Mayo Clinic Study on Low Estrogen and Weight Gain Unclear
That’s certainly my opinion. The Internet is abuzz with news about a recently released study co-authored by a physician at The Mayo Clinic, which says that low estrogen is the cause of weight gain in menopausal women.
The actual study is entitled, “Adipocyte Fatty Acid Storage Factors Enhance Subcutaneous Fat Storage in Postmenopausal Women” and has been published in several journals. Most recently The Diabetes Journal.
It caught my attention because what is being reported totally contradicts everything I have read on what causes weight gain in perimenopause and menopause, which is estrogen dominance, rather than low estrogen.
I was bothered enough by this contradiction that I decided to hunt down the actual study and read it for myself. After a bit of academic sleuthing, I was able to download a copy from my university research site which I have access to as a graduate student.
As I expected, it is dry and technical, and certainly not easy to read for the layperson. However, the abstract provides adequate information, in my view, to conclude that the researchers are not saying that “low estrogen levels cause weight gain in perimenopause and menopause.”
What the study actually says, and I’m quoting verbatim is, “Estrogen has remarkable effects on body fat distribution, and the decrease in sex hormone production after menopause is associated with increased total body fat, especially in the central/abdominal region. Hormone replacement therapy in early menopause may mitigate these changes in body composition and may decrease central adiposity. Despite the strong evidence that female sex steroids have a major influence on total body fat and body fat distribution, the cellular mechanisms mediating these effects are unknown.”
Okay, so as one who pays close attention to language and verbiage used to communicate, here’s my takeaway: It’s not conclusive.
First, the study does not state conclusively and specifically that low estrogen levels cause the initial weight gain, which begins for most women during the perimenopause years. This study looks at menopausal and post-menopausal women. There is a huge difference hormonally between the perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause years.
Second, it states that “estrogen has a remarkable effect on body fat distribution” and that the “increased total body fat” is noted post-menopause. Furthermore, they are also stating that the actual “cellular mechanisms which mediate these effects are unknown.”
So essentially, the study is saying that during the post-menopause years, when women have already gained weight, that low estrogen levels have a “remarkable effect” on the actual distribution of the fat. It does say that there is an increase of fat during those years, but it does not address what causes the initial weight gain in the first place.
I do not wish to add to the cacophony of confusion that exists surrounding menopause health issues for women by challenging what is being reported about this study. However, to me, and I suspect to many of you as well, it is of the utmost importance that we have an understanding of what is actually being said, before information is relayed at the speed of light around the Internet. If you wish to read the actual study for yourself, I have uploaded a copy of the PDF to this site here. The link is good for 30 days from the date of this blog post. After that, it is deleted from the site. The article is for personal use only.
Magnolia Miller is a certified healthcare consumer advocate in women's health and a women's freelance health writer and blogger at The Perimenopause Blog.