Women have two key hormones that have important functions throughout our lives: oestrogen and progesterone.
Both of these hormones are produced in the ovaries and when function declines with age, ovulation doesn’t occur regularly which leads to irregular or missed periods. For many women this is the first sign that they are in perimenopause.
Eventually, the ovaries stop ovulating and periods stop completely. This results in lower levels of oestrogen and progesterone production by your ovaries, but oestrogen still continues to be made from the fat cells in the body usually in the belly, abdomen and thighs.
Menopause is generally accepted to be when you have 12 missed periods in a row but when this occurs does vary depending on a number of factors, including your own family history.
Generally, on average, it can stop somewhere around your mid-40s to mid-50s and can last for several years.
While menopause means you won’t have any more periods and can no longer get pregnant, the decrease in hormone production also has several other effects on the body.
While your period may have been changing over the last several years during perimenopause, you don’t technically hit menopause until your monthly period has stopped completely. This means your body stops producing eggs for fertilization.
Without the shedding of an unfertilized egg every month, there’s no more menstruation.
Menopause can also affect other parts of the reproductive system. When you’re no longer going through monthly cycles, you may not have any thickening of cervical mucus toward the middle of your cycle, a symptom that often signifies ovulation.
Overall vaginal dryness and a lack of libido can also occur with menopause, but these don’t have to be permanent as there are several solutions from an over-the-counter lubricant to bioidentical hormones with oestrogen.
The endocrine system includes the hormones responsible for reproduction. These include the hormones related to menopause, oestrogen and progesterone, and the effect their decline has on your system.
Hot flushes are probably the best known and the most talked about effects of menopause and cause feelings of sudden hotness, along with flushed skin and sweating.
They can come on suddenly at any time of day or night and can last just a few seconds or for several minutes at a time.
Lifestyle changes are extremely important in preventing and managing hot flushes and include avoiding caffeine and hot drinks, and tight restrictive clothing.
Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and hypnosis, may help alleviate them too as they can reduce your anxiety levels, and the stress of that can often trigger a flush.
Menopause also causes your body to reserve energy more, which means you won’t burn calories and fat as easily.
This can lead to weight gain and certainly menopausal women are also more prone to gaining weight around their middle at this time due to the increased oestrogen deposits there.
Menopause moodiness is also common: you may feel happy and like yourself one day but then down in the dumps, or even weepy, the next.
You may also experience mood swings that cause irritability lead to depression if it persists, so do speak to your doctor if this is happening to you.
Sleep can also be challenging during menopause due to hot flushes and night sweats as well as an increased number of bathroom visits.
Brain fog, or brain freeze is also more common at menopause and memory also is affected.
Memory loss is certainly more common with age, but it’s unclear whether there’s a strict menopause connection or if another underlying cause may be at play here.
Immune and excretory systems
A drop in oestrogen levels may also lead to bladder leakage and incontinence. You may find you urinate more often or you leak when you laugh, work out, or sneeze.
Frequent urination can also interfere with your sleep.
Hormone balance is the key here: oestrogen exerts a cardioprotective effect on the body and lower levels of of this hormone may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and can affect the body’s cholesterol, which could increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.
However, excess oestrogen is the problem as unbalanced/too much oestrogen increases the risk of blood clots and stroke and does not reduce the risk of heart attack.
Progesterone is the hormone that balances oestrogen and so helps reduce the risk of heart issues and strokes.
Skeletal and muscular systems
Menopause causes your bones to lose their density. This can increase your risk of bone fractures. Menopausal women are also at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.
Again two hormones are involved here: oestrogen is responsible for clearing away old bone but just as crucially progesterone’s essential for building new bone.
Balance is the key because if you are low in progesterone you will not be building new bone to replace old bone being broken down and lost, and so the risk of fracture increases.
A loss of muscle mass during menopause may also occur at a higher rate than before. Your joints may also become stiff and achy.
Regular exercise can help reduce the loss of bone density and muscle mass. It may also reduce symptoms of joint pain.
So clearly Menopause is not just about hot flushes and weight gain, and it can be really helpful to see what areas are being affective for you beyond these two key symptoms.
Keeping your hormones in balance is essential in order to maximise your overall health as well as your Menopause journey.
Do You Have a Hormone Imbalance?