Menopause 101

What is menopause?

Menopause is a stage in a women’s life when her period stops.  It is a naturally occurring process, traditionally occurs in the late ’40s to early ’50s, marking the end of a woman’s reproductive years.  Menopause happens when the ovaries stop producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Natural menopause is the permanent ending of menstruation.  The process is gradual and defined in three stages:

  • Perimenopause – occurs 8-10 years before menopause, when the ovaries gradually produce less estrogen.  Typically occurs beginning in the ‘40s. However, it can start in the ’30s.  
  • Menopause – marks the time when women no longer experience a period, and the ovaries stop releasing eggs and producing most of their estrogen.  
  • Post menopause – the years following menopause are defined through the easing of menopausal symptoms and lower levels of estrogen.  

Estrogen and progesterone through the lifecycle 

At birth, levels of estrogen and progesterone are both high, but they decrease within a few months and remain low until adolescence when puberty begins.  During puberty, physical changes are regulated by the levels of these hormones. Estrogen and progesterone increase cause the maturing of the sex organs and breasts and stimulates the first period.  During child-bearing years, progesterone levels rise during the 2nd half of the menstrual cycle, after the egg is released from the ovary.  If pregnancy occurs, levels of progesterone increase to help prepare the uterus for the developing baby. Progesterone levels fall, signaling the body to shed the uterine lining during menstruation.  Estrogen helps control the menstrual cycle and is essential for pregnancy. The body produces three types of estrogen, estradiol (E2), estrone (E1), and estriol (E3). Estradiol and estrone are present in the highest amounts during the reproductive years.  E3, estriol, is produced in pregnancy to support the placenta and fetal development. Varying levels of estrogen occur in perimenopause when the ovaries could increase production of estrogen and then begin gradually making less estrogen. Estrogen’s counteracting hormone, progesterone during perimenopause declines.  This state of low progesterone-to-estrogen ratio is referred to as estrogen dominance and creates perimenopause symptoms. Menopause marks the fall of both estrogen and progesterone and the ending of menstruation. Low estrogen and progesterone levels affect the body causing various menopausal symptoms and increase the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease.  

Symptoms of Menopause

The change of the menstrual cycle is signaled first by perimenopause, when a woman’s period may be irregular and occur for shorter or longer amounts of time.  While the transition into menopause occurs and hormones levels decrease, many women experience weight gain and other symptoms.
Some symptoms associated with menopause include:

  • Hot flashes – These occur due to changing estrogen levels.  Hot flashes are sudden feelings of heat and may include flushing, blotching on chest and arms, and sweating.  
  • Difficulty sleeping – This may be related to night sweats or other menopause symptoms. Long-term sleep loss can lead to fatigue, lack of energy, and memory problems.  
  • Mood changes – Hormone fluctuations cause increased irritability, anxiety, fatigue, and depressed moods.  
  • Urinary incontinence – Bladder muscles may weaken, which leads to urine leakage during sneezing, coughing, laughing, or running.  
  • Sexual discomfort – Disinterest in sex and vaginal dryness can occur due to the hormonal production changes causing changes in sexual function.  
  • Skin changes/changes to hair – As hormonal changes decrease, skin can become dry, slack, and thin. Acne can occur as well as rashes or easily irritated skin. Hair may decline on the scalp, and facial hair may show up. 

Diagnosis of Menopause

Menopause is diagnosed when a woman has gone without a period for 12 consecutive months.  The signs (age and menstrual cycle irregularity) and symptoms of menopause can often be enough to tell that the transition to menopause is occurring. While tests aren’t usually needed, some may be used to confirm diagnosis.  Testing hormones like FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) and estrogen as FSH increases (confirmed with levels reaching >40 IU/L) and estrogen levels decrease as menopause occurs. A vaginal swab to test pH levels can also help confirm menopause.  Menopause diagnosis is considered when levels of pH are >4.5.  

Natural Solutions to Menopause Relief 

There are plenty of natural solutions to relieving the symptoms brought on by menopause.  Some of these include managing stress levels, regular exercise, getting a good night’s sleep, and adding more fiber and omega fatty acids like fatty fish, avocados, and almonds to your diet.  Another solution may be adding supplements or nutrients to help cope with the signs and symptoms of menopause. Some supplement and nutrient options include:

Flaxseed

Ground flaxseed helps minimize hot flashes in both frequency and intensity.  Flaxseed contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and lignans. Lignans are phytonutrients that support the immune system and excellent for balancing hormone levels in the body.  A simple addition to diet, flaxseed can be added to smoothies, cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt or it can be sprinkled on salads or pasta.  

