This post is brought to you by the letters “E” and “P.” Why? Because estrogen and progesterone are the primary hormones related to reproduction. As soon as the menopausal journey begins, our beautiful bodies undergo significant hormonal changes in the reproductive system. Think of that journey—and its effects on E and P—kind of like a game of dominoes. Everyone loves a good game, right?!
Here’s how the domino effect works: start off with ovaries, which play a star role on the reproductive main stage, especially during puberty and pregnancy. When their functioning starts to decline with age, ovulation doesn’t occur regularly (AKA irregular periods make their entrance). Eventually, the ovaries stop ovulating and your periods will exit stage left forever. E and P go from being the stars of the show to C-list cast members at best. Eventually, they don’t get any call backs. You will have lower levels of E and P production by your ovaries, which knocks down dominoes that land on other body parts and systems. Specifically, when it comes to menopause and your decreasing levels of E and P, your emotions are in for one wild ride. But, knowledge is power, right?
Some people think hormonal changes just means having mood swings. But, it’s much bigger than that. Let’s dive in and get the skinny on hormonal changes you might expect during menopause, and ways in which you can stay on top of your M-game.
What Hormonal Changes Happen During Menopause?
Physical changes happen as your body adapts to different levels of hormones. The symptoms you experience during each stage of menopause (perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause) are all part of your body’s adjustment to the changes. But, what are the hormonal changes that you can expect during menopause?
Bye Bye, Eggs!
Ovaries are pretty magical. They are the powerhouse reproductive glands that store eggs and release them into the fallopian tubes. The ovaries also produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone. When combined, estrogen and progesterone control menstruation. As menopause approaches, the ovaries start saying, “Well, my job is done here.” And just like that, they no longer release eggs into the fallopian tubes. Bam … you’ll have your last menstrual cycle.
E & P Say “Ta Ta!”
Estrogen is considered the primary female hormone. It promotes the growth and health of the female reproductive organs. Estrogen also keeps the vagina moisturized, elastic, and supplied with blood. In other words, estrogen is the hormone that keeps your bits happy and comfy.
Just like a maxed out credit card getting used at a perimenopause shopping spree, estrogen levels generally decline. To make sure your perimenopause adventure stays interesting, they decline irregularly. Perimenopause lasts up until menopause (the point when the ovaries stop releasing eggs and you no longer have periods).
When the ovaries have officially stopped releasing eggs and producing most of their estrogen, then people are fully into the menopause stage. Or, in other words, when a woman has gone 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period.
Hormonal Changes as a Result of Lower Estrogen
What Does Estrogen Do?
As we already know, estrogen is the primary female hormone, especially as it relates to the reproductive system. But, what does estrogen do, exactly? Can anyone say “multitasker extraordinaire”? Estrogen wears so many different hats it might as well be a model at a haberdashery convention. E contributes in some of the following ways to our bodies:
- Help the formation of breast tissue.
- Maintain vaginal blood flow.
- Create vaginal lubrication.
- Thicken lining of uterus during the menstrual cycle.
- Keep vaginal lining elastic.
- Help preserve bones.
- Maintain bone health.
- Contribute to cognitive health.
- Assist the cardiovascular system.
- Stimulate the growth of the egg follicle.
- Maintain body temperature.
How Does Menopause Affect Estrogen?
During perimenopause, levels of estrogen fluctuate and become unpredictable. These fluctuations primarily cause irregular periods, which should be a big (spotty) red flag that the Big M is coming your way.
What Symptoms Could You Experience as a Result of Lower Estrogen?
When you have lower levels of estrogen, you might experience some of the following symptoms:
- Hot flashes
- Bone loss
- Vaginal dryness
- Night sweats
- Heart palpitations
- Sex drive changes
- Mood changes
- Feelings of depression
- Weight gain
- Dry skin
It sounds like losing E is a big pain in the B!
Hormonal Changes as a Result of Lower Progesterone
What Does Progesterone Do?
The progesterone hormone lines the uterus for a fertilized egg and helps maintain early pregnancy. Progesterone is the Spock to estrogen’s Captain Kirk, the Rudolph to its Santa, the satin sheets to estrogen’s hotel tempurpedic mattress.
How Does Menopause Affect Progesterone?
When menopause occurs, the production of progesterone stops when there is no ovulation and after the final menstrual period.
What Symptoms Could You Experience as a Result of Lower Progesterone?
The lack of progesterone might cause your periods to become irregular. Your periods might be heavier, longer, or lighter. Decreasing progesterone makes your periods less predictable than Portland’s electricity bills during the month of July.
Treatments for Hormonal Changes
Not all of us will go through the same hormonal changes, andome changes may hit some of us harder than others. The good news? Like a kid with $5 in a penny candy store, you have options.
- Mindset (for example, accepting that you are your best resource, embracing body positivity, etc.)
- Preventative Maintenance / Self-Care (e.g., exercise, eating healthy, social connections, education, gratitude journaling, volunteering or serving others, etc.).
- Prescribed Treatment (e.g., medication like antidepressants or anxiety medications, birth control, hormone therapy, etc.)
- Non-Prescription Treatment (e.g., nutritional supplements, gels, lubricants, bio-identical treatments [things that mimic estrogen as just one example], lotion for dry skin, or other products to help aid with things [brittle nails, etc.])
- Hormone therapy
- Non-hormonal treatments
- Professional Treatment (e.g., talk therapy, pelvic floor specialist [to help with vaginal exercises or painful sex], intuitive eating coach, etc.)
- Alternative Treatment (e.g., yoga, meditation, deep breathing, etc., especially for pain management)
Once you educate yourself, track your symptoms, research your options, you can create a plan of attack and talk to your preferred healthcare to get the care you need. You’ve got this!
It’s a Wrap!
The symptoms you experience during each stage of menopause (perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause) are all part of your body’s adjustment to its hormonal changes. But, what are the hormonal changes that you can expect during menopause?
The two main hormones that are affected during the menopausal transition are estrogen and progesterone (E & P). As the levels of these hormones decrease, you might experience physical and emotional changes. The biggest change you will see are your periods (or lack thereof).
Decreasing levels of estrogen and progesterone will make your periods feel like opening a biological box of chocolates:You never know what you’re gonna get. some months might be full of nougat and cayenne pepper (hot flashes and night sweats ) while others are the dreaded quince log you wish you wish wasn’t included in the first place (AKA (sex drive changes, insomnia, vaginal dryness). Enough of chocolate metaphors. Let’s find a real piece of chocolate to enjoy right now. You deserve it.
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