Did you know that estrogen affects almost every tissue or organ system in the body? It affects everything from bone health to emotional well-being and is the dastardly villain causing those hot flashes.
When we are young, estrogen is our friend. This diverse sex hormone helps make women curvy, makes pregnancy possible, plays a role in bone development and hair growth, and regulates mood.
And then .... it turns on us.
As we approach menopause, estrogen levels start to decline until it is eventually no longer produced by the ovaries.
Estrogen can decline for many reasons, including ovarian failure, thyroid disorders, and excessive exercise, but the most common cause is menopause.
As our estrogen levels decline, we might experience, among other things, irregular periods, loss of fertility, weak bones, painful intercourse, hot flashes, depression, and weight gain.
When it comes to weight gain, not only does estrogen contribute to our bodies storing more fat, it also affects where that fat is stored. I don’t think it will come as much of a surprise to most of us that as estrogen decreases at midlife, storage of fat shifts from the hips and thighs to the belly. The “menopot” is real, and it sucks! I, for one, went from an hourglass to an apple shape seemingly overnight. Wherever it’s stored, 90% of women gain weight after menopause!
Not only is estrogen responsible for flushes, flashes, night sweats, and mood swings, but it also causes a thinning of tissues. Tissue thinning leads to the appearance of more wrinkles, the increase of UTIs due to thinning of the urethra, and painful sex because the vagina has also thinned. Osteoporosis and heart disease are just two of the significant health risks of low estrogen.
For symptom relief, you might try Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) that is delivered via pills, creams, patches, or injections and might consist of estrogen and progestin or estrogen-only. If you are opposed to chemical HRT, check out this article, which talks about bioidentical hormones (hormones derived from plant extracts that are very similar to those produced in our bodies). As with all HRTs, there are side effects and risks with both traditional and bioidentical therapies, so be sure to talk to your doctor to figure out which is best for you.
Other treatments include:
Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMs) which block estrogen receptors only in certain areas of the body and not others. SERMs might be an option if you have concerns about some of the side effects of traditional HRT, but need relief from hot flashes or low bone density.
Vaginal Estrogen Therapy is administered in the vagina and is effective for moisturizing and rebuilding tissue. Very little goes into blood circulation, so the risks are far lower.
Herbs and supplements - Black cohosh is thought to relieve hot flashes by regulating body temperature. Vitamin D can help promote bone renewal and hormone balance. St. John’s wort is among the most popular herbs in the U.S. and has been used as a treatment for mood swings, sleep problems, and reducing depression and anxiety. Omega-3 fatty acids can decrease the frequency of hot flashes and the severity of night sweats in some women. These are just a few that could help with your menopause symptoms. Click here for more supplements that could help.
Talk to your doctor before taking any supplements or herbs; many can interact with other medications.
Certain foods that are rich in estrogen can help too. Foods like; Flax seeds, sesame seeds, soy products like edamame and soy milk, eggs, dark chocolate, and believe it or not – beer (hops contain phytoestrogen – the plant form of estrogen). Just be sure you don’t overdo it with the beer ladies! Other phytoestrogen-containing foods are chickpeas, peanuts, barley, grapes, berries, plums, and black tea.
It’s important to be mindful of your general health and fitness. Diet, stress reduction, and exercise can go a long way in mitigating the effects of estrogen loss. Please share what is working or has worked for you in the comment section!