Soaring levels of FSH (Follicular Stimulating Hormone) may explain the phenomenon of weight gain in menopausal women.
Most women from the age of 45, notice the dreaded middle-aged spread. Now results published in The New England Journal of Medicine and Cell Metabolism have revealed the rise in FSH at the time of the menopause may be responsible for the waist-thickening weight gain.
In studies of mice, it was found that blocking FSH increased the calories burned. Abdomen fat was also reduced and physical activity was also boosted.
Dr. Mone Zaidi, a professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, has also noted that soaring levels of FSH also correspond with a loss of bone density.
He created an antibody that blocked FSH in female mice whose ovaries had been removed. They expected this to make the bones of the mice less dense and the bone marrow to fill with fat - as usually happens after the removal of ovaries.
However, when the mice received the antibody the bone marrow did not fill with fat. The mice also lost weight.
The research was then repeated by Dr. Clifford J. Rosen, a bone specialist at Maine Medical Center Research Institute.
Two and a half years later, Dr Rosen confirmed Dr Zaidi’s original findings. It’s worth noting that these results are yet to be reproduced in humans.
White fat versus brown fat
So how can these extraordinary finding be explained?
It’s believed to be connected to the fact that there are two different types of fat in the body, white and brown. Brown fat burns calories and creates heat – it’s more common in children, with smaller deposits found in adults. White fat stores energy. The blocking of the FSH appeared to convert white fate to brown fat.
In other research from the University of Colorado, healthy premenopausal women were given a drug that blocks production of oestrogen and FSH, putting them into a reversible state of menopause.
Within five months, the women’s fat moved to their abdomens, increasing by 11 percent on average. They also burned 50 fewer calories per day.
The effect reversed when the participants stopped taking the drugs. So clearly, blocking both FSH and oestrogen looks unlikely to be a success for women hoping to hold off the pounds. It's more likely that the interplay of the correct balance of oestrogen along with the blocked FSH that could hold the answer to stopping weight gain.
Can I test my FSH levels?
Dr Caje Moniz, Consultant Clinical Biochemist and Head of Biochemistry at King’s College Hospital commented: “The menopause is a result of a loss of ovarian function. When approaching the menopause, periods become irregular, FSH levels increase in an attempt to stimulate the ovaries and overcome the negative inhibition that they normally exert.”
He added: “Measuring FSH in the blood can give an indication of ovarian status and whereas levels fluctuate during normal periods , this fluctuation increases 4-5 fold at the climecteric (a word to describe pre-menopause syndrome ie a period of time when hormone levels are changing as ovarian function declines, but has not ceasued altogether).
Medically, the menopause is regarded as a period of 12 months since periods fail altogether and eventually remain elevated signalling cessation of ovarian function and the menopause.
Dr Moniz says there are laboratory tests to show your FSH levels. “FSH levels increases erratically but progressively through the climactic and remain elevated after the menopause and we have laboratory cut-off points to define this.
“The period of time varies in each person. There are established levels of FSH that can be measured in the blood by the laboratory and a doctor can interpret to advise on menopausal status.
Measure your bone density
If any woman is concerned by the possibility that rising levels of FSH because of the menopause, it’s advised she should consider booking a DEXA bone scan. This gives a highly accurate indication of whether an individual has suffered bone thinning and is at risk of osteoporosis, or has already developed osteoporosis
The DEXA scanners are the ‘Gold Standard’ as recommended by the National Osteoporosis Society (NOS) for bone density measurements. Professor David Reid, one of the UK’s leading experts on DEXA and bone health, gives expert analysis on each scan, providing additional peace of mind.
The time of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop releasing an egg (ovum) on a monthly cycle, and her periods ceaseFull medical glossary