Starting in your mid to late 30’s you may have picked up on some clues that things were shifting with your hormones as your progesterone levels started to decline, and by the time you’re in your 40’s your body may be changing in ways that you may not have expected or wanted, including fat storage in your midsection, or less affectionately called the “menopause muffin top”
If you’re struggling with:
- Mood swings
- Weight Gain
- Brain Fog
- Low Libido
- Vaginal Dryness
- Hair Thinning and Skin Changes
The symptoms you may experience starting in your mid-late 30’s, 40’s and 50’s during perimenopause,(the span of time leading up to the day, 12 months after cessation of your last period, which defines menopause), are the result of the significant decline in your sex hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Although these hormones have been fluctuating throughout your life, in perimenopause the shifts are more extreme and your body no longer has the capacity to produce sufficient sex hormones or balance their ratios and levels.
The decline in hormone production and the relative imbalances created by the shift in levels are at the sources for the wide-range of symptoms women experience during this phase of life including fatigue, bloating, sleep challenges and joint discomfort.
What is Going On With Your Hormones?
Below are some of the symptoms that are associated with low levels of your sex hormones.
Symptoms of Low Estrogen
- Irregular periods: Because estrogen is one of the main hormones driving the menstrual cycle, low estrogen may lead irregular or missed periods
- Hair thinning and sagging skin: Estrogen plays a significant role in hair growth, collagen formation and production of hyaluronic acid yielding luscious locks and a supple complexion. Low levels leads to wrinkles, sagging skin and thinning hair.
- Vaginal dryness and painful sex: Estrogen’s important contribution to tissue hydration means low levels can lead to vaginal dryness, vaginal atrophy and painful sex. Hot flashes: Hot flashes often happen during menopause due to low estrogen levels.
- Mood swings and depression: Serotonin, a mood boosting chemical is thought to be increased by estrogen, so low estrogen levels may cause serotonin to decrease contributing to mood swings or depression.
- Hot flashes: Low levels of estrogen can trigger vasomotor symptoms including hot flashes.
- Brain fog, memory loss, trouble concentrating: Declining estrogen hinders short term memory, critical thinking and brain function.
Symptoms of Low Progesterone
- Irregular Periods -Like estrogen, progesterone plays a major role in regulating your period, and as progesterone levels decline starting in your mid-late 30’s your cycles may become irregular and unpredictable.
- Headaches and Migraines – While there are various causes of headaches, the decline in progesterone may be a contributing factor especially before and during your period due to the relative increase in estrogen compared with low progesterone. Progesterone is the first hormone that begins to decline, starting in your mid-late 30’s. Estrogen can cause dilation of blood vessels and water retention which can trigger headaches.
- Anxiety– Progesterone is considered the “great calmer” as it has an intricate relationship to the brain chemical GABA which helps create a sense of calm and relaxation. Low levels of progesterone can contribute to anxiety, insomnia and irritability.
- Weight Gain – Progesterone plays a role in supporting thryoid function which is key for metabolism. As progesterone levels decline, the thyroid gland does not have sufficient support to produce thyroid hormone and metabolism slows down contributing to weight gain.
Symptoms of Low Testosterone
Testosterone plays a role in helping to protect the nervous system, musculoskeletal system, cardiovascular system as well as energy, mood and our sense of wellbeing.
Low levels of testosterone can lead to:
- Hair loss
- Incontinence : Testosterone plays an important role in maintaining muscle integrity. Low levels lead to sarcopenia, which is a progressive loss of muscle mass and strength
- Increase fat and Loss of muscle tone and strength
- Lack of motivation and self-confidence
- Low libido
- Moodiness and irritability
Each woman may experience the transition to perimenopause and menopause differently, and the key to thriving, rather than just trying to survive is giving your body the extra support it needs.
Managing Your Menopause Symptoms
Rather than beating ourselves up for the shifts in our body, here are some simple suggestions to support your overall hormone balance and a healthy weight. Here are 5 practical and actionable tips that can help you navigate this journey:
Workout Smarter Not Harder
The old adage of no pain, no gain and more is better is old news and outdated. Tuning into your body and moving in a way that feels good and serves your body is where it’s at. If you’ve been a cardio junkie and pushing hard with high intensity interval training or running endless miles and not getting anywhere but exhausted and your waistline isn’t budging, it’s time for a time out. Or maybe you haven’t exercised in a while and not sure where to start.
Being active is so important for overall health and longevity, but choosing what type of exercise to do in menopause is very personalized and can change from day to day, so tuning into your body, your energy, your needs is really important so you can workout smarter not harder.
High intensity workouts can actually put more stress on your body which leads to increase levels of your stress hormones preventing weight loss. Opting for more gentle forms of exercise like walking, pilates, yoga or strength training can help rev up your metabolism and support your heart health without wiping you out. Some days you may have more energy to increase the intensity, but on days you don’t, don’t just push through, you can still benefit from moving your body more gently.
