Menopause and Hormones…what can you do to help?

Our hormones are impacted by our age, diet, environment and our lifestyle choices.  They support all of our physiological processes, and are produced by highly specialized glands, especially the pituitary gland, found within our endocrine system.  This gland alone is responsible for sending messages to other glands that take care of our reproductive organs, our growth and metabolism. 

I am not a western medicine professional, but a health researcher, educator and professional acupuncturist, so the information I present in this blog post is meant to be informative not diagnostic in nature.  Some of what I may talk about is also born from my own personal experience into this next journey of life.

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So we know that a change in hormone production can cause unpleasant side affects to our everyday life such as sweaty hot flashes and poor memory, but it also can lead to weight gain, affect the health of our bones and our ability to sleep well.

Let's talk about our hormones

Estrogen (which is the primary female hormone) is responsible for our growth, reproduction, bone health and maintaining vaginal moisture. For most women estrogen declines as we head into our menopause years, but often irregularly, leaving behind dryness, fatigue, sudden hotflashes and insomnia – the not so fun part of menopause.

Another affect of low estrogen levels is its influence on our normal bone turnover cycle. Our bones are a complex collection of tissue that consist of a matrix of proteins and minerals that give it the flexibility and strength and research has shown that Estrogen is one of the major hormones needed to keep this matrix strong and regenerating. The weakening of our bones (due to the reduction of estrogen) can lead to the condition called Osteoporosis (porous bone). 

The decrease in estrogen and progesterone (another reproductive hormone) can lead to what many women call “brain fog” or forgetfulness.  Our brain actually picks up on the fact that these hormones are no longer being made in the same capacity and this can disrupt our body’s ability to then produce the mood regulating chemicals (seratonin & dopamine) that keep us calm and happy.  Ever wonder why you might feel a bit more moody, emotional or depressed as your period starts to disappear? (Traditional Chinese medicine would say that we are blood deficient and blood is not nourishing our brain and our spirit – more to come about that later).

How does sleep get affected by our change in hormones and what can you do to help?

A few months ago I wrote an article about insomnia and its connection to menopause…if you didn’t get a chance to read it check it out here!

Bioidentical hormones, what the heck is it?

For those of you who have not gone down this road with your doctor, bioidentical hormones are one answer for many women who struggle with their menopausal symptoms due to a change in hormone production.  Dr. Christiane Northrup talks about bioidentical hormones here.

What hormones are often connected to weight gain as we get older?

Two predominant hormones created by the endocrine system is Cortisol and Insulin and these two hormones are often seen as the bad guys when it comes to weight gain, especially around the waistline.

  • Cortisol is called the “stress”hormone, so it ramps up when we are under stress and is often a contributor to us overeating food that isn’t all that good for us.  According to a Harvard study, Dr. Alice Domar found that reducing our stress levels can help reduce some of these more emotional moments that might come up as we go through menopause and offers some great suggestions that can help to reduce stress during menopause!
  • Insulin deals with sugar in our body, providing us with valuable energy, repairing, healing and supporting our muscles.  Too much of this hormone can lead to sweating, poor concentration, fatigue, anxiety and fogginess. High sugar foods and alcohol can peak our insulin levels. When levels are too high for a long time other glands stop responding to it as it did before.

What steps can you take to help improve your health and wellness and maybe reduce those nagging symptoms?

  1. Add resistance exercises to your workouts – exercise has been shown to reduce menopausal symptoms. Aim for 4-5xs/week
  2. Work on reducing your exposure to undue stress – try some meditation to help
  3. Make sure your meals are well balanced, especially with green leafy vegetables that are chocked full of vitamins and minerals
  4. Keep your bedroom cool and wear light clothing to bed (or go without any)
  5. Avoid or reduce drinking alcohol, too much coffee and eating spicy food – these all can create heat in the body and exacerbate hot flashes
  6. Talk to your doctor or health practitioner about ways to support your body
  7. Find the time for your own self care!
  8. Seek treatment with your acupuncturist or herbalist!

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About the Author
Cindy Willems

Cindy Willems

Cindy is the owner/creator of My Fit Over 50. She is a registered acupuncturist, certified Pilates instructor, holistic nutritionist and educator. She takes a holistic approach to achieving whole body health and she believes that it is important to keep challenging the body and mind safely and efficiently as we age. Cindy also has a busy clinic called Women's Health Centre in Toronto, Ontario.