Monday, June 18, 2012

Healthy body weight before menopause prevents cardiovascular risk

Women who have a healthy body weight going into menopause are less vulnerable to the cardiovascular risk factors associated with the transition, even if they develop a spare tire, according to a study by University of Ottawa researchers.

Medical researchers already know that weight gain, especially in the abdominal area, increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death for women. The study, which followed 102 healthy pre-menopausal women for five years, found that the women who started out with a healthy BMI will go through menopause without increased risk of cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

This was true, even if the researchers observed a significant change on body composition, says Dr. Denis Prud’homme, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa and principal investigator with a research group called MONET, the Montreal-Ottawa CIHR Emerging Team, which was supported from a grant by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

The study, published this week in the medical journal Menopause, followed healthy pre-menopausal women between the ages of 47 and 55. At the beginning of the study, the women had a Body Mass Index (BMI) of between 20 and 29. For example, a woman five-foot-five weighing 121 pounds has a BMI of 20. A woman of the same height who weighs 174 pounds has a BMI of 29, which is considered “overweight.”

The women were evaluated for body composition and cardiac and metabolic changes. Each year, the team monitors the women’s weight, waist circumference, fasting lipids, glucose and insulin levels and body composition — which includes such factors as fat mass, muscle mass and abdominal fat.
The bad news is that there were changes to body composition measurements and visceral abdominal fat in these women, who were not obese to begin with. By the third year of the study, women who were in perimenopause or post-menopause showed a significant increase in “visceral fat.”

These changes can be explained by a decline in estrogen, and changes in food intake and appetite. The good news is that despite the changes in fat distribution and body composition, there were no cardiac or metabolic decline.

There were other benefits to healthy weight. Menopausal symptoms such as night sweats and hot flashes were also diminished. 

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