Stress less about stress (no way to get rid of it, but there are ways to manage it)
Stress has so many affects on the body including contributing to weight gain and making it harder to lose weight. When you are stressed, often the tendency is to grab foods that help soothe the distress like foods high in carbs and sugar which leads to increases in blood sugar, high insulin levels and fat storage. This is compounded by the effects of stress itself on your body because stress triggers the release of cortisol. Cortisol raises blood sugar, increases insulin levels (contributing to insulin resistance) which has several downstream effects including impairing your body’s detoxification capacity, adding belly fat, and accelerating skin aging.
A high-carb diet plus high levels of cortisol equates to weight challenges. Simple stress management techniques that you can implement right away include journaling, listening to comedy – laughter is the best medicine, yoga, meditation, taking a walk outside and tuning into the sounds, smells, sights and sensations you experience along the way, putting on your favorite song and having your very own dance party and the most simple and most powerful one of all: JUST BREATHE.
Breathwork is the fastest way to reset your nervous system and take you from the “fight or flight” stress response to the “rest, digest and relaxation” response that helps restore your energy, well being and creates a sense of calm.
There are many breathing techniques you can use, and one of my favorites is coherent breathing because of it’s simplicity. Take a deep breath in through your nose for a count of 5, and then exhale through your mouth for a count of 5. Repeat this cycle for a minimum of 3 times — it’s a game changer, I promise!
Focus on food quality not quantity
As estrogen is stored in fat, the more fat we have the more severe symptoms like hot flashes can be so shifting our mindset around what we eat is key.
Whole foods are nutrient dense and packed with hormone loving support your body needs to thrive. As you fill your plate with healthy fats like avocado and omega 3 fatty acids, fiber from vegetables, and lean proteins, you will naturally crowd out highly processed, high carb foods making it easier to lose weight without trying. Creating a plate that has fat, fiber and protein at every meal will help support the function of your gut, liver and stress response that will significantly improve your menopause symptoms. Top tips to help boost metabolism, minimize midlife weight gain and support weight loss include:
- Minimize (ideally avoid) caffeine and sugar
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol (especially in the evening, as it can exacerbate hot flashes and disrupt your sleep)
- Eliminate bad dietary fats (hydrogenated, saturated), increase good dietary fats (olive oil, avocado oil)
- Boost your fiber (with a daily goal of 35 grams)
- Increase cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts) to help your body better metabolize hormones
- Power your plate with phytochemicals (rainbow of vegetables)
- Consider doing a food journal for a week to help identify food sensitivities that can contribute to inflammation and bloating.
While those hot flashes can make getting a good night sleep challenging, as noted above there are things you can do to minimize the frequency and intensity of those hot flashes including cutting back on and ideally cutting out sugar, alcohol and caffeine.
Sleep also plays a role in either whittling your waist or packing on the pounds. Leptin is a hormone that affects metabolism by signaling us to feel full and it increases during sleep. When we don’t prioritze sleep and get enough of it, this leads to low leptin levels which slows metabolism. It’s a double whammy because as leptin levels fall, ghrelin, “the hunger hormone” and cortisol, “the stress hormone” rise driving us to eat more and store fat. The body perceives lack of sleep as a source of stress leading to elevated cortisol, which tells our body to store fat, especially around our middle. That’s why chronic stress can contribute to stubborn fat making it harder to lose weight.
Setting your bedroom up for sleep success and less stress is key:
- Wear blue blocking glasses to minimize junk light
- Dial your bedtime back by 15 minutes until you are in bed by 10pm
- Keep your room dark (cover all outlet and appliance lights)
- Keep your room cool
- Use your bedroom for sleep and sex only (no TV)
Mindfulness is the key for better sex
I think it’s pretty clear that stress can make menopause symptoms worse from skin issues to weight gain to sleep challenges, and it can also mess with your mojo. Stress, whether physical, mental or emotional, alerts your body to priortize making stress hormones like cortisol as well as adrenaline and noradrenaline and puts production of your sex hormones on the back burner and when your body is already diminished in its capacity to produce hormones the impact is more significant. Not only that, when you are stressed you are either worried about things in the past or fretting about things that may happen in the future, and the one thing you aren’t doing is being present. It’s in the present moment where life takes place. It’s in the present moment where you experience pleasure, joy, calm, peace and orgasms…and ladies, who doesn’t want to experience that?
Being mindful is nothing more than taking a moment to push pause, bring an intention to pay attention to your thoughts, emotions and sensations and simply just observe them, allowing them to be what they are without trying to change them or wanting them to be different. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Simply allow yourself to receive.
A helpful technique that can boost your ability to be more present so that you can tap into or reignite your sensuality starts outside the bedroom, and the more comfortable you get with practice you can bring your skills to the bedroom. Try this on for size: as you take a shower tune into all your senses: the sound of water hitting your skin, the feeling of your soap sliding across your skin, the smell of your shampoo, the taste of water on your tongue, the sight of water running through your hair.
Notice how you feel physically, mentally and emotionally as you practice this mindful exercise. As you get more comfortable with it, you can bring that level of awareness and attention to your intimate interactions with yourself and/or partner. By focusing on all your senses you naturally crowd out the negative self-talk, the body image worries and all the other thoughts that often can slam the brakes on your sexual desire and arousal. Instead, by tuning into your sensations you can become more fully present and have greater capacity to not only get turned on, but turn up your experience of pleasure.
If you need more personalized support, schedule a FREE consultation HERE.