It is important to recognize that female hormone fluctuation and menopause affect everyone, not just women. It affects everyone connected to us in our lives – family, relations, work colleagues, managers, etc.
As we learn more about hormone changes in life, sharing this information, and educating others is important so that women can feel more supported and understood through this changing period of life.
Not only does learning more about the stages of hormone change help us to understand the changing impact both physiologically and emotionally, but it also helps us to pro-actively manage symptoms, by knowing what we can actively do to manage the impact.
We are also learning more about how it is better to prepare earlier in life for these changing stages.
One critical thing to understand is that hormone fluctuation is normal, and it is important to accept and embrace this change. Once I learned more, my mindset changed and I thought I might as well embrace it and get clued up on what I could do to proactively manage through these stages of life. I felt more empowered with this mindset.
What are hormones?
We would be forgiven for thinking hormones are really annoying because they can cause us a great deal of frustration and upset, but I think they are actually extremely amazing!
They are like chemical emails, travelling in the blood to tell the body to do certain things, like the hormone insulin for example, which is responsible for maintaining normal blood glucose levels, so when we have too much sugar it brings our blood glucose back to homeostasis.
What is going on when hormone levels change?
From around our mid-30s, the major hormones related to menopause start to fluctuate and decline gradually. Given that these hormones have lots of different roles to play in the body, the gradual decline of these hormones can result in the opposite symptoms starting to occur. In essence, the lower the hormone level, the stronger the symptoms.
There are two female sex hormones that are involved in the symptoms of menopause -they are oestrogen and progesterone. We also know that the hormone testosterone, which is of course at much lower levels in women than in men, plays a role and there is more to learn and understand about the role of testosterone in menopause.
What is the role of Oestrogen?
Oestrogen is a growth hormone, responsible for the growth and repair of the lining of the uterus wall. Working in conjunction with progesterone is what enables us to have periods during our menstrual cycle. This is because when oestrogen rises to a high enough level during the month, it causes ovulation where an egg is released (typically on day 14 of the cycle).
Oestrogen also plays an important role in cognitive brain health and function, bone health, and the function of the cardiovascular system, hence why it is connected to menopause symptoms like brain fog, for example, when levels are dropping.
What is the role of Progesterone?
Progesterone is the hormone responsible for maintaining pregnancy after ovulation if conception occurs. Levels rise after day 14, to a peak at day 21 and if conception does not occur then progesterone levels gradually reduce again, and you have a menstrual period. If conception occurs, progesterone levels remain high to support the pregnancy.
What is the role of Testosterone?
The main role of testosterone is to support bone growth and health, support cognitive health and function and maintain sex drive. According to some research (from the Endocrine Society), these levels reduce between the ages of 20 to 40, but it is not abrupt as it is for oestrogen.
Post-menopausal women can experience lower testosterone levels that lead to a decrease in sex drive, and for some women, testosterone patches have been found to improve libido.
As per the NHS website, testosterone is available as a gel that you rub onto skin, but it is not currently licensed for use in women. It can be prescribed by a specialist menopause doctor if they think it will help restore sex drive.
The stages of menopause
There are several stages to menopause, and this is much more widely communicated about thankfully now.
Pre-menopause – the time in life, typically 8-10 years before the menopause symptoms occur, and this is around our early to mid-40s since the average age for menopause is 51.
Peri-menopause – it is usually around the mid-40s and onwards when you start to experience symptoms and are still having periods.
Menopause – this is when you don’t have a period for 12 consecutive months, and menopause is technically 1 day.
Post menopause – the day after the menopause, you are said to be post-menopausal. Once you are postmenopausal, symptoms may continue for an average of four to five years, but they decrease in frequency and intensity as your hormone levels remain at a constant low level.
Symptoms of hormone fluctuation
It’s very important to recognize that symptoms aren’t just physical in nature, and understanding that they are also emotional, is very important when we consider this in the context of women’s well-being, and women’s roles as mothers, wives, partners, colleagues, relations, managers and so on.
