hormones and the menopause

The dance of the hormones and your health starts at puberty and we continue the cycle ( if we are lucky 😊or unlucky depending on the waltz or jig we get !)right through to our early 40s when life begins to change .

The perimenopause can start with symptoms of fatigue , heavier periods , worsening PMT, libido issues , weight gain and other symptoms linked mainly to the drop in progesterone in relation to oestrogen and more “oestrogen dominance “. 

Later the periods become irregular or stop. The menopause is defined as having had no periods for over a year

 The menopause signifies the “change” when the hormones disappear and the post menopause any time after. Coming through the menopause is a confusing term  as it implies you get over it ! really you don’t come through the menopause as hormones don’t return and for some the menopause symptoms persist ( although many women continue to suffer and blame age ( we only age because of our hormones )/Are diagnosed with depression / just get on with it living with symptoms and underperforming / struggling ) . 

 

 

Symptoms of the menopause


  • Fatigue & Exhaustion

Fatigue - the feeling of complete exhaustion or a total lack of energy is a common problem during the menopause.

Usually due to extremely low levels of oestrogen.

  • Increased Stress

The stress hormones allow your body to cope with day to day stress.

Alterations in the ratio of progesterone to oestrogen can cause this intricate balancing act to go off kilter leaving your body more susceptible to increased stress. As well as it being a time of increased stress for most women -family pressures, work life imbalance , etc 

  • Weight Gain

During the menopause abdominal fat usually increases - commonly known as 'middle age spread'. Initially down to oestrogen dominance and cortisol and laterly because of lack of hormones affecting metabolism . Thyroid is often affected by the change in hormones also .

  • Mood Swings/Depression

Many women experience mood swings and irritability during the transition to menopause, some more extreme than others.

This is exacerbated by stressful situations and disrupted sleep.

  • Brain Fog

Forgetfulness, brain fog, loss of concentration, lack of clarity are common symptoms of menopause.

Low levels of oestrogen can be the culprit for poor sleep and mood, which are associated with a lack of clarity with thinking and memory problems.

 

Other symptoms include low libido , vaginal dryness, skin changes and ageing  , sleep disturbance to name but a few . 





 

What are Hormones? 



They essentially act as a communication system, dictating how we feel, think, eat, move, metabolise, digest, sleep and function. They are part of the endocrine system of the body.

 

The endocrine system - how hormones work


Hormones are made in the endocrine glands and travel around in our blood.

Some hormones are general and act on nearly every cell, like the those produced by the thyroid gland, while others have very specific roles .

 


What Your Hormones Do


  • Control your heartbeat, breathing & blood pressure

  • Control your sleep cycle

  • Control your hunger, metabolism & growth

  • Determine your masculine & feminine traits & reproductive function

  • Build bone, repair skin & muscle

  • Regulate fat stores

  • Control your energy levels, mood & stress resilience

  • Regulate brain activity - thinking, memory, focus & mood

  • Control blood sugar levels & stimulate your immune system

  • Lessen pain & make you feel happy



 Hormone Balance

Ways to assist hormone balance and help symptoms include

 

  • Nutrition & Supplements

Avoid Refined carbohydrates (sugary foods)

blood sugar imbalance can promote insulin resistance, leading to fat storage and increased risk of diabetes.

Trans fats (found in many processed foods) can promote inflammation and oxidative stress, which can increase cortisol and suppress thyroid and sex hormones.

  • Detoxification

The liver is our main detoxifying organ - if it is overloaded with toxins like alcohol, drugs, caffeine and chemicals in foods it may not be able to cope with the demand.

Oestrogen has to be metabolised by the liver and excreted in bile.

If the liver is not functioning efficiently oestrogen levels in the blood may remain relatively high which can lead to hormone imbalances.

  • Stress & Sleep

Prolonged stress can lead to an excess of stress hormones and constantly fluctuating blood sugar levels which disrupt the function of the adrenal glands and may result in insulin resistance, poor thyroid function, weight gain, poor digestion and sleep problems.

  • Genetics & Epigenetic's

Your genetic make-up may predispose you to certain hormonally related conditions such as early menopause or low thyroid function; however, epigenetics can turn genes on or off affecting hormone balance. The comparison of your genes being a loaded gun and the environment pulling the trigger shows that despite our genes , the environment has a massive influence on how they actually are effected .

Environment includes our thoughts and feelings and emotional environment , stress etc , as well as the physical environment food, toxins , sleep exercises etc. Environmental factors can influence the expression of your genes - epigenetics .

  • Medication

Prescribed medications such as HRT can have a positive effect on hormone balance but aren't necessarily right for everyone.

Bio-identical hormones sourced from plant substances may have a gentler effect on hormone balance with fewer side effects.


 


 

Keys of Hormone Balance




 

  • Nutrition

High quality, nutrient dense food is important . Quality lean protein and good fats , lots of vegetables and fruits. Balancing sugars and insulin levels are vitally important at this time .




avoiding alcohol, caffeine, trans fats, sugar, salty and highly processed foods is key to good nutrition.



