Understanding Hormone Levels during Menopause
As women age, their hormone levels of oestrogen and progesterone start to decline, also known as menopause.
Oestrogen is a hormone that plays various roles in the body. It helps develop and maintain both the reproductive system and female characteristics. Oestrogen also contributes to cognitive health, bone health, and the function of the cardiovascular system alongside other essential bodily processes.
The purpose of a woman’s menstrual cycle is to prepare her body for pregnancy. Estrogen is the hormone responsible for building up the lining of your uterus every month in preparation for pregnancy, hence why you have a monthly period if you do not get pregnant.
It is also important for women to look after their bone health during menopause as declining oestrogen levels make bones thinner and weaker. It has been worked out that women can lose up to 1/5 of their bone density due to their falling levels of oestrogen.
Diet and exercise are key to supporting bone health. Having a diet filled with calcium and magnesium alongside vitamin D supplements is the ideal way to help support your bone health.
oestrogen levels drop during perimenopause, this is known as the period of time a woman’s body goes through before menopause officially begins and it usually lasts around a year. With menopause, your oestrogen levels drop and you no longer ovulate or have periods.
Progesterone is a hormone released by the ovaries. It is vital for the implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterus and for maintaining pregnancy.
During the normal menstrual cycle, progesterone works in an opposite manner to oestrogen. Oestrogen rises in the first phase to promote the development of the egg and then progesterone takes over in the second phase to prepare the body for pregnancy or until the period occurs.
During perimenopause, the levels of progesterone and oestrogen fluctuate. Low levels of progesterone can cause heavier menstrual bleeds as well as vaginal dryness.
Menopause symptoms are caused by the declining levels of progesterone, which can no longer balance oestrogen levels, causing oestrogen to become dominant before this hormone starts to decline too.
Lifestyle tips to maintain healthy hormone levels through the menopause
- Get enough sleep. Adequate, uninterrupted sleep each night helps your body maintain the healthy hormone levels it needs.
- Manage your stress levels. Don’t worry! We understand that managing stress is much easier said than done and everyone is different. Whether a walk, meditation/yoga or maybe even cooking and cleaning helps you destress, it will all have a positive impact on your body.
Excess stress hormones can cause a hormone imbalance that negatively impacts your oestrogen levels.
- Exercise. Healthy amounts of exercise can help regulate how much body fat you have as well as help you sleep.
- Practice good eating habits and limit alcohol intake. Reducing foods with sugars and incorporating high fibre foods and healthy fats into your diet can help with hormone balance.
What is Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Hormone replacement therapy is a treatment used to relieve symptoms of menopause. It replaces the female hormones that are at a lower level during menopause.
Female sex hormones play an important role in a woman’s body. Falling levels cause a range of physical and emotional symptoms.
Starting on HRT usually begins with a blood test to measure all your different hormone levels.
There are 2 types of hormone replacement therapy:
- Combines (Oestrogen and Progestogen) – are usually given to women who still have their wombs.
- Oestrogen-only – given to women who have had their wombs removed in a hysterectomy.
In terms of how to take the treatment, a GP will prescribe the lowest possible dosage that addresses a person’s symptoms. Taking the treatment may take some trial and error as there are many different ways of delivering HRT including tablets, creams, vaginal rings and skin patches.
How can hormone therapy benefit you through the menopause?
There are risks that come with hormone replacement therapy however if you are healthy, the benefits are likely to outweigh the risks.
If you suffer from moderate to severe hot flashes then systemic oestrogen therapy remains the most popular treatment. Oestrogen therapy also eases vaginal symptoms of menopause such as dryness, itching, burning or any general discomfort.
Systemic oestrogen helps protect against the bone-thinning disease called osteoporosis. It also decreases your risk of certain health conditions like heart disease, strokes, dementia and mood changes.
Side Effects of HRT
Just like all medical treatments, HRT comes with a list of potential side effects:
- breast tenderness or swelling
- swelling in other parts of the body
- feeling sick
- leg cramps
- vaginal bleeding
All these side effects usually reduce after a few weeks of treatment once your body has adjusted to the different hormone levels in your body again. However, it is recommended by the NHS that to ease the side effects you should take the oestrogen dose with food to reduce sickness and indigestion. It is also advised that eating a low-fat diet and regular exercise will ease other side effects like breast tenderness and muscle cramping.