The Story of a Woman’s Life: Hormones
Menopause affects 100% of women. Women experience menopause typically around 45-55 years of age; however some may experience perimenopause prior and continue symptoms for up to 30 years. For years we have been told that menopause is a “disease state” and to anticipate this change. The solution is presented as a pill that will solve all your problems. Unfortunately, that is not the whole story. Did you know, there are many ways to reduce the symptoms or possibly even eliminate them?
Valuable Insight on understanding your hormones, how gut health affects your hormones, weight loss and more . . .
The hormonal life of a woman begins at about age 3-4. At this time the secretion of Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) inhibits the release of sex hormones. The GnRH continues to be inhibited until around 8 years old where it begins to diminish which then stimulates the secretion of luteinishing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) which promote production of sex hormones such as estrogen. Young girls start the beginning of puberty as early as age 8; however, it may take 3-4 years to fully reach puberty where their estrogen and progesterone increase to sexual maturity. Each month her hormones LH, FSH, estradiol, and progesterone help release eggs (ovulation) shedding of the lining of the uterus without fertilization of the egg. Later she will go through menopause as the hormones shift again to the next stage of life. The stages of hormonal change are gradual, starting before puberty, each month during child bearing years and ending with menopause.
If menopause is not a disease state, what exactly is menopause?
Menopause and Estrogen
Menopause simply stated is when we stop releasing eggs, and are not making estrogen and progesterone. What we as women know is that it is never a simple transition. Here’s what is happening:
Hormones are messengers in our bodies and often interrupted
There are three stages to menopause and estrogen plays a part in all of them.
What is Estrogen?
- A group of steroid hormones that help women maintain the health of their reproductive system.
- The ovaries are the principal source of estrogen.
- Stimulates the development and maintenance of the vagina, fallopian tubes, and uterus.
- Helps keep skin youthful, supports healthy blood circulation, and blood vessel repair.
- Promotes bone, brain and cardiovascular health.
- Helps maintain muscle strength.
There are three types of estrogen:
- Helps the uterus grow and stay healthy.
- Highest levels just before childbirth to help prepare your body for childbirth and breastfeeding.
- Studies suggest may be the safest form of estrogen to ease symptoms of menopause.
- Estradiol is the strongest of the three estrogens.
- The most common type during childbearing age.
- Low levels may result in acne, constipation, loss of sex drive, depression.
- High levels may result in uterine/breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, weight gain, menstrual problems, bone growth and development are slowed or osteoporosis, and mood swings.
- Estrone: comes from the ovaries as well as adipose tissue and adrenal glands.
- It is the weaker estrogen, often higher quantities in postmenopausal women.
- Used as a backup, the body can convert it to estrogen when needed.
- Produced in adipose tissues means obese women will produce more.
- High level linked to breast and endometrial cancer growth.
- Low levels may develop osteoporosis, symptoms of menopause.
“Many chronic diseases can emerge after estrogen levels decline, which will affect a considerable part of a woman’s life.”
- The most symptomatic phase, but symptoms are sporadic.
- Occurs around menopause (age 45-55) or in menopause transition.
- It can last up to 10 years.
- Typically starts in our late 40’s.
- Periods may become irregular.
- Officially in menopause.
- Your specific symptoms may become more persistent.
- Your menstrual period has been gone for longer than 12 consecutive months.
- Some symptoms may start to subside.
- Increased risk for osteoporosis and heart disease.
- You are no longer ovulating.
“In addition to regulating the menstrual cycle, estrogen affects the reproductive tract, the urinary tract, the heart and blood vessels, bones, breasts, skin, hair, mucous membranes, pelvic muscles, and the brain. Many organ systems, including the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems, and the brain are affected by estrogen.”
Women who want to understand and take action to manage their menopausal symptoms should understand how lifestyle, food choices, and meal patterns affect this stage of life.
Symptoms of Menopause
We hear a lot about hot flashes, mood swings and discomfort during menopause. Did you know there are many other symptoms that are associated with the different stages of menopause?
“Approximately one in two women over age 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis.”
- Mood swings; irritability
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Anxiety and depression
- Increased risk of diabetes and heart disease
- Increased risk of high blood pressure, change in cholesterol
- May affect bone health and joint pain
- May affect dental health
- Poor concentration
- Frequent headaches
- Weight gain
- Urinary incontinence
- Vaginal dryness, sexual discomfort, and pain
- Dry skin
- Hair loss
“Obesity affects 65% of postmenopausal women and is associated with the onset of metabolic dysfunction.”
