Women generally have a greater understanding (and dread) of the potential impact hormones can have. This is primarily because women live with hormonal symptoms for most of their lives, starting at a very young age. Hormones change and affect our mood, functionality, weight, energy level and libido from the time we have our first menstrual cycle, through pregnancy, post-partum, nursing and the aging process. “I’m hormonal” is an all too common cry of women at every age, and is commonly used to explain any number of behaviors, from “I’m sorry I just snapped at you,” to “I am going to bed and won’t be out for three days.”
Many “hormonal” symptoms are driven by hormone fluctuation and as women age and enter perimenopause that remains true. When we enter menopause, however, the hormone effect is generally linked to decreased levels of hormones that drastically magnify impact on metabolism, mental health, energy, libido, appetite and a host of other challenges that have a huge effect on quality of life.
But there is help, and hope.
First, it is important to understand that there are actually two major components to hormone decline in women – perimenopause and menopause.
Perimenopause: A State of Hormonal Imbalance
Somewhere around the age of 40, women begin perimenopause, the transition from normal menstrual periods to no periods at all. This transition often falls under the radar because it is seen as a precursor to menopause. Some doctors shrug it off since it’s not yet the “real deal.”
But Ageology physicians know why perimenopause should be a concern: women going through perimenopause are in a severe state of hormonal imbalance. Perimenopause is all about hormonal swings and surges that can change daily. From waking up feeling depressed to going to sleep with hot flashes, all the way to unexplained weight gain and as severe as setting the stage for cancer, it’s no surprise that many perimenopausal women are misdiagnosed or over prescribed medications that put a quick fix on the symptoms versus treating the cause.
Often, confusion exists for women when approaching their doctor about this transition, who more often than not tells them that they are not in menopause yet because they are still having periods, as irregular and uncomfortable as they may be. Overlooked are the hormone imbalances that the woman is currently going through, leading up to the time when they no longer have periods for one year.
Many women begin noticing changes in their menstrual cycle and/or mood years before they actually have their final period. This transitional period usually lasts five to 10 years. During perimenopause, periods may stop for several months and then return, and they may also increase or decrease in duration, intensity and flow. Whether you need hormone replacement for symptom relief during this time depends on what else is going on in your body and your life. Women with poor diets, who consistently don’t get enough sleep, live under chronic stress and don’t exercise regularly are more prone to hormonal imbalances and severe perimenopausal symptoms.
Menopause: What Every Woman Needs to Know
Hormones are crucial to every single function of the human body, yet women are expected to live without them for more than half of their life, due to menopause.
Menopause – the dreaded “M” word that middle-aged women would prefer not to discuss. But understanding menopause now can help you avoid the uncomfortable symptoms later and live a healthier, more energetic life.
What is Menopause?
Also called the “change of life,” menopause is when a female’s ovaries produce lower levels of estrogen hormones. Monthly menstrual cycles become erratic and eventually stop altogether when hormone levels decline past a certain point. The medical definition of menopause is when a woman stops having her period for 12 months.
Menopause usually starts in a woman’s late 40s or early 50s. The keyword is usually. Menopause can actually occur as early as the mid-30s. When menopause occurs, women are no longer fertile, and hormones tend to be imbalanced. Some studies suggest as many as 80 percent of women suffer from hormonal imbalances that lead to everything from joint pain and rashes to restlessness and low sex drives.
Unfortunately, estrogen levels rapidly decline in women at the onset of menopause. In most cases, women lose up to 90 percent of their all-important protective estrogens within a few years. That’s when the symptoms really intensify.
The Many Symptoms of Menopause
When women reach their late 30s, it’s common for testosterone levels to decline, followed by progesterone (this is when perimenopause sets in), and finally a decline in the most potent of the estrogens, estradiol. Menopause symptoms vary widely in manifestation and intensity among women.
Women often notice a change in their bodies before the actual onset of menopause, such as shorter periods, decreased strength and energy, a lower sex drive and moodiness. The most common symptoms of menopause include:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Weight gain
- Irregular periods/no periods
- Anxiety and nervousness
- Vaginal dryness
- Memory difficulty
- Frequent urinary infections
- Low libido
- Urinary incontinence
Although you can’t stop perimenopause or menopause altogether— they are a natural part of life— women can manage their symptoms and the impact of naturally declining hormones. Hormonal imbalances can be corrected, and menopause can actually be an enjoyable passage once the body is in perfect sync using nutrition, exercise, stress management and bioidentical hormone therapy, and prescribed medications as needed, to optimize overall health.
Bioidentical Hormone Therapy & Its Benefits
Ageology physicians know that hormone therapy is most effective, and associated with fewer side effects, when we use identical hormones to replace those we have lost. Bioidentical hormones come from the Mexican yam, which contains a chemical called diosgenin. Laboratories then change diosgenin to human hormones (steroids). Many studies, especially those in the European literature, show the marked superiority of natural hormones over their synthetic counterparts. Natural bioidentical hormones are approved by the FDA for the treatment of menopause in women.
Maintaining hormone balance is critical to restoration and maintenance of hormone health as women age. This is because hormones help maintain muscles and bones, and play a role in preventing heart disease. Hormones may even protect against Alzheimer’s, which is a leading cause of death among women aged 65 and older. As the body ages, the levels of important hormones naturally decline. Hormone replacement therapy can help sustain the structure and function of the body and the treat many diseases that are often associated with aging. It also can be used as a preventative healthcare strategy to help slow the aging process by maintaining more youthful hormone levels. This approach can help restore the body to earlier vitality if the therapy is started after the symptoms have impacted the patient.
Bioidentical hormones therapies can be customized, which is an important factor in any treatment. The same dosage of hormones is not appropriate for every woman because every woman’s hormone levels are different, so one approach or treatment does not fit all.
Compounding pharmacies specialize in making natural bioidentical hormones. These hormones are medications that can be customized for the unique needs of each individual patient.
For more information on how you can get well, feel well and age well, contact an Ageology physician near you today.
Learn more about women’s health issues and how Ageology can help:
Read Ageology’s recent blog posts and library resources to learn more about women’s hormones and integrative metabolic medicine:
- Perimenopause and Stress: 5 Things Every Woman Should Know
- Women, Hormones, and Sleep
- Benefits seen in hormone use early in menopause
- Should Women Continue Taking Testosterone?