What Is The Menopause?
The Menopause is when your periods stop due to lower hormone levels. This usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55.
This can sometimes happen earlier. This may be natural or could be down to the following reasons - surgery to remove the ovaries (oophorectomy) or the uterus (hysterectomy), cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, or a genetic reason. Sometimes the reason is unknown.
Perimenopause is when you have symptoms before your periods have stopped. You reach menopause when you have not had a period for 12 months.
Some symptoms caused by menopause or perimenopause:
These symptoms can start years before your periods stop and carry on afterwards. Menopause and perimenopause symptoms can have a big impact on your life, including relationships and work. There are things you can do to help with symptoms. There are also medicines that can replace the missing hormones and help relieve your symptoms.
Menopause and Weight Gain
Due to the changing hormone levels in menopause, it’s possible to add around 1-2kg a week when you can’t sleep (We know this because of a Swedish study of 400 middle-aged women who recorded shortened sleep duration and weight gain.)
A good night’s sleep might be one of the most important factors to maintaining your weight. Although that is easier said than done when you’re experiencing hot flushes, night sweats, bedding the toilet in the night or restless legs and joint pain.
When you’re awake night after night, this means that your glucose-carrying hormone called insulin, remains higher than usual overnight. As does your stress hormone called cortisol. When this happens, this interferes with both melatonin and another sleep hormone called Adenosine.
Tips For Better Sleep
- Increase bright light exposure during the day
- Reduce blue light exposure in the evening
- Don’t consume caffeine late in the day
- Reduce irregular or long daytime naps
- Try to sleep and wake up at regular times
- Look in to melatonin supplements
- No alcohol
- Optimise bedroom environment (temperature, noise, external lights, furniture arrangement)
- Avoid eating too late
- Relax and clear your mind in the evening: practise meditation, yoga, relaxing music, reading a book, taking a warm bath, deep breathing, visualisation
- Regular exercise, however not just before bedtime
When you start to lose muscle, this also effects your metabolism. Skeletal muscle has the most effect on our metabolism. Muscle loss is highest for women during menopause and the rate accelerates when sleep is lost too.
This muscle loss is normal and is known as sarcopenia. Losing muscle means that you don’t ‘burn’ as many calories as you used to either. Unfortunately the effect of this is that you lose mitochondrial cells which are the location for fat-burning and energy production in our body.
What We Can Do
Focusing on resistance training is the best way to avoid muscle loss and keep strength. You will benefit from partaking in strength training exercises around 3-5 times per week depending on the individual.
Low Levels of Vitamin D
Low oestrogen levels may cause low Vitamin D levels, which increases fat storage. Our skin is our largest organ and is full of oestrogen receptors. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and is produced in the skin with the help of oestrogen. Therefore, many women are at risk of low vitamin D levels and because Vitamin D is now recognised as a hormone, low levels have an effect on other hormones in the body too. This is due to the feedback system that operates with all of our hormones.
When Vitamin D is low:
- Hot flushes increase
- Memory loss becomes worse
- More muscle soreness
The increased muscle soreness is because Vitamin D is involved in the production of calcium and our bones and muscles require calcium to help them to remain strong.
Vitamin D is a very powerful hormone for women to monitor in menopause because it is also implicated in melatonin production. This is our sleep hormone, and when Vitamin D levels are low, insomnia increases and our mood hormone (serotonin) is reduced. Serotonin works with dopamine to help our mood and motivation. It may be worth checking your Vitamin D levels with your doctor if you are using menopause-related anti-depressants. Restoring Vitamin D and sleep is crucial to your ongoing health and weight.
High Stress Levels
As your internal cells, tissues and organs are ageing, this means your body doesn’t resist stress as well as it used to. Therefore blood pressure, heart rate and temperature increase more easily when feeling stressed. Some stress is actually good for us, but the problem in menopause transition is that too much stress (and this includes from not sleeping and/ or too much exercise) increases cortisol levels.
This powerful hormone is one of your stress hormones but it works in conjunction with melatonin, your sleep hormone. Too much stress (emotionally and physically) can also interfere with your sleep.
The Main Changes (Summary)
- Lack of sleep
- Changing liver health
- Muscle loss
- Sore joints
- Hot flushes
- Memory loss/‘brain fog’