Medication might be the reason behind postmenopausal weight gain

  • Weight gain in postmenopausal women is a serious issue with various health implications
  • A new study found that certain common medications prescribed for these women could contribute to weight gain
  • Antidepressants, insulin and beta-blockers appear to be the main culprits

Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975 according to the World Health Organisation, and the majority of obese adults are women.

In South Africa, we have one of the highest obesity levels, and StatsSA reported in 2016 that 68% of adult women are overweight or obese, with one in every five South African women diagnosed with severe obesity.

And as women get older, menopause can wreak havoc on their weight. Women's bodies go through various hormonal changes when they hit this inevitable life phase, including affecting their metabolism and weight. 

Younger women tend to experience weight gain in their hips, thighs and buttocks, whereas postmenopausal women tend to increase the weight around their waist, similar to men, which can be more dangerous to health.

This menopausal weight shift can place older women at greater risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

While lifestyle plays a major role, medication could be another factor contributing to the hefty issue. 

READ | Hot-flush mommies 

Medications associated with weight gain

Using data from the Women's Health Initiative – a landmark study on US women's various health issues – researchers investigated if there's a link between weight gain in postmenopausal women and the medication they were taking, publishing their findings in Menopause.

The data was based on 76 252 women that went through menopause between the ages of 50 and 79. Their weight, waist circumference and BMI numbers were collected over a three-year period, including whether they were taking medications like antidepressants, beta-blockers, insulin and steroid hormones – all commonly prescribed medicines for postmenopausal women.

These medications have previously been linked to weight gain, and the study found overweight postmenopausal women were more likely to be on these types of medication.

The study found that antidepressants, beta-blockers and insulin were the main medications associated with weight gain in postmenopausal women.

"Those who took either antidepressants or insulin, or a combination of antidepressants and beta-blockers, were most likely to have a significant increase in BMI compared to nonusers," write the authors.

READ MORE | Why less sex could mean earlier menopause

Need to look closer at alternatives

While many might not be able to do without these medications, co-author Dr Fatima Cody Stanford says that clinicians need to acknowledge the role they might have played in the obesity pandemic.

There's a need to monitor the use of these medications more closely on whether they are indeed benefiting the patient or exacerbating weight-related conditions, in order to avoid over-prescription. 

She also advises that alternative medication with fewer weight-impact associations should be considered instead where possible. 

"What we do know about obesity is that it's a complex, multi-factorial disorder and that several drivers are associated with weight gain," where medication could be one of them.

READ | Pregnancy, breastfeeding may guard against early menopause

Image credit: Getty

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