Wouldn’t life be a whole lot simpler if we didn’t have hormones to deal with? While our 50s can be a decade of self-acceptance and independence with children leaving the nest, it can also be a tough time health-wise with the onset of hot flushes, mood swings and a decreasing libido – and that’s just a few symptoms the menopause gifts us. We can at times feel like our hormones are all over the place and wonder what on earth is going on in our bodies. Are they ever going to calm down?
We spoke to Doctor Clare Morrison, who specialises in women’s health, for the lowdown on hormones in our 50s. She told Lumity what causes the fluctuations and how we can help restore the balance.
“By our 50s, the ovaries run out of eggs, causing periods to stop (the menopause), and levels of the female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, to fall. This makes the pituitary gland (situated at the base of the brain) go into overdrive, in a futile attempt to stimulate the ovaries to release an egg.”
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“Before the menopause, when a woman is ovulating regularly, there is a regular, cyclical pattern of hormone levels, and it’s easy to predict how our bodies will feel at any given time of the month. However, around the menopause and afterwards, there is no longer a reliable monthly pattern. Ovulation becomes sporadic, and then stops altogether, meaning that hormone levels can fluctuate up and down unpredictably.”
“The most obvious symptoms are caused by the high levels of pituitary hormones, and include profuse sweating and hot flushes. In addition, low oestrogen levels cause vaginal dryness, loss of libido, and bladder weakness.”
“Changing levels of hormones don’t just cause physical symptoms. They also affect the brain, causing problems with moods, tolerance to stress, and sleep. Hormonal changes around the menopause are linked with depression, mood swings and loss of self-esteem. All this can affect how we cope with everyday life, and how we relate to those closest to us. In fact, in my practice, it is often the partners of menopausal patients who are desperate for them to seek help.”
“Very often no specific treatment is required, other than reassurance that the symptoms are normal, and will eventually settle. If treatment is needed, HRT is the most effective therapy for hormone deficiencies in 50+ women, and is available as tablets or patches.
For hot flushes, clonidine tablets can ease symptoms. For mood swings, irritability and anxiety, a low dose anti-depressant may be suitable. Vaginal dryness may be improved by oestrogen cream, or a simple lubricant.
Much is said about the role of herbal remedies, and soy products such as tofu, but I would be circumspect about these, as research data is inconsistent. If sweating is a problem, it helps to wear loose cotton clothes, and bedsheets. To improve sleep, avoid caffeine in the latter half of the day, and try magnesium citrate at bedtime.”
“Hormone changes during the menopause can negatively affect the body’s response to insulin, leading to obesity, raised cholesterol, and slowed metabolism. This increases the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. We also become more at risk of osteoporosis, which may lead to bone fractures and back pain.
Therefore, it’s more important than ever to eat healthy foods, without too much refined carbohydrate. We should adopt the ‘Mediterranean diet’, with plenty of lean protein, oily fish, wholegrains, vegetables, salads and fruits. This will ensure a diverse range of nutrients, and plenty of fibre to maintain a healthy bowel function.
It’s also important to get regular aerobic, weight-bearing exercise, such as a brisk 30 minute walk every day, to keep the bones strong, and help prevent obesity and cardiovascular disease.”
“If you have any concern that your diet may not be providing adequate amounts of essential vitamins, I would recommend a daily multi-vitamin. In fact, I take one myself. Make sure it contains all the B vitamins, particularly B6, and also vitamin D, calcium and magnesium.”
Doctor Clare Morrison is a GP for https://www.medexpress.co.uk/
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