Medications May Drive Postmenopausal Weight Gain

Heidi Splete

July 24, 2020

Use of weight-promoting medications may contribute to postmenopausal abdominal weight gain in women, based on data from more than 76,000 individuals in the Women's Health Initiative.

"Many of the medications prescribed to treat obesity-related comorbidities such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and depression have been linked to weight gain," but the impact of such medications in relation to changes in body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference in postmenopausal women in particular has not been studied, wrote Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, of Harvard Medical School, Boston, and colleagues.

"Postmenopausal women are of significant interest as those who have obesity and normal weight central obesity are at increased risk for conditions such as invasive breast cancer, sleep disturbances, and type 2 diabetes, as well as mortality," they wrote.

In a study published in the journal Menopause, the researchers identified 76,252 postmenopausal women aged 50-79 years and measured body mass index at baseline and after 3 years. Medication use was determined by a medication inventory of pill bottles brought to baseline and year-3 visits.

During a 3-year follow-up period, the average BMI increase was 0.37 kg/m2 in women taking at least one weight-promoting medication, compared with an average increase of 0.27 kg/m2 in women not taking such medications (P = .0045). Weight-promoting medications in the study included antidepressants, beta-blockers, insulin, and/or glucocorticosteroids. The researchers used generalized linear models to assess the impact of these medications on increased BMI and waist circumference.

In addition, the average increase in waist circumference was 1.10 cm in women taking at least one weight-promoting medication, compared with 0.89 cm (P = .0077) for women not on such medications.

"Type of medication, dosage, and race/ethnicity may have important interrelationships," in postmenopausal weight gain, as do individual susceptibility and genetics, the researchers noted. "Options to mitigate the weight gain may include proactive lifestyle modifications, reduction in dose, change to another agent, or discontinuation of the medication altogether. If alternative medications are not an option, lifestyle factors such as diet quality, physical activity level, and sleep quality and duration warrant emphasis."

The study findings were limited by several factors, including a lack of data on indications and underlying health conditions surrounding the prescription of various medications, notably psychotropics and antipsychotics, the researchers wrote.

However, the data "may help to inform clinical decision-making and support increased attention to lifestyle modifications and other strategies" to mitigate the potential for weight gain in a population already at risk for overweight and obesity over time, they concluded.

"Given the obesity epidemic, addressing factors contributing to weight gain in midlife [a time associated with weight gain] women is critical," Stephanie S. Faubion, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., said in an interview. Dr. Faubion said that the study findings were not surprising given the widespread use of known weight-promoting medications by midlife women for such as hypertension, diabetes, and depression.

"Clinicians need to ensure that they prescribe medications that are truly needed and utilize the lowest dose required to achieve treatment goals," Dr. Faubion said. "When possible, alternative therapies that do not cause weight gain should be considered. In addition, patients should be warned of the potential for weight gain, and clinicians should advocate for lifestyle measures aimed at mitigating these effects."

The findings do not encourage the use of alternative therapies for menopausal symptoms per se, added Dr. Faubion, who is also medical director of the North American Menopause Society. "Hormone therapy is not associated with weight gain, and if anything, it is weight favorable and associated with less weight around the midsection. It is the alternative strategies for management of hot flashes that are associated with weight gain, such as antidepressants and gabapentin.

"We need to focus efforts on strategies to prevent weight gain in midlife to avoid the development of conditions that necessitate initiation of many of these weight-promoting medications," Dr. Faubion said.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health and Massachusetts General Hospital Executive Committee on Research, the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose. Dr. Faubion had no financial conflicts to disclose.

SOURCE: Stanford FC et al. Menopause. 2020 Jul 13. doi: 10.1097/GME.0000000000001589.

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