Black Cohosh

Black cohosh, derived from a plant in the buttercup family, has been used for many years to treat menopause symptoms.  Black cohosh may work in helping ease symptoms by increasing estrogen levels in the body, affecting the structure and activity of vaginal/uterine tissues, or through brain-related actions like modifying serotonin easing feelings of depression and regulating body temperature or acting as an antioxidant or anti-inflammatory.  Overall, black cohosh is a comprehensive supplement option for relief of symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, dryness, and sleep disturbances. 

Vitamin D

An essential building block for a healthy body, vitamin D promotes bone renewal, normal cell growth, and hormone balance. As women age, vitamin D levels decrease and increase the risk of bone density loss.  Estrogen stimulates the activity of the enzyme responsible for activating vitamin D. Declining estrogen levels in menopause can lead to vitamin D deficiency symptoms. Supplementing with vitamin D can help to improve mood issues and musculoskeletal complaints.  

St. John’s Wort 

St. John’s wort has been used as an alternative treatment for menopausal mood swings, improved sleep, relaxation, and reducing depression and anxiety. Combined with black cohosh, St. John’s wort is effective in improving common symptoms of menopause like hot flashes, sleep issues and concentration.  St. John’s wort is derived from a flowering plant called Hypericum perforatum and can be brewed as a tea or taken in pill or liquid form.  

Ginseng 

Widely used in East Asian countries to treat a spectrum of illnesses and conditions.  Ginseng is used to treat menopausal symptoms of fatigue, anxiety, stress. In addition to improving these symptoms, ginseng can also lessen the risk of cardiovascular disease. Ginseng is available as tea, powder, and extract.  

Maca 

Packed with various beneficial components like protein, fatty acids, essential amino acids, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, maca is known for its hormone-balancing abilities.  Maca appears to help the body produce its own natural estrogen and progesterone while lowering cortisol levels. While maintaining balance within the hypothalamus, pituitary, pineal gland, adrenal glands, and thyroid glands, the results show measurable improvements in sleep, mood, fertility, energy, and hot flashes.  Both gelatinized and raw maca have beneficial effects, however gelatinized is recommended for people with sensitivities or those experiencing digestive issues. Choosing a high-quality, organic form of maca is key to experiencing its health benefits.  

Menopause is a natural part of life, and there are healthful, natural ways to manage the changes it brings. The use of therapeutic nutrients while combining exercise, dietary adjustments, and mindful approaches to stress come together to create a natural solution to treating menopausal symptoms.  

Recommended Supplements by INEVO Body

Fem Protx – Supports symptoms from perimenopause, menopause and PMS

Estrevo – Supports estrogen metabolism and detoxification

Progestevo Cream – Non-prescription progesterone cream

EvoBolix Shake – Go-to meal replacement shake supporting hormone balance and weight loss

References 

American Association of Dermatology.  (n.d.) Caring for your skin in menopause.  Retrieved https://www.aad.org/public/skin-hair-nails/skin-care/skin-care-during-menopause

Das, A., Pala, S., Panda, S., & Singh, A. (2014). Vaginal pH: A marker for menopause. Journal of Mid-Life Health, 5(1), 34. doi:10.4103/0976-7800.127789

Kahwati, L., Haigler, L., & Rideout, S. (2005).  What is the best way to diagnosis menopause? Journal of Family Practice, 54(11), 1000-1002.  

LeBlanc, E. S., Desai, M., Perrin, N., Wactawski-Wende, J., Manson, J. E., Cauley, J. A., … Stefanick, M. L. (2014). Vitamin D levels and menopause-related symptoms. Menopause, 21(11), 1197–1203. doi:10.1097/gme.0000000000000238

Medline Plus. (2011).  Menopause. Retrieved October 9, 2019 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000894.htm

Meissner, H. O., Mscisz, A., Reich-Bilinska, H., Mrozikiewicz, P., Bobkiewicz-Kozlowska, T., Kedzia, B., … Barchia, I. (2006). Hormone-Balancing Effect of Pre-Gelatinized Organic Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon): (III) Clinical responses of early-postmenopausal women to Maca in double blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled, crossover configuration, outpatient study. International journal of biomedical science : IJBS, 2(4), 375–394.

NIH. (2018). Black cohosh.  Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/BlackCohosh-HealthProfessional/#h2.

TRC Natural Medicines.  (2013). Black cohosh and St. John’s wort may improve menopausal symptoms.  Retrieved from https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/news/news-items/2013/june/black-cohosh-and-st-johns-wort-may-improve-menopausal-symptoms.aspx.  

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