Hormones are the driving force behind our bodies, minds, and bedrooms.
Researchers have found that hormones control almost all our physical, emotional, and sexual functions. Hormones dictate hunger, sleep, sexual response, weight, and even your mood. Hence, when your hormones are out of whack, you can suffer severe emotional and physical side effects. While hormonal changes are a part of life, menopause can be challenging, so it helps to know what to expect during this time.
During menopause, the hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle and reproductive cycle begin to change. These hormones are estrogen, progesterone, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and luteinizing hormone (LH).
When these hormones are in balance, the body functions smoothly. For example, when estrogen levels decrease, FSH increases and this causes follicle stimulation and the eventual shedding of the endometrial lining (i.e., your period). After your period, your estrogen and progesterone levels return to normal, and FSH becomes dormant until your next cycle.
When menopause occurs, estrogen and progesterone levels shift, which leads to irregular cycles (such as lighter, shorter, or missed periods) and eventually the menstrual cycle will disappear completely. Many of these changes can occur during perimenopause (beginning as early as age 35), but most women do not experience true menopause (when the periods stop completely) until their mid-40s to mid-50s.
It’s important to note that your lifestyle can impact your menopause timing. As if you needed another reason not to smoke, research has found that smokers tend to experience menopause sooner than nonsmokers. In addition, factors such as genetics and racial/ethnic background make every woman’s menopausal timing and symptoms unique. It’s important not to compare yourself. While one woman might experience painful and uncomfortable menopausal symptoms at the age of 43, her friend might not go through the transition until age 50 and perhaps then have only mild hot flashes.
If you are one of the less fortunate who have severe menopausal symptoms, then you know that menopause is about more than just a lack of a menstrual cycle. A recent study from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center found a link between menopause and depressive symptoms. In the study, it was found that women going through perimenopause or menopause were twice as likely to suffer from a depressive episode. This was true even for women who had no history of depression. The researchers recommend that menopausal women up their endorphins by working out for 30 minutes a day and that they surround themselves with a strong support team of friends and family.
Along with emotional symptoms such as these, physical symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, and fatigue (to name a few) can be equally difficult. It is recommended that you try to circumvent these symptoms also by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, and dress in light, soft clothing to help combat night sweats. Wear layers so that you can better manage your body temperature at the office or away from home. Eat healthy foods, stay hydrated, and avoid spicy items, which will increase your temperature and make you sweat. Most importantly, carve quality time out of your day and make an effort to maintain your interests and friendships during this hectic time. It is possible to make it through menopause with a healthier, happier mind-set than ever before…you just have to stay committed and be patient with your body as it works through these natural changes.