I’m starting to experience hot flushes and this is freaking me out! I’m probably like many women my age who don’t really see it coming and feel it is far too soon to be experiencing this. As this is such an important area for women, I thought I’d provide the whole chapter from our book Fast Living, Slow Aging, so as to better help you navigate this trying time! I’ll break the chapter into several posts and here is the first one.
Hormone changes and aging
In every woman from her mid to late forties, a natural transition occurs in the way the major female sex hormones are produced and released. Over the next five to 10 years, the production of major oestrogens (estradiol and estriol) and progesterone slows, becomes erratic, and eventually shuts down altogether due the exhaustion of hormone-producing reserves in the ovaries. During the latter part of this transition, menstrual cycles lengthen, become irregular and eventually stop, signalling the end of our fertility – known as the menopause.
The process of ovaries shutting down involves not just an end to reproductive functioning but changes in almost every aspect of a woman’s body and life. Though individual experiences vary, many women experience also distressing symptoms including hot flushes (hot flashes), mood changes, disturbed sleep and concentration, urinary incontinence, joint pain and stiffness, vaginal dryness, sexual dysfunction and reduced quality of life. Severe menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes are more common in those who are overweight, inactive or smokers.
Other changes that occur with the menopause are more subtle, though equally important for health and wellbeing. Oestrogens are key regulators of growth and function in many tissues, from our bone to our skin, our pelvic floor to our brain. As oestrogen levels decline, these structures also undergo significant changes. Loss of oestrogen, for example, triggers accelerated bone loss, increasing our bones’ fragility and pushing many women closer to the threshold of osteoporosis. At the same time, our skin becomes drier and less flexible, contributing to the development of wrinkles. Increased levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol, together with reduced clotting capacity and impaired vascular function in post-menopausal women also contributes to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Usually, a history of menopausal symptoms is all health professionals need to determine whether our hormone levels are declining. Blood tests to check levels of various hormones can be done, too, and can be useful in establishing whether young women are going through menopause prematurely.
Treatment in brief
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is widely used by women wishing to manage their menopausal symptoms. In addition, many believe that that delaying the loss of oestrogen levels by up to 10 years through HRT may also delay various complications of aging by a similar length of time.
Options to help combat the menopause
- Be aware of your symptoms – Don’t suffer in silence or pretend it isn’t happening
- Keep a menstrual diary – note any changes in your usual menstrual cycles, reduced physical and mental energy, low mood, mood swings, reduced libido, disturbed sleep, pelvic-floor problems, joint pain and stiffness
- Make an appointment to see your doctor to see what your options are if symptoms impact on your life (and don’t procrastinate about doing it)
- Get more omega –3 – omega-3 fatty acids have a number of positive actions on mood, inflammation and vascular function
- eat more cold-water oily fish, flax seed (linseed), purslane, kiwifruit, lignon berries, black raspberries and walnuts
- It is recommended to take a gram of EPA and DHA each day, or 2-3 g/day of alpha-linolenic acid from plants. This is the equivalent of an oily fish meal 2-3 times every week
- Increase your physical activity
- Take up swimming, dancing or bike riding
- Join a flexibility class
- Get a personal trainer and start doing weight training.
Last Reviewed 10/Mar/2014