Before we dive right in, let's discuss a few things you need to know about fat (yes, fat!) first. It can accumulate as your metabolism slows down with age. It can also result from a poor diet and lack of exercise. But hormone changes in the body can actually lead to belly fat specifically, and we spoke to two endocrinologists about why that is and what might be the cause.
Rocio Salas-Whalen, MD, board-certified endocrinologist at New York Endocrinology, said that belly fat is commonly associated with visceral fat, meaning fat that attaches to the liver, pancreas, and other internal organs. It's not just what you can pinch with your fingers that causes worry, she explained, it's what can accumulate underneath. And your family history may predispose you to belly fat as well as metabolic problems we'll discuss later.
Jaime Knopman, MD, board-certified reproductive endocrinologist at CCRM Fertility, explained that women can be very sensitive to fluctuations of estrogen, progesterone, and other hormones, which will change the way their bodies burn and store fat. And, she said, women tend to store fat in their lower abdomen. In addition, when the stress hormone cortisol is elevated chronically, it can lead to "abdominal or visceral fat," Dr. Salas-Whalen explained, though she noted this goes for overall weight gain, not just belly fat.
But how do you know if this fat is caused by hormones? If you're eating a well-balanced diet and exercising but still gaining weight in that area, this might be a sign that you should contact your doctor, both endocrinologists agreed. Ahead, check out why women of certain ages may develop belly fat due to hormone fluctuations and read more about underlying conditions that could be associated with this buildup. Many of the potential causes, like PCOS and metabolic syndrome, have to do with insulin resistance (which we'll also discuss later).