by Debbie Leigh
Hormones are chemical messengers of the endocrine system (one of 2 controlling systems of the body) the other being the nervous system. Hormones do not contain information but act as triggers for change as they travel via the blood to act on target organs such as the ovaries.
Female reproductive hormones are in a continual stage of ebb and flow. Oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone mainly influence the menstrual cycle which is a delicate fine balance. Oestrogen is responsible for stimulating follicle receptors to promote fertility and during pregnancy the growth of the uterus and softening of ligaments. Oestrogen is also responsible for promotion of healthy bones and plays an important role in protection against cardiovascular disease by reducing progression of atherosclerosis.
Oestrogen varies throughout the menstrual cycle and during a woman’s lifetime. Low endogenous oestrogen levels are associated with increased risk of hip and vertebral fractures whilst high levels can increase risk of breast cancer and oestrogen-dependent conditions such as endometriosis. Oestrogens increase during the teens and reach maximal levels during 20s to 30s and gradually decline from mid to late 40s. As the ovarian reserve decreases, ovarian oestrogen declines. Once women reach post-menopause oestrogen is derived from fat and muscle.
The peri-menopause refers to the time before menopause. This transition can be for 2 to 6 years before periods cease and 12 months after the last period.
In early peri-menopause there may be fluctuations in oestrogen rather than low oestrogen levels. While many women experience different symptoms to varying degrees they notice typical changes such as irregular menses, hot flushes, insomnia, night sweats, weight changes particularly increased abdominal weight gain and reduced lean muscle mass, mood changes, joint pain, decreased pelvic tone, and headaches. Research has shown that women who suffered from depression prior to menopause are much more likely to experience menopausal mood changes. The general thought is that the cause of depression during menopause is related to changes in oestrogen rather than the amount of oestrogen.
The good news is that lifestyle interventions such as improving exercise levels well before the onset of menopause has beneficial effects. Recent studies have shown that physical activity does appear to enhance mood, improve sleep and reduce cardiovascular risk factors. Women who exercise regularly are much more likely to rate their overall health better than non-exercises. They drank less alcohol and had a lower body mass index.
A holistic approach to the maintenance of health and well-being through appropriate diet, lifestyle and exercise should be the mainstay of all women during mid- life. A woman’s attitude to menopause and ageing will also affect her menopausal experience. Women with a negative attitude to either or both were found to be much more likely to experience problems than women who saw menopause and aging as a positive experience. Body image issues are critical to mood at this time. Women troubled by insomnia and wakefulness often describe themselves as having a lower tolerance to stress during menopausal transition. Coffee, alcohol and stimulants can have a disruptive effect on sleep.
At Paddington Clinic our natural therapists take a holistic approach to helping women through this transition. We have herbs and vitamin and mineral supplements to help stabilize hormone levels, alleviate symptoms and restore energy and vitality. We routinely undertake a comprehensive approach including addressing a number of wellness markers such as cardiovascular health, bone density, body weight, sleep patterns, incidence of flushing and mental health.