An expert explains hormone changes during menopause: It’s common knowledge that during menopause, women’s hormones are all over the place. However, do you know what is actually going?
Hormone nutritionist, menopause expert and author Nicki Williams is here to give us some insight on what hormone changes women can expect starting in their 40’s, and how to optimise these hormones for the absolute best outcome.
1. How do our hormones change during pre menopause/perimenopause?
As you go through your 30’s and into your 40’s, your hormones start to change as you enter peri-menopause. Your egg reserve is diminishing and you may skip ovulation, which reduces your progesterone and can trigger oestrogen fluctuations. Cortisol may be higher due to these changes and additional life stresses (eg kids, job, relationships etc) and thyroid hormones may also be less than optimal. On top of this, we tend to become more resistant to insulin as we go through the perimenopause transition, meaning we’re more prone to weight gain and inflammation.
2. What are the common symptoms of these hormones changing and becoming imbalanced?
Oestrogen and progesterone changes can result in many symptoms such as period problems, low libido, poor sleep, low mood and hot flushes. High cortisol can cause symptoms such as anxiety, brain fog, irritability and digestive issues. Low thyroid hormones can slow down metabolism, making us lethargic and more prone to weight gain.
3. How do our hormones change during and post-menopause and what can we do to optimise them for better health and energy levels?
After the turbulence of perimenopause, once you are officially post-menopausal (12 months after your final period), your sex hormones should start to settle. However, this isn’t a time to get complacent! If your oestrogen and/or progesterone are too low, you may have symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, poor sleep, memory loss, dry or itchy skin, joint pain and vaginal dryness. And your risk of more serious conditions such as osteoporosis, heart disease and dementia can go up.
So it’s important to get your hormone levels checked through peri-menopause and beyond and either take body identical HRT or look at your diet, lifestyle and supplements to make sure you’re supporting your hormones as much as possible. Including some phytoestrogens in your diet can be helpful. These are plant-like oestrogens that can mimic your own oestrogen. Food sources include organic soy (eg milk, yoghurt, tofu, edamame beans, miso) and flaxseeds. Managing your stress is also vital during post-menopause as stress can deplete hormones even more. Taking time for yourself every day can help to switch off your fight or flight response. Supplements can also be very helpful; herbal remedies such as red clover, sage, hops and ashwagandha. Plus, Vitamin D to support bone health, Magnesium to support stress, mood and sleep and a good multivitamin to supply your basic nutrients.
4. What exercise/activity is better for these periods in our lives and why?
It’s incredibly important to move your body during menopause and as you age, but you might want to adjust your routine to suit this stage of life. Weight-bearing exercise is vital for your bone health (eg walking, weights, yoga, pilates), and your body may prefer more mindful activities over more intense workouts, depending on your energy and health. Natural movement through your day has been shown in studies to increase your metabolism, so taking breaks from sitting, walking, taking the stairs, standing can all help to keep you healthy.
Nicki is the founder of Happy Hormones for Life, helping women of all ages to rebalance their hormones, reclaim their health and feel better than ever. She is also the author of the top-selling book It’s Not You, It’s Your Hormones – The Essential Guide for Women Over 40 to Fight Fat, Fatigue, and Hormone Havoc, available on Amazon. Nicki also runs the Happy Hormones Podcast, the go-to resource for all things female health and hormones.