SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF MENOPAUSE
Here is list of signs and symptoms that are commonly associated with menopause:
- Irregular menstrual cycles—menstrual bleeding slows, becomes erratic, and then stops permanently (the process takes about 4 years)
- Hot flashes—flushing of face and chest (may be accompanied by heart palpitations, dizziness, and headaches)
- Night sweats
- Cold hands and feet
- Vaginal changes—dryness, itching, bleeding after intercourse
- Urinary changes—frequent urination, burning during urination, urinating at night, incontinence
- Mood changes—depression, irritability, tension (usually occurs with sleep disturbances)
- Loss of skin tone leading to wrinkles
- Weight gain and change in weight distribution with increased fat in the central, abdominal area
HOT FLASH AND NIGHT SWEATS
50 to 75% of women in the U.S. experience hot flashes and/or night sweats during menopause. Hot flashes can be very mild, or quite severe. Hot flashes are sudden or mild waves of upper body heat that last from 30 seconds to five minutes. Hot flashes can start with a tingling sensation in the fingers or rapid heart beats. Skin temperatures rapidly rise from the chest to the face and may cause facial redness and sweating.
Perspiration is also common to the phenomena and in some women the hot flash takes the form of a night sweat, followed by a chill that has one groping for the covers kicked to the floor just minutes earlier.
Night sweats are on a continuum with hot flashes, occurring most often in the wee hours between 3 to 4 a.m., a common cause of sleep disturbance in menopausal women, many of whom say they wake drenched in perspiration. Usually triggered by falling estrogen and rising levels of follicle stimulating hormone, hot flashes arrive unannounced, and usually at a most inconvenient time. Besides hormonal changes, anxiety and tension magnify hot flashes and many women find that hot drinks and wine do the same.
In most cases, hot flashes usually go away a year or two after actual menopause and the cessation of menses.
FATIGUE AND STRESS
Many people experience high levels of mental and emotional stress on a regular basis, which puts a significant strain on adrenal function. The adrenal glands are two triangle-shaped glands that sit over the kidneys, and are primarily responsible for governing the body’s adaptations to stress of any kind. When stress becomes excessive or is not well-managed, the ability of the adrenal glands to do their job becomes compromised. The adrenals normally secrete cortisol in response to stress, exercise and excitement, and in reaction to low blood sugar.
The body normally secretes the highest amount of cortisol in the morning to get us going, with levels decreasing throughout the day. People with adrenal imbalance will often have abnormally high or low cortisol levels throughout the day. If stress remains too high, the adrenals are forced to overproduce cortisol continuously. After a prolonged period of time, the adrenals can no longer keep up with demand and total cortisol output plummets leading to adrenal exhaustion.
The hallmark symptoms of adrenal dysfunction are stress and fatigue that is not alleviated with sleep—that tired all the time feeling. Other common symptoms include sleep disturbances and/or insomnia, anxiety, depression, increased susceptibility to infections, reduced tolerance for stress, craving for sweets, allergies, chemical sensitivities and a tendency to feel cold.
You can begin to support adrenal function on your own by avoiding hydrogenated fats, excess caffeine, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, and sugar. Get plenty of quality protein and eat regular meals of high nutritional value.
The key to success is to discover and practice stress management in whatever form works for you personally. Take time out, evaluate the stressors in your life, and find ways of expressing yourself creatively. Get enough rest and sleep. And last but not least, keep a sense of humour!
LOW SEX DRIVE
Estrogen, progesterone and testosterone are key players in the maintenance of circulation, nerve transmission and cell division, so an imbalance of these hormones can easily lead to changes in sexual response. Declining estrogen levels common to the menopausal years can dampen nerve impulses during sex, making us less sensitive to vibration and touch. And since estrogens increase blood flow to sexually sensitive areas, decreased levels can slow or diminish the arousal response.
Imbalances of estrogen and testosterone can cause dryness and thinning of vaginal tissue making intercourse uncomfortable or downright painful—an effect that does absolutely nothing for libido. Key to a normal sex drive is the right balance of estrogen to progesterone. An excess blocks thyroid function, which can inhibit libido. A balance stabilizes mood and supports thyroid function, which enhances libido. Significantly, progesterone is also a precursor to estrogen and testosterone so we need it in steady supply for optimal sexual pleasure.
Testosterone and DHEA also have a major impact on sex drive. Levels gradually decline in the years leading to menopause and can drop dramatically with hysterectomy, chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. If you have a low libido and have lost interest in sex, a measure of estradiol, progesterone, testosterone and DHEA-s can establish probable cause and a rationale for correcting the imbalance.
Bone is a hormonally sensitive tissue that is affected by age-related decline in production of these hormones. Many studies show that both men and women as they age begin to lose bone as the androgens—testosterone and DHEA in particular—start to fall off. When these hormones are low and cortisol is high, bone loss increases at an even more rapid pace. We know that too much stress raises cortisol output, interfering with calcium absorption and bone-building activity, while at the same time stepping up the activity of bone destroying cells. Cigarette smoking, alcohol intake and a lack of physical activity are associated with increased bone loss.
THYROID, WEIGHT GAIN AND DEPRESSION
More than 10 million Americans have been diagnosed with thyroid disease, but interestingly, women are at greatest risk, developing thyroid problems seven times more often than men. Thyroid hormone regulates metabolic rate so low levels tend to cause unwanted weight gain, depression, low energy and cold intolerance. Excess thyroid causes higher energy levels, a feeling of being too warm all the time and weight loss. But its hypothyroidism, or low thyroid, that is most common in women during the perimenopausal and postmenopausal years; in fact, some 26% of women in or near menopause are diagnosed with hypothyroidism.
Over time, depleted estrogens levels can contribute to the development of more serious medical conditions, including the following:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Alzheimer's disease
- Macular degeneration (a serious eye disorder and the leading cause of blindness in the Western world)
- Colon cancer