Menopause (the ceasing of menstruation and reproduction) is a normal change that a woman will go through on average between the ages of 50 and 55 – although it can happen much earlier. Understanding the changes that happen in the body is vital, as natural decline in hormone levels during menopause can significantly affect a woman’s health for years to come.
The menopause process is gradual and has a few stages along the way. It starts as perimenopause, during which time the ovaries begin to make less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which interferes with an egg being consistently released each month. (By the way, the term menopause actually refers to when a woman has been 12 consecutive months without a period or other signs of fertility. Postmenopause is the stage after menopause has occurred. However many people use the term “menopause” to describe the entire process.)
The decline of hormone production starts slow (typically around age 35) and speeds up through her 40s as a woman approaches actual menopause. At some point during this transition, the ovaries get smaller and stop producing estrogen and progesterone altogether. At this stage, the adrenals take over the job of producing the sex hormones and menopause symptoms often become more pronounced.
The Problem With Diminishing Progesterone
The adrenal glands are widely known for the production of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. But what many people don’t realize is that the adrenals also produce other hormones, including the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone.
The adrenal glands are part of your long-term, back-up hormonal replacement part system and are designed to release whatever female hormone you may need. However, if the adrenals are not functioning well, sufficient progesterone won’t be produced which can cause havoc in the body.
The main purpose of progesterone is to prepare the body for pregnancy and provide the necessary support to ensure the fetus is carried to term. However, that is not the only role that progesterone plays in a woman’s body.
Progesterone is responsible for many important tasks, such as:
- increasing libido
- protecting against fibrocystic breast disease
- maintaining the uterine lining
- hydrating and oxygenating the skin
- decreasing hair thinning
- acting as a natural diuretic
- helping protect against depression and increasing a sense of well-being
- encouraging fat burning and the use of stored energy
- improving clarity
- promoting good sleep
Other Hormones Also Need Progesterone
Progesterone is also the precursors for other important stress and sex hormones (which means it’s needed to make other hormones). While estrogen levels don’t fall until later in the menopause transition, progesterone levels decline sooner and more dramatically leading up to menopause.
Body signals that include symptoms such as hot flashes are most likely the result in a shift in the balance between estrogen and progesterone.
The Impact of Stress on Progesterone
Another risk to progesterone is that the body releases cortisol in response to physical and psychological stress.
When we experience periods of stress, our bodies excrete cortisol to help us work through whatever the situation may be. If there’s a high demand for cortisol due to prolonged stress and the body is unable to keep up with the supply, it will take from cortisol’s pre-hormone, pregnenolone (the mother hormone of all sex hormones).
When more of pregnenolone is used to make cortisol, less will be available to make progesterone, which will further exacerbate menopausal symptoms and affect overall well-being.
The short-term results of stress may not be noticeable, but in the long run chronic stress can lead to adrenal fatigue. This sets the stage for increased inflammation in the body and lowered immunity, which creates numerous disease states.
Are YOU Suffering From Adrenal Exhaustion?
If you have been under constant stress for a prolonged period of time, you may be at the point where your adrenals are fatigued and your hormones are significantly out of balance.
Noticeable symptoms, such as weight gain, irritability, racing thoughts, chronic fatigue, and sleep disturbance are common in people who have adrenal fatigue. When adrenal fatigue is the primary cause of your low progesterone level, you need to focus on rebuilding your adrenal foundation.
Do you find yourself constantly fatigued and struggling to get out of bed in the morning? Do you feel unable to cope with stressful situations? If so, you might be suffering from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome.
Answer These 18 Yes or No Questions
The more “yes” answers you have to the following questions, the more likely you are to have exhausted your adrenals:
- Do you have difficulty getting up in the morning?
- Do you have continued fatigue or low energy?
- Are your thoughts less focused; do you have brain fog?
- Do you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep?
- Do you crave salty, fatty, or sweet foods?
- Do you have blood sugars issues (hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia)?
- Do you have an afternoon slump between the hours of 2 and 5 pm?
- Do you often have muscle aches or pains for no apparent reason?
- Do you have an increased sense of irritability?
- Do you feel overwhelmed by all that needs to be done?
- Have you noticed an increase in belly fat and an inability to get rid of it?
- Do you have a decreased sex drive?
- Do you have low blood pressure?
- Do you have a low body temperature or feel cold all of the time?
- Do you have an increase in mood swings and or depression? Lack of enthusiasm?
- Do you experience dizziness when getting up quickly from a lying or sitting position?
- Do you suffer from increased allergies even if you have never had allergies before? Do you have food allergies?
- Do you have increased menopausal symptoms?
If you suspect you have adrenal fatigue, here are 6 ways you can do an adrenal fatigue test at home (and also consult with your healthcare provider!)
How to Support Your Adrenal Glands
The adrenal glands, just like the other glands in your body, need quality food to do their job effectively. It’s important to consume a clean diet loaded with organic fruits and vegetables that is devoid of artificial sweeteners and processed foods.
Daily detoxification is also essential. Cruciferous vegetables such as kale, broccoli, and cauliflower help detoxify the body.
Milk thistle can be helpful as it helps to break down and eliminate excess hormones and toxins. Be sure to drink plenty of water from a pure source. Your liver has to process any unused chemicals – the more toxins you put in your body, the harder the organs of detoxification have to work.
Stress reduction is also important as research shows that stress and anger are significant factors in menopausal symptoms and contribute to adrenal fatigue. Many women find they have more hot flashes and other symptoms when the adrenal glands are overworked by stress.
Electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) emitted from electronic devices (including your cell phone!) stimulate the body’s stress system, decreasing the ability to wind down and fall asleep. Once you finally do fall asleep, EMFs interfere with the deep sleep your body needs. Poor sleep also causes the adrenals to pump more cortisol, which keeps you awake longer and causes you to wake up after you fall asleep.
The bottom line is that women are systemically being told that their hormone levels are “within range,” but this is far from the truth. Further investigation with a healthcare professional fluent in hormonal issues is often required.
Feeding the adrenals, reducing your toxic load, supporting the liver, and addressing adrenal fatigue can help balance the hormones, which can actually make women healthier, happier, and more balanced during all phases of the menopause process.
13 Tips for Reducing Adrenal Fatigue
- Get 7-8 hours sleep every night.
- Heal the gut with probiotics and bone broth.
- Optimize liver function and detoxification with milk thistle and cruciferous vegetables.
- Get enough B5, also known as pantothenic acid, as it helps provide the extra energy your adrenal glands need to respond to stress and helps repair previous damage to these glands.
- Herbs such as Holy basil help to inhibit the release of cortisol and balance blood sugar levels.
- Reishi mushroom can help resolve the hormonal imbalance.
- Ashwagandha helps alleviate brain fog and memory problems associated with chronic stress and bring a sense of calm to the body.
- Walk briskly or engage in another exercise 4-7 hours per week, with a balance of cardio and strength training. (Go here to discover more about the Best Exercises for Women Over 50)
- Give yourself “me time” for at least one hour a day, which can include stress-relieving activities such as QiGong and Yoga Nidra, or simply taking a walk in nature.
- Consume a healthy diet including adrenal-supportive omega 3-rich foods.
- Keep a gratitude journal.
- Limit cell phone and computer use in the evening hours.
- Enjoy life, laugh more, and find joy in every day.
While the cessation of the menstrual cycle may be an inevitable transition all women go through, supporting your adrenal glands as early as you can in the process will have a huge impact on how you look and feel through menopause and beyond.