Is it me or is it my hormones? It’s so hard to know and separate what is happening with our bodies during all these changes. Here we help you to understand more about what hormones affect and why these changes may be leading to some of your symptoms.
What are hormones?
Your hormones are special chemical messengers in the body that are created in the endocrine glands. These messengers control most major bodily functions, they regulate our heart rate, metabolism – how the body gets energy from the foods we eat. They control our appetite, mood, sexual function, reproduction, growth and development, sleep cycles, and more. When they are in proper balance, hormones help the body thrive.
As you move towards menopause, your ovaries produce less and less ‘functional’ eggs (i.e. eggs that can be fertilised). Your ovaries also start to dramatically reduce their production of oestrogen, a hormone that affects many parts of your body, including your blood vessels, heart, bones, breasts, uterus, urinary system, skin, and brain; and testosterone, a hormone that affects your sex drive and desire.
Progesterone, another female reproductive hormone, also drastically reduces leading up to menopause. There are some schools of thought in the natural medicine world that believe the symptoms of menopause may have more to do with this decrease than with the decrease in oestrogen.
Major hormones impacted by the menopause:
As well as being the main reproductive hormone, oestrogen is also a growth hormone responsible for muscle and brain growth
Oestrogen has a big effect on our mood – oestrogen improves:
- GABA – your relaxing neurotransmitter of the brain
- Dopamine – your neurotransmitter for reward and pleasure (we are much better able to cope with stress as this is released)
- Serotonin – your neurotransmitter for maintaining mood and balance
As our oestrogen levels drop our bodies become more insulin sensitive and less stress reactive. These changes are more likely to lead to weight gain, especially around our mid-section
Impact on Progesterone
Progesterone and oestrogen work in balance – they need each other to allow the body to be receptive.
Impact on your Thyroid
Excess oestrogen can block the thyroid function
Impact on Testosterone
Oestrogen can stop testosterone from working as it should
As you can see from all the functions of oestrogen, when it is out of balance (too high or too low in relation to your other hormones), it leads to a huge impact on our bodies and how we feel. If you think about some of the main symptoms you may be struggling with – weight gain, mood swings, anxiety, feeling low, feeling tired and stressed all the time. This should help to explain why and that this is normal.
Progesterone balances the production of oestrogen – keeping the right levels
Your progesterone is seen as the hormone that manages anxiety
Progesterone works with oestrogen to keep the traditional female weight distribution (hour-glass figure) as opposed to male weight distribution, where excess weight accumulates around the middle.
Progesterone is beneficial for healthy thyroid function.
- Affects libido
- Affects Mood
- Impacts Fat distribution
Testosterone will fall during menopause. As oestrogen and progesterone fall further, the relative levels of testosterone may be higher. Excess or low testosterone isn’t good for the female body
- This is one of your first hormones to be released when under stress
- Cortisol maintains the fight or flight response by increasing your blood sugar levels to keep your energy going and by retaining sodium to keep your blood pressure up
- To continue providing the fast energy that you need, cortisol creates cravings and increases appetite to ensure good supply of necessary fuel
- Unless something physical happens and the threat goes all your extra energy gets deposited as fat
The thyroid has been describe as the “Queen” of the hormone system. If your thyroid isn’t happy it makes many other things unhappy. Your thyroid controls your metabolism and regulates your body temperature. Issues with your thyroid can lead to weight gain that is hard to shift, especially around the stomach.
Your thyroid function is linked to the balance of progesterone and oestrogen. If your progesterone and oestrogen are unbalanced they can block the thyroid from functioning properly.
You may test normal for Thyroid function but if your other hormones are blocking the thyroid you can still struggle with symptoms
Remember, nothing happens in isolation.
The adrenal glands are small but important. As with the thyroid, if the adrenal glands aren’t happy your body won’t be happy. When you are under threat/stress your adrenal glands produce cortisol and adrenaline. When the threat is removed, your adrenals stop and your body returns to normal.
