Menopause is a natural process where a woman transitions from her childbearing years to the next stage of her life. Whilst menopause usually occurs around age 50, a woman is said to be officially in menopause once she has not had a menstrual period for twelve consecutive months so this can occur at various ages.
However, for many women, the months or years leading into menopause (known as perimenopause), can mark the onset of challenging symptoms including irregular menstrual cycles, flushing sensations, irritability and night sweats.
So what is actually happening within a woman’s body during menopause?
Firstly, the ovaries stop producing hormones, particularly oestrogen, which results in the cessation of the menstrual period. You still need some oestrogen for important non-reproductive functions such as supporting bone health, therefore many other tissues including the brain, adrenal glands, and adipose (fat) tissue actually continue the role of oestrogen production for the remainder of a woman’s life, which begins to reveal why some woman experience menopause differently to others.
What this means is – whatever impacts these tissues, impacts your symptoms.
Is it really Hot in here ?
Up to 80% of peri- and postmenopausal women report having vasomotor symptoms (VMS), such as hot flushes and night sweats; with up to half of these women reporting moderate or severe symptoms. The drop in oestrogen that naturally occurs in menopause is seen to be a significant culprit for hot flushes, however it is not the only cause. As similar levels of circulating oestrogen are found in women with and without VMS symptoms, this indicates other factors are at play.
Remarkably, menopausal hot flushes are a result of the brains perception of temperature, due to the narrowing or reduction in something called the thermoneutral zone.
Normal variations in body temperature within this zone means the body does not have to start shivering to warm up, or sweat to cool down. However, in menopause, the narrowing of this zone means that any slight elevation in temperature then triggers the sweating and flushing response, as the brain perceives the body’s temperature to be too hot.
As further proof of this, women experiencing menopausal flushes are not actually hotter in temperature than people not experiencing flushing – amazing but true !
Whilst declining oestrogen is one of the reasons for the narrowing of this zone, it is not the only cause. In fact, it is stress levels that play a larger role than oestrogen levels in triggering hot flushes. To highlight this, recent research has found that menopausal women have increased activity of the stress centre of the brain right before the onset of a hot flush.
Therefore, it is vitally important to support a healthy stress response, not just hormones, to reduce menopausal symptoms.
Mind and Body therapies can really help
Research shows that mind-body therapies, such as yoga, tai chi, mindfulness, meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy and aerobic exercise improve overall menopausal symptoms, such as flushing, night sweats, insomnia and mood changes.
Further, 65% of postmenopausal woman are classified as obese. Therefore, moving your body using the above methods will help to not only lose weight but also improve your symptoms, with evidence showing weight loss alone to be enough for some women to reduce their hot flushes.
In this transitional time for women, it’s important to examine your stress levels, review your current lifestyle choices, and establish healthy habits. Remember, hormones are one part of the picture in menopause, but they aren’t the only contributor.
Your whole body is made of many complexities, and addressing all aspects that influence your menopausal symptoms is vital when embarking on this next stage of life.
For tailored support with your journey towards a balanced and vibrant body get in touch with us today.
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