Women who are going through menopause are usually greatly aware of the effects fluctuating estrogen levels have on their body. Hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings and changes in skin and hair are all very common menopause symptoms caused by decreasing estrogen levels. As menopause is a natural and expected part of a woman’s life, fluctuating estrogen levels are too. But what exactly is estrogen and what is it responsible for in our body? Why does it create such challenging effects during this time in our lives?
Let’s start at the beginning (Compliments to KuhlCare for providing this detailed explanation.). Estrogen is a hormone that is comprised of a group of compounds made of three different types of estrogens: estrone, estradiol, and estriol. During puberty, estrogen is responsible for the formation of secondary female sex characteristics, like breasts, and signals your body to begin menstruation. So it may come as no surprise that estrogen is directly linked to fertility, ovulation, mood and sexual desire. In many ways, estrogen helps a woman’s body prepare for child-bearing. Estrogen promotes uterine growth and the thickening of the vaginal wall during puberty and during ovulation. Other effects on the
body include accelerated metabolism, increased fat storage in certain areas of the body, reduced muscle mass and increased bone formation. During premenopause, you won’t experience hot flashes or night sweats because your estrogen levels are stable, fluctuating only a little throughout your menstrual cycle compared to when you reach perimenopause and post menopause.
Before your periods, it’s not uncommon to experience more mood swings and anxiety than usual. During this time in your cycle, estrogen has increased which also spurs the increase of norepinephrine, a hormone in the brain that is usually activated by a stressful event. Increased estrogen levels right before your period are also responsible for decreased dopamine levels in the brain, which sometimes means a decrease in motivation and a harder time achieving pleasurable feelings. Not every woman experiences emotional swings during this time of the month, but if you do, remember that it’s perfectly natural. You may not enjoy it, but there might be some comfort in knowing that your body is reacting in a normal fashion.
When menopause occurs, estrogen levels really begin to fluctuate at a much more rapid rate, and move in a decreasing direction over time. The process of estrogen depletion in the body may take longer than you might expect. As you approach menopause, the ovaries stop producing estrogen and eggs. This is why your period becomes irregular and eventually stops. With less estrogen being produced, all of the effects that stable levels of estrogen provided are now in the past. This is when the symptoms of menopause begin to appear, and many women decide to take action to improve their health and the way they feel.
For instance, lower estrogen levels may mean weaker bones during menopause, so it becomes very important to take a calcium supplement. This can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Low estrogen levels also increase a woman’s risk for colon and ovarian cancer, gum disease, tooth decay, and cataract formation. This may sound scary, but there are strategies you can try to help prevent these illnesses. Talk to your doctor about your options. Sometimes it’s just a matter of exercising more, eating a little more nutritiously, or taking supplements to counteract the loss of estrogen.
Menopause is a planned and natural change for every woman. It does present challenges in the form of menopause symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings and irritability, but not every woman has all these symptoms. Plus, knowledge equals power. So with greater knowledge of what estrogen does to your body and what happens during this life change, you should feel empowered to combat any of the menopause symptoms you might experience. It may take a bit of effort, but with some determination, you can find ways to cope with menopause in a positive way. Consult with your doctor, do some research, and empower yourself!