Traversing the menopause: changes in energy expenditure and body composition

Coron Artery Dis. 1998;9(12):799-803.


The menopause transition is associated with several physiological changes that may impact women's health outcome. Among the changes associated with the loss of ovarian function is an increased risk of metabolic and cardiovascular disease. The present review focuses on changes in energy expenditure, body composition and body fat distribution during the postmenopausal transition. Previous work indicates that the most important component of total daily expenditure, resting metabolic rate, may be reduced by the menopause, independently of the effects of the normal aging process. This effect is mainly attributable to a decrease in fat-free mass. The energy expenditure associated with physical activity is the most variable component of total daily energy expenditure. However, small changes in this component may have a substantial impact on body composition. Longitudinal data from our laboratory indicate that the menopause transition also leads to significant decreases in physical activity energy expenditure. The changes in body composition that accompany the menopause transition have been studied by several groups and, although some studies suggested increases in body mass index or total body fat mass with the menopause, currently available cross-sectional data preclude a firm conclusion. Nevertheless, results from our longitudinal study showed significant increases in fat mass with the menopause. The accumulation of abdominal fat, which may be a better correlate of the comorbidities associated with obesity, has also been shown to be accelerated by the menopause transition. In this regard, it has been shown that treatment with hormone replacement therapy prevents the increase in the rate of abdominal adipose tissue accumulation that was noted with the menopause. Thus, it appears that the loss of ovarian function induces a reduction in resting metabolic rate, physical activity energy expenditure, fat-free mass, and an increase in fat mass and abdominal adipose tissue accumulation. These modifications probably contribute to the increased risk of cardiovascular disease of postmenopausal women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue
  • Aged
  • Body Composition*
  • Body Constitution
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Menopause / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Postmenopause / physiology