Menopause Symptoms: It’s Not Just Your Hormones
Very often women’s hormones get blamed for an array of symptoms, especially when it comes to menopause. This includes the common symptoms we often see, such as hot flashes and sweating, sleep disturbances, vaginal dryness, mood fluctuations and weight gain. And yes, if hormones are out of balance symptoms will present, however, it is important to remember that the hormonal system does not work in isolation. It interacts with and is affected by many other systems. Let’s take a look at a few:
Adrenal Glands (part of the Endocrine system)
The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and produce important hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones). The reason this is important to consider in menopause is that as a woman moves through menopause, the ovaries decrease the amount of sex hormones they produce and this function shifts to the adrenal glands. If the adrenal glands are not functioning properly (for example they are being stressed by a number of factors including inflammation, imbalances in blood sugar levels, emotional stress, poor food choices, chemical exposure, etc.) there will be a preference to create more cortisol, which will shunt resources (hormone building blocks) away from producing adequate levels of sex hormones.
The clinical symptoms associated with nervous system imbalances overlap with those commonly associated with menopause, including low mood, sleep difficulties, fatigue, anxiousness/anxiety, low libido, brain fog, cravings, headaches, weight issues and decreased attention span. The neurotransmitter serotonin is especially tied to Estrogen, and when either one increases or decreases, the other follows. This is why the anti-depressants classified as SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) have been approved as the only non-hormonal medication to relieve menopausal symptoms, because of the connection between serotonin and Estrogen levels. By focusing on supporting the nervous system (as it is indicated in each individual case) this can help reduce symptoms experienced in menopause.
Blood Sugar Regulation
Both Estrogen and Progesterone affect how your cells respond to insulin (which is what allows glucose to move from your blood stream and into your cells). After menopause, fluctuations in blood sugar levels can become more variable and less predictable than prior to menopause, especially for those who already have blood sugar regulation issues. Fluctuations in blood sugar levels can affect both the adrenal glands and the nervous system. If the brain does not have enough glucose, adrenaline will kick in to increase levels until you are able to eat again. This can cause undesirable symptoms such as sweating, feeling shaky, nauseous, and irritable. Blood sugar regulation issues can also cause what’s known as ‘Tryptophan steal’. When the body is under stress, Tryptophan (a building block for serotonin) is shunted away from serotonin production in order to produce more excitatory neurotransmitters. This can contribute to depression, anxiety and hot flashes. So while trying to change hormone levels in the body, it may be that dietary changes are needed in order to ensure blood sugar levels are stable.
As always, it is important to look at each individual’s history and complete symptom picture, as well as to assess all systems of the body in order to determine the best treatment options and support.
Please note: This information is not meant to replace personalized medical advice. Speak with your healthcare provider about treatment options that are specific to your health concerns and goals.
Interested in learning more? Join us! Dr. Keating is presenting a seminar on menopause:
Menopause – Nourishing the Body Series
Seminar / Discussion Circle
Location: She Thrives, 161 Front St (beside City Hall)
Date: Thursday, August 23
Time: 7:15 – 8:30pm
Cost: $20 + HST
*Please pre-register at: www.wethrivewellness.ca/schedule
Dr. Leslie Keating
Dr. Leslie Keating is a Naturopathic Doctor at She Thrives, registered with the College of Naturopaths of Ontario. She loves working with women who are seeking to move into a deeper understanding of themselves and who enjoy a gentle, organic approach to improving their vitality and health. Since graduating Leslie has continued to further her professional development, exploring herbal medicine, functional medicine, as well as emotional and energetic aspects of health. She honors the interconnectedness of physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of health and enjoys supporting individuals in each of these areas as it applies to their life.