Women could beat middle age spread during the menopause by having HRT, a study has shown.
It found women using HRT had significantly lower levels of fat around their stomach and waist than those who had never used the therapy.
Researchers believe taking certain hormones suppresses fat cells around the abdomen, as well as boosting metabolism, so helping women to stay slim.
But the scientists found stopping hormone replacement therapy led to a ‘rapid rebound’ in weight – and warned that women planning to come off HRT should increase their exercise levels in preparation.
Lead researcher Dr Georgios Papadakis, of Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland, said weight gain may be prevented by HRT because it involves increasing levels of the hormone oestrogen, which suppresses the growth of fat tissue cells in the abdomen.
Previous studies have also found oestrogen increases the body’s metabolic rate, making women burn fat more efficiently even when resting.
‘Our research revealed that women were less likely to accumulate abdominal fat tissue while they were undergoing menopausal hormone therapy,’ he said. ‘However, the protective effect disappeared quickly after the participants stopped receiving menopausal hormone therapy.’
In the study, researchers surveyed 1,086 post-menopausal women aged 50 to 80 to find out whether they were having or had ever had HRT.
Body scans showed that those undergoing HRT had ‘significantly lower levels’ of fat around their stomachs and waists than women who had not received treatment.
They also tended to have slightly lower overall fat levels and a lower body mass index (BMI).
On average, women using HRT had around 60g less fat on their stomachs than women who had stopped or had never had the therapy. In total, fat made up 34.6 per cent of their body weight on average, compared to 35.9 per cent in women who had never had HRT and 36.2 per cent in women who had stopped it.
And the average BMI of current HRT users was 24.9, compared to 25.6 for previous users and 25.8 for women who had never used it.
The researchers said there was no ‘residual effect’ from the treatment and that women who stopped HRT were just as prone to weight gain as those who had never had it, regardless of the length of the treatment or how long ago they stopped taking it.
Writing in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, the authors of the study – which was part-funded by GlaxoSmithKline – warned that once women stopped HRT they ‘experienced a rapid rebound in fat accumulation’.
Dr Papadakis added: ‘When women stop menopausal hormone therapy, they?...?ideally should increase their physical activity to combat the possibility of weight gain.’ The team also explored whether oestrogen might be stimulating women to do more exercise or eat a healthier diet, but could not prove a significant link.