 

  • Detoxification


Through the liver kidneys and colon . Keeping the detoxification systems healthy with good food, fibre rich diet plenty of water and supplementation  where needed .

 

  • Stress & Sleep



high levels of stress result in increase in cortisol and other stress hormones produced by the adrenal glands. In the long term, these can have detrimental effects on your body and increase the risk of many chronic health problems.


Whilst you are sleeping your body carries out essential repairs using the main repair hormone, a steroid hormone called DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone).

These repairs are most effective during deep restorative sleep which is also enhanced by DHEA.


Stressed people have difficulty sleeping and the subsequent lack of sleep means that DHEA cannot carry out its repairs.

 The key is look at rebalancing hormones ,improving sleep and strategies to reduce stress.

 


 

The main hormones of the menopause


 

The Five Main Hormones


 

#1. Cortisol - your stress hormone

Cortisol is a major player when it comes to helping your body cope with stress.

Working closely beside it is oestrogen, which plays a key role in managing cortisol to ensure it stays within normal levels.


For a woman, ageing signals a decline in oestrogen production whilst cortisol levels increase, which means your body's control of cortisol is less effective, leaving you feeling more easily stressed.

Long term stress places an enormous burden on the body depleting valuable nutrient reserves.


Chronically raised cortisol levels have been linked to depressed mood symptoms and are responsible for fat being stored around the middle leading to the 'spare tyre' that often is associated with middle age.

 

#2. Thyroid - your metabolism hormone

Your thyroid is an important gland affecting the metabolism of every cell in your body.

The hormones released from your thyroid play an important role in your blood glucose levels, body temperature, heart rate, growth and development as well as your nervous system activity.


Any deficiencies or excesses in thyroid hormones will have a significant effect on your body resulting in a large number of signs and symptoms.


Hypothyroid (low thyroid) function is more common amongst women and can lead to lethargy, fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, low mood, constipation, poor memory and concentration.

Keeping your thyroid healthy is dependent on a good supply of certain nutrients vital for producing thyroid hormones. Proper and appropriate testing and looking at diet and nutrition and checking for auto immunity ( and in some cases looking at gut health ) is necessary .

 

#3. Insulin - your blood sugar regulator

Insulin is released from your pancreas in response to raised blood sugar levels - it works in tandem with cortisol to maintain blood sugar levels at the right balance.

Cortisol ensures there is sufficient glucose in the blood, while insulin unlocks the cell membranes to push glucose into the cells as a source of energy.


Lack of exercise and a poor diet high in sugar can create a see-saw effect between these two hormones leading to sugar cravings, irritability, low mood and fatigue.

This kind of hormone imbalance can also result in insulin resistance, a major risk factor for obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

 

#4. Oestrogen - your main sex hormone

Oestrogen is the primary female sex hormone which functions to promote growth and reproduction.

It works closely in the body with progesterone, which helps to balance and control the activities of oestrogen.


Up to and during the menopause oestrogen levels decline as the ovaries gradually stop functioning.

Low levels of oestrogen can create an imbalance in hormones that increase the risk of osteoporosis, heart disease and uncomfortable symptoms such as hot flushes, poor sleep, low mood, vaginal dryness, bladder issues and night sweats.

 

#5. DHEA - your repair hormone

DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is an endogenous steroid hormone and also acts as a precursor to both male and female sex hormones - it is produced by the adrenal glands and used by your body to make steroid hormones such as oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone.

It has an antagonistic influence on cortisol limiting many of its detrimental effects, thereby reducing stress, improving sleep, immune function, cardiovascular health, energy, weight, mood and mental clarity.


DHEA production is at its highest in your 20s but declines steadily with age.

Maintaining the correct balance between DHEA and cortisol is essential for optimal health.


A good diet and healthy lifestyle contribute to the amount of DHEA your body can generate in a given time period.

 

Two other big hormone players are progesterone ( the happy hormone ) and testosterone ( yes women need testosterone too !) 

 

To look at this properly and completely aside from replacing any hormone deficiency we need to Address : 

 

stress  

sleep

diet  

exercise  

lifestyle 

 

checking the hormone levels and rebalancing them with some bioidentical hormone replacement therapy can be life Changing . 

 

As women throughout life we have a continual cycle of hormones creating a cycle of dancing hormones . Once the dance ends it’s not game over .  

 

you don’t have to suffer in silence .  

 

By addressing these issues and giving back some hormones in the right quantities ( which differs from woman to woman ) - lives and more important quality of lives can be changed. 

Getting this right will mean for the first time in many women’s lives they will have balance ie . They have a Level playing field of hormones . And that means they feel pretty darn amazing !!! So the old adage that life begins at 40 can be true , in more ways than one. 

Elaine McQuade