I am writing this on World Menopause Day, but it is relevant every day. I believe it is so important that conversations about menopause have opened up around the world so that more information and choices are available to all people. The more we talk about experiences and issues the less they can be disregarded. It is not acceptable that menstrual cycles and menopause are dismissed because they don’t apply to half the population.
Women spend at least one third of their life in menopause, that is the time in our lives when menstruation has ceased. On a positive note, no more periods and no more monthly fluctuations in mood and emotions. But the journey through peri-menopause can be difficult and distressing.
The transition through peri-menopause can take ten years, which means women in their early forties need to understand that if they are experiencing changes in their health it could be related to the slow, subtle fluctuations of their hormones.
The hormones oestrogen and progesterone are important throughout a woman’s life, from puberty until after menopause. They are fundamental to reproduction and have other important influences on our daily lives. For example, oestrogen plays a role in regulating fluid levels in the body; is involved in replacing old skin cells and in the production of oil and collagen which helps to explain skin changes during and after menopause. Progesterone helps the body burn fat for energy and acts as a natural, mild anti-depressant because of the calming effect on the brain.
When our ovaries begin to produce less oestrogen the adrenal glands start to produce a weak form of it, called oestrone, to top up the declining levels. However, the adrenal glands will always prioritise the production of stress hormones which means that the commonly lived, stressful, modern life prevents this from occurring, depriving the body of this natural help.
We can optimise oestrogen and progesterone through our food and lifestyle choices. The foods that sustained health in our twenties and thirties may cause hormonal imbalances in our forties. Hormones travel all around our body latching onto receptors on our cells to carry out their functions. Food is a hormone helper. Unfortunately, our modern world of processed food is not a hormone helper.
For optimum hormone health we need to turn our backs on the dominating food industry and nourish ourselves with vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, wholegrain, lean animal proteins and a variety of plant proteins, some of which contain helpful phytoestrogens. Good nutrition and balancing our blood sugar can enable our body to adjust to the changes in hormones, keep them balanced and help us to prevent disease.
Eating highly refined, processed foods and sugars creates a sharp rise in blood glucose levels initiating a response by the hormone insulin. Insulin reduces the excessively high blood glucose levels, which can’t get into our cells, by removing it to our liver for storage, or when that is overwhelmed, stores it as fat. Every time our blood glucose drops, including when insulin is produced, our body releases more stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. Hormone chaos is created with many knock-on effects on our health and wellness.
Weight gain is common during perimenopause, and this can be one of the effects of the blood sugar roller-coaster. If our body senses that the adrenals are too busy to produce oestrogen it begins to store food as abdominal (visceral) fat because these fat cells can produce oestrogen too. This type of hormonal fat can be extremely hard to lose.
When we go to bed with high levels of blood glucose the body will follow the same insulin-led reset, and blood sugar will begin to fall, but as already explained, this releases more stress hormones also. And these stress hormones wake us up, usually between 2 and 4 am and it is difficult to get back to sleep whilst our hormones are unbalanced. Cortisol is the opposing hormone to melatonin, which is the sleep hormone.
Good nutrition can’t remove all the sources of stress from our life but it will help keep our hormones balanced and enable the body to be more resilient to stress. Contact me for help to balance your hormones naturally.