The woman’s reproductive system is incredibly complex. Hormones constantly ebb and flow, not on a daily basis but in fact anywhere between every 1 to 12 hours, depending on where you are in your cycle. It is little wonder that many women notice these changes both mentally and physically throughout the cycle.
But what happens when your follicle reserves are diminished and the ovaries no longer function like they did in your 20’s? The smooth flow of hormones falter and external symptoms such as hot flushes, inability to sleep, irritability and irregular periods start to occur. A variety of problems can occur if your hormone levels are either too high or too low. The main hormones affected are the three oestrogens, progesterone and testosterone but also cortisol plays a role in these symptoms.
There are 3 natural Oestrogens in the body. Estradiol E2, Estrone E1, and Estriol E3. While E2 is the most potent, all three play a role in stimulating growth of the productive tissue, ensuring healthy bone mass, increasing levels of neurotransmitters and helping to keep your heart healthy.
As the ovaries release estrogens it is obvious low levels would occur if you have had your ovaries removed, or as you age and production automatically reduces. Symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, sleep problems and vaginal dryness just to name a few.
When levels are too high this is normally due to supplementation of oestrogen or a problem with the liver clearing the oestrogen’s too slowly. If this occurs, it can lead to oestrogen dominance, especially if it is in combination with low levels of progesterone. It is important to get adequate exercise, take natural supplements and Chinese herbs, get acupuncture as well as eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables as these all act as natural inhibitors, which will reduce symptoms. When oestrogen is too high women may have mood swings, irritability, water retention, weight gain and thyroid deficiency as well as overgrowth of the uterine lining or even fibroids.
Progesterone plays a major role in the second half of a woman’s cycle. It is an important hormone in maintaining a pregnancy and for breast development.
Low levels of progesterone are seen in women who do not ovulate or have had their ovaries removed. It can also be seen in women who take contraceptives with synthetic progestins. High levels of progesterone are seen in pregnancy, with excessive supplementation or those with a slow metabolism. High levels of progesterone tend to come with less symptoms. Those that do, can have excessive tiredness, dizziness and bloating.
Testosterone is produced mostly in the ovaries and to a lesser extent in the adrenal glands. It is essential for energy production, memory, maintaining structural tissue such as skin, bone and muscle. In postmenopausal women, levels tend to be low to normal range.
Low levels do come with age, removal of ovaries or from stress hormones such as cortisol, synthetic HRT or medications. If levels are too low, it can cause loss of bone or muscle mass, thinning skin, vaginal dryness, depression and problems with memory.
High levels of testosterone in women can occur when transitioning into menopause. Premenopausal women who have polycystic ovarian syndrome tend to have higher levels with symptoms such as loss of scalp hair but increased body hair, as well as acne or oily skin.
Cortisol is produced in response to stressors. Stressors may be normal stressors like simply waking up in the morning or more irregular stress like emotional upset, work overload, infections, and surgery. Cortisol is normally highest in the morning and reduces throughout the day. We all know the negative impact stress can have on the body but cortisol in normal life is essential to regulate the immune system and reduce inflammation as well as sending glucose to the brain and maintaining normal sugar levels and hormones, particularly the thyroid.
Low levels of cortisol in the body indicate that the level of irregular stresses have now become regular. This puts excess pressure on the adrenals and indicates adrenal exhaustion. Symptoms associated with this include fatigue, allergies, chemical sensitivity, sweet cravings, depression and dizziness. In order to reverse this, the stressors need to be identified and lifestyle changes made.
High levels of cortisol indicate elevated stressors or the use of corticosteroids. If stress becomes chronic and cortisol output remains high over a period of time the body will become immune compromised. Sleep will become disturbed, there will be excessive tiredness, depression and anxiety.
As we age our body makes noticeable changes and hormones play an important role in these. In order to have healthy hormone levels adequate sleep, regular exercise, meditation, acupuncture, Chinese herbs and a healthy diet filled with plenty of fruit and vegetable is essential. Seek help to ensure a smooth transition into menopause.