Something different happens with a woman’s body when she reaches the age of 45 and beyond. Some of the women I have worked with tell me that they feel as though their body has suddenly taken on a mind of its own.
Menopause is a period of a woman’s life that should not be seen as a “disease” and is a perfectly healthy and natural process that should be welcomed and enjoyed. But for some women, I commonly hear a number of concerns…
- Where did this weight come from?
- Where did my hair go?
- (Where did this other hair come from?)
- Why am I burning up in the middle of the night when it’s 30 degrees outside?
- I haven’t had acne since I was in my 20’s!
- Geez, my youngest just left for college, and now instead of more energy, I seem to have less energy.
- I simply can’t sleep through the night anymore. If I’m not having a hot flash, I’m running to the bathroom or waking up as wired as can be.
- Is hormone replacement right for me?
A woman’s forties can be full of new surprises.
The whirlwind of your 20’s and 30’s seemed to have blurred on by. The kids might have finally moved out and you may be left with an open house, a husband who hasn’t cleaned the garage since 2001, and some aspirations you would like to start pursuing again.
Sometimes, the mind says one thing, and the body says “Whoa, wait just a minute.”
Going through menopause is a natural part of a woman’s life, and although there will be some hills and valleys, it doesn’t have to be a rollercoaster ride.
What is Menopause?
Menopause is characterized by a steady drop in your production of progesterone and estrogen that begins as early as your late thirties and as late as your mid-fifties. This is followed by your menstrual cycle slowly coming to a complete stop usually by the age of 55 years.
Once your menstrual cycle has completely stopped for a full year, a women is considered to be fully through menopause.
The symptoms are wide and vary at differing intensities – and it’s important to note that many women will progress through menopause without any problems. While menopause is shared by all women, the experience tends to be rather unique.
Menopausal symptoms may include:
- Vaginal dryness
- Night Sweats
- Loss of Urinary Control
- Skin Flushing
- Hair loss/thinning
- Unwanted hair growth
- Pounding heartbeat
- Loss of Libido
- Irregular Menstrual Cycles
- Achy Joints and Muscles
- Mood Swings
- Bone Loss
- Weight gain
Why Are My Menopausal Symptoms So Severe?
Some women experience particularly severe symptoms when they go through their peri-menopausal years.
This can be due to a more dramatic drop in hormones, but in my experience, the biggest culprit is STRESS.
Stress hormones and sex hormones share a common thread.
The raw materials that make your stress hormones, just happen to be the same precursors to your sex hormones. The body treats its functions like a hospital triage unit, and stress (physical, chemical, & emotional) is treated as its number one concern, at the expense of the production of other hormones.
So women can experience hormonal problems well before they hit their peri-menopausal years; unfortunately, when menopause comes, the symptoms may hit even harder.
When the ovaries stop or slow the production of female hormones, the stress glands are the only source of hormone raw materials. Except the stress glands are already taxed and have no raw materials left to produce your female hormones effectively.
When you are stressed out, the body’s primary concern is to produce a hormone called cortisol. When you produce large amounts of cortisol, you naturally “steal” production from progesterone, estrogen and testosterone.
A STEEP decline in production of estrogen and progesterone, and ultimately more severe menopausal symptoms that make you want to pull your hair out faster than it may already thinning out on its own.
So if your stress glands were already being overworked from Life, during menopause they just can’t keep up with all of their responsibilities – the result is a hormonal rollercoaster ride as your ovaries slowly stop producing estrogen and progesterone and the adrenal glands become the only source of sex hormone production. If they’re already busy pumping out lots of cortisol, or tired from years of doing so, hormone symptoms can be experienced.
Chronic stress will cause constant spikes in cortisol that eventually deplete you of raw materials that are also necessary for the healthy production of your sex hormones. Women who are chronically stressed report less interest in sex, as well as more tiredness (likewise men who are chronically stressed will also experience lapses in sexual performance, energy, and vigor).
The result for women is that unnecessary stress adds a multiplier effect on all of the menopausal symptoms listed above.
You lose bone at a faster rate, your hot flashes become more frequent and severe, your hair loss feels more pronounced, sleep loss more severe, and your mood swings may just send your husband retreating out of the house to finally clean that messy garage (a rare side benefit to the process).
Meanwhile, this is the same exact time that you may be trying to go back to school, advance your career, or start back on a steady diet and workout regimen.
The Triple-Whammy of Menopause:
1.) You want to continue living an active healthy life
2.) You feel less able to do so
3.) Attempts to “push through it” and do it all anyway, may make it all even worse.e.
If you share your struggle with a functional medicine provider, we can try and find out where to successfully break the cycle at its roots naturally.
Most commonly, stress is the first place we start.
Hormonal Imbalances and Stress
When I see women presenting with symptoms associated with hormonal imbalance, my first thoughts immediately consider stress as a primary cause.
I feel that some women may be too quick to blame the new symptoms on menopause when stress could actually be the factor that’s underlying the symptoms.
This is good news for you.
“Stress” gives you something we can control despite the feeling that your body might not be on the same page with you anymore.
Using special functional testing to measure hormones like cortisol, estrogen, testosterone, progesterone and other stress-related hormones, your functional nutrition provider may help you ease your transition to menopause safely without the use of artificial hormone creams, and pills or injections.
Conventional and trendy treatments such as hormone replacement may help you feel better, but sometimes seem to do more harm than good over the long run.
When women learn of the risks of these conventional treatments, they often sit back and do nothing instead, fearful of the long-term ramifications of their decisions.
A functional nutrition professional can recommend lifestyle strategies as well as natural herbs and vitamins to coax a much more natural hormone response throughout menopause – without the steep peaks and valleys; and, they can specifically tailor that program to your unique needs.
So while you cannot choose when menopausal symptoms begin, you can control when you seek alternative solutions if symptoms become more severe.