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Menopause May Trigger Obesity

Study finds drop in hormones leads to weight gain in female monkeys

THURSDAY, Nov. 13, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- New insights about the relationship between menopause and weight gain are offered in a study presented this week at the Society for Neuroscience Meeting in New Orleans.

The study helps demonstrate how female hormones seem to play a major role in the nation's obesity epidemic and may offer new ideas about how to combat obesity.

"In women, it has been demonstrated that major weight increases often occur during menopause, the time in a woman's life in which cyclic ovarian function ends and the ovarian hormones estrogen and progesterone decline," researcher Judy Cameron, of Oregon Health & Science University, says in a prepared statement.

"The goal of this research was to determine whether, and to what extent, the decline in these hormones have an effect on body weight in an effort to better understand and proactively treat obesity," Cameron says.

She and her colleagues studied 47 adult female monkeys. Nineteen of the monkeys had their ovaries surgically removed. That resulted in a decline in estrogen and progesterone levels, much like menopause. The other 28 monkeys were the control group.

"What we witnessed was that the absence of these hormones resulted in a 67 percent jump in food intake and a 5 percent jump in weight in a matter of weeks," Cameron says.

"We would expect weight gain to continue over time. Additionally, we noted an increase of the hormone leptin, which is produced by fat cells and has been shown to play a role in food intake," she says.

The study noted a relationship between the loss of ovaries in the monkeys and a change in metabolism. Cameron and her colleagues plan to do more research in this area to better understand metabolism changes through life related to menopause and other factors.

The study also found evidence that counters the common belief that food intake at night results in weight gain.

"Time and time again we've been told that eating late at night should be avoided because it will cause weight gain. However, there isn't a lot of research to back up this commonly held belief, which may in fact be somewhat of an urban myth," Cameron says.

"In conducting this study, we noted the times that animals ate. Some of the monkeys ate most of their food during the evening and nighttime hours. However, weight gain and the time of day that the animals were feeding had no correlation whatsoever," she adds.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about aging and weight gain.

SOURCE: Oregon Health & Science University, news release, Nov. 12, 2003
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