Why do we have so many symptoms that impact on how we feel during our menopause transition? Why do we all need to suddenly take supplements and medicines when we’ve been healthy all our lives? Why can’t we sleep? Why can’t we tolerate doing the exercise that we love to do? WHY? WHY? WHY?
As a university-level lecturer in physiology and sports science, my doctoral research on women’s healthy ageing and exercise, led me down the menopause-symptom rabbit-hole. It’s a time of life that many women find that their tolerance to exercise changes. According to much of the physical activity participation research, most women also give up exercising in mid-life too. I now understand why. For women who have been active all their lives, as I have, when you can’t sleep night after night and your joints and muscles are sore, the last thing you want to do is the exhausting exercise that is heavily promoted in the fitness industry. Many of my research participants found this too.
As I began to put menopause into the context of our biological ageing and the fact that all of our hormones work together in the body, I also learnt that we have oestrogen receptors all over our body – especially in our brain, skin, muscles, tendons, cardiac muscle, blood vessels and fat cells. This helps to explain why many women experience so much chaos in different arouond their body as they move through menopause. That’s why positioning our menopause transition in ageing research, enabled and empowered me to look at my own symptoms in more depth. The role of inflammation in many diseases of older age, especially for women, is important in this context.
My 5 top reasons for your symptom chaos during menopause:
- Oestrogen Dominance: When oestrogen production begins to decline in peri-menopause, the two ‘master hormones’ which are produced in your pituitary gland [Luteinising Hormone and Follicle-stimulating Hormone], are still trying to send signals to the ovaries to increase production of oestrogen. In fact these master hormones can go into overdrive, leading to other cells that receive oestrogen signals around the body, becoming more sensitive to these messages. This includes fat cells which store oestrogen. When this happens, exess oestrogen is stored and therefore, becomes the dominant hormone in relation to its opposing hormone progesterone. I’ve written about this before as it’s a condition called ‘oestrogen dominance’ and you can read the full article HERE.
- Lowered Progesterone: When oestrogen becomes the ‘dominant’ hormone in relation to its opposing hormone, progesterone, this can lead to low progesterone. If progesterone is low in comparison to oestrogen, this may cause other symptoms, such as bloating and sore breasts. As well, if you aren’t sleeping, then your stress hormone cortisol increases. This causes low progesterone as well. Our body begins to feel stressed. In sports science research, progesterone can also become low, when female athletes are over-training in a condition known as ‘pregnenolone steal’. I often talk about this in my seminars because women in mid-life are the first generation of women to be doing so much exercise in their menopause transition and when they aren’t sleeping, too much exercise can send them into hormonal chaos too.
- Disrupted thyroid, adrenal and pituitary hormones. In women, the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis is powerful. The HPA axis connects the brain with the adrenal glands. What this means in menopause, is that if our pituitary gland (which is controlled by the hypothalamus) is not working well, then this can increase feelings of anxiety, memory loss and stress. The way to manage the HPA axis is through improving the optimal function of the pineal gland – which controls your circadian rhythm. This is why the very first module you listen to in my programmes is simply called ‘Sleep All Night’. It’s that important. Especially for those of you wanting to lose weight and reduce anxiety.
- The loss of oestrogen in our skin may lead to lower Vitamin D levels. Our skin is our largest organ and is full of oestrogen receptors. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and is produced in the skin with the help of oestrogen. Therefore, many women are at risk of low vitamin D levels and because Vitamin D is now recognised as a hormone, low levels have an effect on other hormones in the body too. When Vitamin D is low, hot flushes are increased and memory loss/ foggy brain becomes worse. Vitamin D is involved in the production of calcium and our bones and muscles require calcium to help them to remain strong. Vitamin D is such a powerful hormone for women to monitor in menopause because it is also implicated in melatonin production, which is our sleep hormone. When Vitamin D levels are low, our insomnia increases and serotonin production is reduced.
- Increased inflammation. My most important message to women is that worsening menopause symptoms are not only due to our changing hormones as we age, but they can become worse due to the build-up of inflammation in the liver, gut, muscles (including cardiac muscle) and blood vessels. Don’t forget that over the past four decades, we’ve been the ‘guinea-pig’ generation for foods, medicines, chemicals, high impact sport and exercise and other pollutants, which have led to cellular changes in our cells and tissues. By the time menopause arrives, much of this ‘invisible’ inflammation is switched on as our hormonal environment changes with age. That’s why, to turn around our symptoms, we have to reduce the effects of this inflammation. Yes, it can be done!
That’s why the key to solving our menopause symptoms doesn’t necessarily lie in taking lots of medicines and supplements. I focus you on 3 phases of health transformation as you progress through the MyMT™ programmes over 3 months.
(a) Reducing inflammation that’s been building up for decades. This includes restoring gut and liver health so that health-giving nutrients are better absorbed.
(b) Sleeping all night so we repair and heal.
(c) Adjusting our lifestyle to match research on women’s healthy ageing studies rather than lifestyle strategies that aren’t targeted to our changing hormones in menopause. What we have to do is to discover how to manage our lifestyle for our health as we age and if you are overweight, then look at what I have for you in the ‘Transform Me programme. If you are thinner or leaner, then discover how to turn around your symptoms using my powerful ‘Circuit Breaker’ programme.
Both programmes are changing women’s lives for the better. When you are ready I hope you will be able to join me sometime too.
Dr Wendy Sweet (PhD)/ Women’s Healthy Ageing Researcher/ MyMT™ Founder & Coach.