Researchers examine why menopause causes weight gain

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — Menopause is just a reality for women in their 40s and 50s. But now local researchers are learning more about the effects they are feeling. A study from the University at Buffalo takes a closer look at why women gain weight during menopause.

Senior Reporter Eileen Buckley spoke with the Senior Researcher about why their work is so important to women.

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Heather Ochs-Balcom, associate professor, UB School of Public Health.

“All of these changes in body composition occur at this critical stage in a woman’s life,” said Heather Ochs-Balcom, associate professor in UB’s School of Public Health.

This critical period called menopause marks the end of the childbearing years. And for many women, this can be accompanied by weight gain.

UB is teaming up with the University of Arizona to figure out why.

“There is a hormone called follicle-stimulating hormone that begins to rise in the years before estrogen drops precipitously,” Ochs-Balcom explained.

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Heather Ochs-Balcom, associate professor, UB School of Public Health.

Over the next five years, a $3.8 million grant from the National Cancer Institute will allow researchers to explore why the hormone makes women fatter, particularly in the stomach area, and how the Obesity creates a risk of breast cancer after menopause.

“What we’re basically doing is digging deeper into how hormones drive weight gain, especially abdominal weight gain,” Ochs-Balcom said.

UB will tap into local women who have already been involved for the past 25 years in the Women’s Health Initiative.

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Women’s Health Initiative at UB.

On UB’s South Campus on Main Street in Buffalo, inside a lab, there are freezers where human samples are stored that will be used in this research.

“We’re able to track women’s body composition over a 20-year period, and we have their serum samples at different times during that follow-up,” Ochs-Balcom noted.

The UB researchers placed samples in a straw-like system that is stored in tanks of liquid nitrogen.

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Examine the women’s research rooms at UB.

UB’s South Campus also houses an area where women enrolled in the health initiative undergo a body scan.

“Women are measured on this machine and we have a better method of calculating their abdominal obesity, so we’re not just looking at BMI, are we? – the best way is to try to divide abdominal fat in subcutaneous and visceral,” Ochs-Balcom replied.

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UB’s South Campus houses a Women’s Research Lab.

The UB researcher says a study has already found that if you block this hormone in mice, they will gain fat.

“If indeed we find that this hormone is causing this weight gain, there are therapies that could block this hormone,” Ochs-Balcom described.

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