Not one of these symptoms sounds pleasant, let alone multiple ones. If someone told you with just a few simple changes you may reduce your symptoms or eliminate them, wouldn’t that be exciting? We may have found how to do exactly that.
Why your Gut Microbiome Matters to Your Hormones
“What happens in the gut doesn’t stay in the gut.”
What exactly is the gut microbiome?
- The gut microbiome are microorganisms, including good and bad bacteria living in our digestive tracts.
- The gut microbiome is a balance of these bacteria that is constantly changing and adapting from birth affecting all functions of our bodies.
- The largest population of microbes live in the gut. Other populations include the skin and genitals.
- Every individual has a unique mix of species.
- The diversity of the microbiota is directly related to the diversity of the diet.
“62% of people suffer from digestive complaints.”
Functions of the Gut Microbiome
- Regulates immune homeostasis; 70% of our immune cells are made in our gut.
- Influences our mood and thought processes.
- 95% serotonin is produced in our gut.
- Serotonin (the feel good hormone) helps regulate anxiety, happiness, and mood.
- 95% serotonin is produced in our gut.
- Influences our inflammatory response.
- Nutrient absorption; help us break down complex molecules in meats and vegetables.
- Metabolism and energy production including managing our food cravings and satiety.
- Directly connected to our brain via the vagus nerve, referred to as our second brain.
- Influences oral health.
“The microbiome could very well guide how menopause and estrogens impact learning and memory.”
What to know about Gut Health and Hormones
- Elimination of food groups, eliminates essential nutrients.
- What we eat feeds the bacteria, affecting the balance.
- Almost twice as many women are affected than men.
- How we cope with stress affects our gut health.
- Estrogen levels influence the composition of these bacteria.
Arizona State University scientists have found that hormones and gut bacteria are linked to changes in metabolism and brain function. This relationship could be key for treating menopausal symptoms and improving women’s health. New studies indicate the gut microbiome is associated with immunity, inflammation, dementia, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, arthritis and many additional chronic diseases.
There is a continuous balance of trillions of useful and harmful bacteria in our gut. When out of balance one might experience severe symptoms. An obvious example of a disrupted gut microbiome is food poisoning. Generally when the harmful bacteria outnumber the good bacteria the effects are often more subtle such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, anxiety, depression, brain fog, fatigue, headaches, and weight gain. The balance is directly related to our lifestyle, food choices and dietary patterns. We have learned a balance of good bacteria will reduce our menopause symptoms and may even eliminate them.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Nutrition & Lifestyle for Menopause
- Eat meals in a consistent and timely manner, sunrise to sunset.
- Consume balanced home cooked meals.
- Eat more whole foods plant-based meals.
- Consume phytoestrogen; plant compounds with estrogen-like properties:
- flax seeds
- whole grains
- Use portion control.
- Physical activity.
- Managing stress levels.
- Don’t skip meals – this leaves you hungry, increases cravings, affects metabolism, energy levels.
- No boxed or frozen meals
- Avoid ultra-processed foods such as convenience foods and fast foods.
- Don’t drink your calories
- Don’t use sugar alternatives as they leave you craving more sugar
How we can help with your transition
- Your plan will help you manage symptoms through guidance of dietary patterns and food choices.
- The right information will empower you to make healthy informed decisions.
- Guide you through creating a healthy eating pattern for a healthy mind and body.
What to expect working with a dietitian
If taking this challenge alone overwhelms you, that is okay too. In this case, it may be beneficial to work with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) to reach your nutrition goals. We have RDNs you can work with to set individualized goals and a plan that works for you. You can:
- Recognize the important aspects of healthy eating.
- Learn how to make informed food choices.
- Identify key areas of lifestyle management for healthy living.
- Recipes and grocery shopping tips.
- A closed Facebook community to share and learn from each other.
The Nutrition Professionals are in-network for many insurances to see a registered dietitian nutritionist as part of your healthcare plan.
If you would like to schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian nutritionist, please contact us. We have specific programs such as Total Gut Restoration and Reset Your Hormones that can address specific needs.
Stephanie Espinoza, MA, RDN, LDN
The association of UK dietitians
Pubmed Estriol: safety and efficacy;