Let’s Change How Menopause Changes Us
Menopause is a point in a woman’s life when her period and reproduction naturally end due to aging. Medically, a woman is recognized to have reached menopause when she does not have her period for more than twelve months. On average, this happens at age 51, but it can be years before or years after. Factors such as lifestyle, sickness, medications, and genetics can influence when menopause occurs and its experience.
The Stages of Menopause
Menopause doesn’t just happen overnight. You’ll go through three stages:
Perimenopause is also called the “menopause transition.” During this time, the normal regulation of estrogen and progesterone levels gets disrupted. Perimenopause can begin 8- 10 years before menopause, according to research. Many women experience perimenopause in their 40’s during which time they still have their menstrual cycle and can get pregnant. Perimenopause can also start in your 30’s for various reasons, including those mentioned above, along with oral contraceptives and smoking. Research shows that some of the early warning signs of perimenopause are shorter menstrual cycles, new mid-sleep wakening, increased premenstrual mood swings, onset or hot flashes. As you move through this phase, the decline in estrogen levels can cause these symptoms to become more severe, and other symptoms can emerge. These include night sweats, dry/thinning skin, hair loss, memory issues, anxiety, fatigue, vaginal dryness, low libido, bladder leakage, muscle loss, changes in the vagina, digestive problems, headaches, etc. At the onset of perimenopause, this is a great time to learn to take better care of yourself, cultivate awareness around your symptoms and triggers by tracking them, make diet and lifestyle changes such as reducing stress to make the following stages more comfortable.
When you stop having menstrual periods for one full year, you have reached menopause. Your ovaries stop releasing eggs and cease to produce most estrogen, marking the end of your period and reproduction. Keeping tabs on your period and getting your hormones tested can help you know when you are officially in menopause as you can have months without a period and still get pregnant as you might still have a final egg. It is important to note that perimenopause leads to menopause, and post-menopause begins right after.
Once the period has stopped, then you are in postmenopause for the rest of your life. During this phase, the ovaries stop making estrogen, and progesterone and adrenal glands will take over the production, which are also responsible for producing the stress hormones. As the body adapts to the new estrogen and progesterone levels, this can relieve some menopausal symptoms. However, symptoms can increase; new ones emerge years after menopause, especially when stress is present. During this time, the lower estrogen level increases the risks to other health conditions and challenges, such as osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, and increased weight gain, especially around the abdomen. Managing diet, lifestyle, reducing stress, and staying on top of checkups becomes essential during this period.
Common Menopausal Symptoms
The decline and imbalance in estrogen and progesterone can have a profound effect on your wellbeing as they are responsible for so many functions in the body other than reproduction. Here are some common menopause symptoms you may encounter at any phase of menopause. It is important to note that though these are common, they are not normal as your symptoms are also influenced by your diet, stress, mindset, lifestyle, medication, and environmental toxins.
Hot Flashes/Night Sweats
According to research, hot flashes are the most challenging issue for most women. Hot flashes can occur anytime during the day or night, as in the form of night sweats. A hot flash is a sudden feeling of heat, sometimes accompanied by a flushed face and sweating. It happens when blood vessels near the skin’s surface widen to cool off. Some women also experience a rapid heart rate and chills along with profuse sweating. Research shows that a hot flash can last from 30 seconds to 10 minutes. Lifestyle factors to watch for; stress and anxiety are frequent triggers. Temperature, alcohol, smoking, caffeine, and spicy foods can also trigger a hot flash.
These are often new issues that you didn’t experience previously or to the same degree, such as a missed period, flow longer one month then shorter the next. Or it might be heavier or lighter with more cramping and PMS. As you move towards menopause, your period will be much more infrequent, and symptoms will lessen, but you can still get pregnant during this time. Keeping a tab on your periods during this time can be helpful to identify your diet and lifestyle triggers This will also help you to know when you are officially in menopause.
Bone Loss (Osteoporosis)
Estrogen and progesterone have a role in bone production, particularly estrogen. A decrease in estrogen levels can cause a woman to lose up to 20% of bone density during the 5-7 years following menopause. Factors such as high stress, ethnicity, bone structure, body weight, family history, medications, and other medical conditions may increase your risk.
The hormonal changes can cause many women to gain weight which is often more difficult to lose, particularly around the abdomen, during menopause. Stress can be the main culprit during this time. The stress hormone cortisol slows metabolism, affects blood sugar level, increases fat storage, and promotes cravings for fatty, salty, and sugary foods – that helps to pack on the pounds and keep them there. Lack of exercise, environmental toxins, lack of sleep, and insulin resistance can also impact weight gain and losing weight.
Your moods may be all over the place: you shift from sadness, frustration, and irritability to tears, and then comes a sudden burst of anger. You feel anxious and worried all the time. Reduced hormone levels can affect the brain, especially the areas that control emotions. Estrogen plays a key role in the feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain, serotonin. High stress will make it harder to feel calm, relax or get enough rest to balance your hormones. Managing your thoughts through a mindfulness practice can be helpful as the quality of your thinking can trigger the stress response hormone cortisol. Sleep support, talk therapy, and stabilizing blood sugar through a hormone-friendly diet can help. If you leave these mood issues unaddressed, they could fester and turn into depression or anxiety.
During both perimenopause and menopause, many women have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or both, while also experiencing hot flashes in the middle of the night. Stress can be the major culprit here. Cortisol, the main stress hormone, is part of our sleep-wake cycle. It falls at night, allowing us to relax and sleep and rise in the morning, waking us up with energy for the day. When the adrenals aren’t functioning well, this gets disrupted. You might have higher than normal cortisol at night or early morning, making it harder to fall asleep. When awakened (especially from 2 am- 4 am), it is harder to fall back to sleep. Hot flashes, mood, diet, and exercise can also impact sleep.
The adrenal glands are responsible for estrogen production during menopause. If stress levels are high, it means fewer resources for estrogen production, which can be a factor in lower sex drive. You might not feel the desire to be intimate with your partner or engage in sexual fantasy as you used to. The declining estrogen levels can lower testosterone levels, which affects sexual desire. On top of that, relationship issues, stress, mood swings, and medications can all contribute to diminishing sexual desire. Therapy, vaginal care, and hormonal treatment can help.
Many women find that their ability to focus and concentrate is not what it used to be. You may forget what you plan to do, put things in the wrong place, take longer to perform routine tasks, and feel distracted. Some research found that there is a link between estrogen receptors in the brain and memory issues. Sleep problems and stress may also worsen the symptoms. Support your adrenal, practice relaxation techniques, and do restorative exercises to alleviate these challenges.
Free Self-help Solutions To Take Charge & Transform How You Feel.
Though menopause is a natural life stage, it can be overwhelming and scary as we are often unaware of what we can do to manage how we feel. I remember being in that very place too, which is why I have created some simple tools to help you take charge of how you feel.
Make Lifestyle Changes
Free Guides: Diet, Stress, And Sleep
Lifestyle changes are essential to manage how you feel. My top three recommended lifestyle changes for menopause women are dietary, sleep and stress – download the guides now.