Itchy, irritable skin
Emotional and mental
Inability to concentrate
Feeling flat and joyless
Inexplicable rage and mood swings
If you are starting to experience symptoms, start taking note of them. I personally found the Menopause Doctor, Dr Newsom's website extremely helpful - there is a wealth of information available, and a very handy checklist you can use to see how many symptoms you are experiencing. Visit the website or search for the App which is called “Balance”.
13 natural ways to manage menopause symptoms
There are natural ways that you can boost hormones and help to manage symptoms through making lifestyle changes, which include diet/nutrition, exercise, and movement.
You can make these changes early in life, you don’t have to wait. I wish I had made these changes in my thirties 😊
1. Boost your nutrition by including phytoestrogens (phyto meaning plant), which mimic the role of oestrogen in the body. They have been found to help symptoms and lower cancer risk, plus improve bone health. Examples are flax seeds (30 g / day), oats, tempeh, tofu, sunflower seeds, lentils, and walnuts.
2. In conjunction, ensure you are getting Omega-3 in your diet, which is vital for metabolizing oestrogen. It also reduces inflammation in the body and helps support our immune system. Sources are oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, chia seeds, and walnuts. The recommended Omega-3 daily dosage depends on various factors, but the guidance is not to exceed 3 g / day.
3. Maintain a healthy weight and eat lots of fruit and vegetables to make you feel fuller, which helps to avoid snacking or bingeing.
4. Avoiding known hormone fluctuation triggers is also something to consider – they are alcohol, caffeine, spicy, sugary foods, and dairy.
5. Get outdoors as much as possible, and do exercise or movement every day, even if it is walking. This helps give us perspective, and thinking time, and also helps weight management and stress levels too.
6. Cut out all refined and white processed foods, especially sugar – these products are inflammatory for the body and have little or no nutritional value. Also, sharp rises in blood sugar levels can make you feel irritable, which exacerbates menopause symptoms.
7. Vitamin D is crucial for bone health, and the immune system – we can get it from 1 hour of daily sunlight, but if you are covering up you can get it by supplementing, or through sources like oily fish, and eggs, cod liver oil and mushrooms. We should aim for 1000 micrograms / day.
8. Increase your protein levels, as this helps avoid lean muscle mass reduction as we age. Include protein with every meal, including foods like meat, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, and dairy. The recommended daily protein amount is around 45 - 50 g / day for women (nutrition.org.uk).
9. Eat foods rich in calcium, so that bone health is maintained such as green, leafy veggies, like kale and spinach, also tofu, beans, and sardines.
10. Do weight-bearing exercises regularly, ideally 30 mins 3 times per week, to build bone density and maintenance. A gym or PT can guide you with an appropriate program.
11. We need 2-3 litres of still water daily just to enable the body to do what it needs to do. Staying hydrated will also help avoid skin, hair, and lips feeling dry (which is caused by lowering oestrogen levels). Drinking water also helps reduce bloating feelings and makes you feel fuller for longer.
12. Ensure you’re getting enough sleep – aim for 7-9 hours per night, this helps us to cope better with the daily stresses of life and changing hormones.
13. Lower your stress levels through outdoor exercise, meditation, journaling, and relaxing baths. Make sure you get time every day to yourself to help you to cope with the hormone fluctuation.
The decline in female sex hormones starts around the mid-30s typically, as we enter various stages of menopause. This is normal and something to embrace and accept, as a regular part of life. Educating those around us, will help them to support this natural process, and understand better what is going on physically and emotionally. Thankfully there is much more discussion and education around the topic today. There are lots of natural ways to help manage hormone fluctuation, many of which are already associated with building good health and well-being habits anyway. Things like eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, hydrating, getting enough sleep and reducing stress levels. Specific to menopause, and apart from speaking to a GP about HRT, we can do this by boosting phytoestrogens intake in our diet, getting enough omega-3, vitamin A and D, including protein in every meal and making sure we get enough to reach the recommended intake. Embracing this change, and starting these healthy habits sooner, can help make this transition smoother.
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