinal tract. Other OTC supplements include bitter orange, chitosan, chromium, conjugated lineoleic acid, country mallow, ephedra, green tea extract, guar gum and hoodia. Prescription obesity drugs are generally only used for obese patients when your body mass index is greater than 30, and include diethylpropion, phentermine, orlistat and hormone replacement therapy.
According to a seven-year study of more than 36,000 women of ages 50 to 79 enrolled in the Women's Health Initiative and published in May 2007 in the “Archives of Internal Medicine,” one of the more effective and safest weight-loss supplements may be a combination of calcium and vitamin D. The study researchers discovered that women who took 1,000 mg of calcium plus 400 international units of vitamin D daily gained less weight and were more likely to stay within approximately 2 lb of their initial weight, pre-menopause.
Hormone replacement therapy is now only used in rare cases, due to an increased risk for blood clots, stroke, heart disease and cancer of the ovaries and breast, as was discovered during the Women's Health Initiative. Sibutramine was approved in 1997 for weight loss but was removed from the market in 2010 when studies showed an increase in the risk of non-fatal heart attacks and strokes. The FDA is also currently reviewing the safety of orlistat due to concerns of serious liver injury. Many weight-loss pills contain multiple ingredients like herbs, vitamins, minerals, caffeine or laxatives that may cause problems on their own or interact with other medications you’re taking. The Mayo Clinic Online recommends talking with your doctor before taking any weight-loss pill, even over-the-counter products.