The challenge we face it that for some of us stressors don’t go away:
- Caring for older relatives
These stressors are always there and they come at us from lots of directions so we need to build our defenses.
There is more about this in our article Stress – Why We Must Tackle This Today! It’s important to understand the stages of stress and what they do to your body and hormones:
If you are reaching peri-menopause/menopause, tackling stress and your ability to cope with stress is one of the most important steps you can take. This will help you reduce symptoms and leave you feeling strong, healthy and happy.
The Major Sex Hormones and Their Key Effects (Adapted from ‘Is It Me Or My Hormones’ by Marcel Pick)
The Effects of Oestrogen
- Improves mood, decreases depression, anxiety, irritability and sensitivity to pain.
- Supports memory
- Support libido
- Regulates blood pressure and vascular system health thereby reducing potential for heart disease
- Reduces inflammation
- Increases insulin sensitivity
- Increases metabolism
- Decreases ‘bad’ cholesterol
- Maintains bone density
- Maintains muscle
- Supports collagen and youthful skin
- Protects against macular degeneration (age-related eye disorder)
Symptoms of Oestrogen Deficiency
- Difficulty in losing weight
- Increased insulin resistance
- Vaginal dryness
- Vaginal pain
- Loss of libido
- Decrease in breast size
- Low energy/chronic fatigue
- Foggy brain/poor memory
- Bladder problems – UTI’s, stress/urge incontinence
- Food cravings
The Effects of Progesterone
- Balancing Oestrogen
- Helps to build bone
- Supports healthy sleep
- Helps prevent anxiety, irritability and mood swings
- Promotes healthy bladder function
- Decreases palpitations
- Relaxes the smooth muscle in the gut, improving digestion
Symptoms of Progesterone Deficiency
- Weight gain
- Heavy periods that last longer than usual
- Mid-cycle spotting
- PMS/Mood Swings
- Anxiety/Panic Attacks
- Insomnia or poor quality sleep
- Decreased libido
- Decreased ‘good’ cholesterol
Effects of Testosterone
- Decreased excess body fat
- Increases muscle mass and strength
- Supports libido
- Reduces potential for depression
- Supports memory
- Supports healthy bones
Symptoms of Testosterone Deficiency
- Weight gain
- Loss of muscle tone
- Low libido
- Decreased ‘good’ cholesterol
- Dry, thin, saggy, less elastic skin
- Dry thin hair, eyebrows, lashes, pubic hair
- Low self-esteem
Symptoms of Adrenal Dysfunction (Adapted from ‘Are You Tired and Wired’ by Marcel Pick)
Physical Symptoms of Adrenal Dysfunction
1. You’re tired on waking even after a ‘good’ nights sleep
2. You find it difficult to stay awake in the evening once sat down
3. You need to/want to sleep in the afternoon
4. You feel both alert and exhausted
5. If you stop….you drop – fall asleep or doze off
6. You have heart palpitations
7. You have gained weight around your middle
8. You’re losing muscle mass
9. You can’t tolerate exercise, especially high volumes like you used to
10. You generally don’t feel ‘well’ most of the time
11. You retain water
12. You struggle with low blood sugar
13. You can’t make it through the day without coffee
14. You struggle with PMS, perimenopausal/menopausal symptoms
15. You’re easily irritated and prone to outburst
16. You sometime feel listless, depressed and emotionally numb
17. You have a low sex drive
18. You’re tearful more than usual
19. You’re easily startled
20. Your stress and feelings of being stressed are chronic
21. Everything seems like a huge effort
Just by simply recording how you’re feeling can help you to build a clear picture of what’s going on with your body. Our free workbook “What’s My Body Trying to Tell Me” is a great place to start. You may want to use this as a basis for a discussion with your GP or health professional to look a treatment options. There is also a huge amount you can do yourself to manage your way through these hormonal changes.
Hormonal Happiness “Big Rocks”
The small stuff you can do for yourself that will make a HUGE difference!
Try using our Hormonal Happiness Action Sheets to plan what actions you’re going to take to improve how you’re feeling and how you’re able to cope with these hormonal changes.