I still remember the Christmas when I went into peri-menopause. It’s usually a time of year I love, but back then, all I could think to myself, was ‘I really can’t be bothered. I have no motivation for Christmas cheer‘. With no energy for shopping, no motivation for social events and feeling conscious about how overweight and bloated I felt, as well as Christmas drinks setting off endless hot flushes, all I wanted to do was to stay home and put my feet up!
We all know it’s been a year to forget and we often blame stress, work, the pandemic etc etc, but if you add to this, the fact that your changing oestrogen levels in menopause can also have a negative impact on your mood and motivation, then it’s a double-whammy for women in mid-life. With Christmas festivities just around the corner, if you’ve lost your Christmas cheer this year and you are as confused as I was, then don’t despair because here is what’s really going on to make you feel so exhausted.
Most of us know that it’s our brain hormones that control our mood, motivation and mojo – but menopause hormonal changes impact on these hormones too.
One of these brain hormones is serotonin – a powerful hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. This hormone impacts your entire body as does oestrogen – both hormones work together in the body.
Serotonin enables brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with each other. Furthermore, Serotonin also helps with sleeping, eating, and digestion.
Oestrogen also acts everywhere in the body, including the parts of the brain that control emotion. Some of oestrogen’s effects include increasing serotonin and the number of serotonin receptors in the brain. (Epperson, Amin et al, 2012). It makes sense that as oestrogen levels decline in menopause, then serotonin production and function is affected too. If you are on anti-depressants, then this is why.
But there is more to our changing mood and motivation than just changing serotonin production.
Because of the powerful connection between your pituitary, thyroid and adrenal hormones, if you aren’t sleeping, or if you are overweight, or you feel stressed, or your gut health isn’t ideal, then these other hormones get out of balance too.
Hormones are powerful chemical messengers that control a host of metabolic functions in your body. During our menopause transition, they are also affected by changing oestrogen and progesterone levels. If you are experiencing worsening symptoms, then it’s not just oestrogen and progesterone that are getting out of balance, but other hormones too – simply because these other hormones are trying to re-balance the internal environment to help your survival!
Knowledge is truly power when it comes to our mid-life menopause transition and it’s my passion to position menopause symptom management in specific scientifically-evidenced lifestyle change strategies. For too long, managing our menopause symptoms and our weight gain has been positioned in endless diets, exhausting exercise, or various supplements and medications, but it doesn’t have to be like this as numerous women on the MyMT™ programmes discover. So, if you have lost your Christmas cheer this year, then here’s what you need to understand:
- Low oestrogen causes your mood hormone, called serotonin, to decrease. This then has a spiral effect on your sleep hormone called melatonin. It’s also why, when you aren’t sleeping, it’s hard to stay motivated. But what’s worse, when your serotonin levels are low and you can’t sleep, then your brain craves more sugar. Knowing that you may experience more cravings means that you can prepare some healthy snacks to have on hand and some sparkling water as well, especially if you know that alcohol is going to send your hot flushes soaring.
- Eat foods that boost your mood. But also be aware that our gut health changes as we move through menopause because our gut lining becomes thinner with the loss of oestrogen. [That’s why as part of the MyMT™ programmes, I have a Gut Health Module for you as a stand-alone module and it’s included as part of all my 12 week programmes too]. If women have changing gut health or a fatty liver, then the absorption of an important mood-hormone called Tryptophan may be negatively impacted.
Tryptophan is a protein an is one of the master-building-blocks to not only make serotonin, our mood hormone, but also our sleep hormone, melatonin. I talk about this in my online MASTERCLASS ON MENOPAUSE as well which I hope you have time to listen to over the festive season break.
- Don’t rush around! If you are continually busy (and who isn’t at this time of year?), then your lovely adrenal glands, where your stress hormones are produced, stays in over-drive as you rush around getting everything done. If you aren’t sleeping, then these stress hormones get out of balance. When this happens we produce more of our chronic stress hormone called Cortisol and the continual production of cortisol, makes our lovely calming progesterone decline too rapidly in contrast to oestrogen. The result? Increased feelings of anxiety and depression, increased bloating and your motivation drops lower. You can’t get off the couch at the end of the day.
When progesterone crashes, then it’s not available to make your happy-hormones in your brain, because it’s being all used up to keep making cortisol. The condition is known as pregnenolone-steal or ‘progesterone-steal’.
It took me a long time to pull this puzzle together and explore it in the context of menopause, because I first became aware of it as a sport and exercise educator, as burnt-out, over-trained female athletes experience this phenomenon too.
Nobody I went to explained that part of the reason for my lack of motivation was the perfect-storm between not sleeping, high cortisol and low progesterone. If you have foggy brain, then this is why.
As we go into the end of the year, I hope that you can reflect on the year that was and congratulate yourself for getting through it!
If you’ve been experiencing worsenimg symptoms in menopause, then give yourself an extra pat on the back. You’ve done it tough – menopause and the pandemic. I so understand how you’ve been feeling. But like our menopause transition, we must also focus, not on the past, but on the future – so put my favourite saying on your notice-board, “Don’t look back, you aren’t going that way now.”
2021 has been a busy and challenging year for all of us, so I hope that you can enjoy the festive season where-ever you are in the world. I have so many women who join me from around the globe and whilst we all live in far-flung places, we are all connected through menopause – I love that!
My annual January sale intake is coming up so if you are feeling a bit lost and want to join me on the 12 week Transform Me weight loss programme, then please watch out for my upcoming emails in your inbox or junk mail from after Christmas.
“Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year. Thank you for being part of the MyMT™ community. I love writing blogs for you and if you have time over the Christmas break, then there are many more on the My Menopause Transformation website. Sending you aroha/ love from Aotearoa/ New Zealand. ”
Epperson, C. N., Amin, Z., Ruparel, K., Gur, R., & Loughead, J. (2012). Interactive effects of estrogen and serotonin on brain activation during working memory and affective processing in menopausal women. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 37(3), 372–382. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.07.007