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Weight Gain in Older Women may not be only due to High Fat Diet

Update Date: Jan 06, 2013 05:03 AM EST

Most women gain weight as they age and there seems to be nothing they can really do about it. It is frustrating and nothing really works against the phenomenon.

In a new study, researchers have discovered that it may not be a woman's fault that she gains weight as she ages. Scientists say that after menopause, the activity of a particular enzyme known as Aldh1a1 involved in fat production increases, causing the storage of fat around the internal organs, known as visceral fat.

This has strong links with type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

According to researchers from University of Ohio, their study revealed that oestrogen, the female hormone, suppresses the effects of the enzyme but apparently, once levels fall after menopause, it causes weight gain.

The findings of the research may be able to help scientists develop obesity treatment targeting Aldh1a1, specifically for women, researcher Ouliana Ziouzenkova, an assistant professor of human nutrition at Ohio State University, was quoted as saying by Mail Online.

For their study, the researchers surgically removed the ovaries of mice to test if oestrogen could be related to visceral fat production in females. They found that soon after the animals became menopausal and stopped producing estrogen, they began to produce retinoic acid leading to visceral fat formation, the report said.

"Oestrogen was sufficient to protect female mice from both hormonal and, partially, diet-induced obesity," said Dr. Ziouzenkova.

"This means oestrogen is suppressing activation of the obesity-inducing hormone, and as soon as we lose this [it] during menopause, the visceral fat starts to grow."

Also, their study revealed that women had more chances of developing a muffin top than men getting a pot belly due to the different ways in which the enzyme works in the body.

When both male and female mice were fed a high-fat diet, it was seen that females had more Aldh1a1 activity and stored more fat around the abdomen than male mice did.

When the mice were genetically altered to lack the enzyme, females remained lean especially in the abdominal area, in spite of being fed with a high-fat diet.

"If you asked most people what they believe causes obesity, they would probably say high food consumption and a sedentary lifestyle. But we see there are genetic factors telling the body what to do with fat. A high fat diet acts on our genetics to make us more fat or less fat. The diet is not powerful enough to do this on its own," Dr. Ziouzenkova added, according to the report.

The study is published in the January issue of the journal Diabetes.

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