Menopause: what happens to your body?
Menopause is a transformative time in a woman’s life that’s coloured with negative bias before it has even begun – a problem that’s amplified by the lack of available information and an absence of forums where women can learn how the menopause will affect their bodies. Yet this is not a problem without a solution – multiple solutions, in fact, since we know that, while menopause is inevitable, suffering need not be.
Here we take a look at what you can expect during menopause and how you can manage your symptoms.
What is the menopause?
Ovarian follicles decrease in number throughout a woman’s life. Over time the ovaries release fewer and fewer eggs until eventually there are no more to release. This triggers a chain reaction throughout the reproductive system. The luteinizing and follicle-stimulating hormones responsible for maintaining the menstrual cycle no longer function. Periods therefore cease and a woman is no longer able to get pregnant.
What’s more, oestrogen levels can no longer be regulated, which impacts the delicate balance of reproductive hormones in your body. Once menstruation slows down or ceases, progesterone and testosterone levels also take a dip, changing your reproductive and sexual landscape entirely. But this isn’t an overnight process since declining oestrogen levels become apparent during a phase known as the perimenopause.
When will the menopause happen to me?
Menopause is a complex experience that’s unique to every woman. It generally begins in earnest between the ages of 45 and 55, yet perimenopause can begin in your early forties – or sometimes in your late thirties. This is a natural transition time that allows you to adjust to the changes taking place in your body.
Symptoms of perimenopause may be confused with worsening pre-menstrual symptoms at first, so pay attention to any that feel new or persistent. These can include breast tenderness, fatigue, and noticeable changes to your menstrual cycle – periods will become irregular, as well as lighter or heavier. Other perimenopause symptoms include increased bladder leakage or vaginal dryness.
The progression from perimenopause to menopause happens when your periods stop completely. Other common symptoms include night sweats, hot flashes, weight gain, and increased vaginal dryness and urinary incontinence.
What causes common menopause symptoms?
Oestrogen helps to keep the vaginal muscles stretchy and strong, so as hormone levels dip, so does vaginal lubrication. Pelvic floor muscles weaken too, causing bladder leakage.
Night sweats and hot flashes can be caused by the interaction between fluctuating oestrogen levels and the hypothalamus – the part of the brain that controls body temperature. As oestrogen levels decrease, the hypothalamus can become hypersensitive, which is why the slightest change in room temperature can cause you to overheat.
How can I manage menopause symptoms?
Nutritional choices can really support you during your menopause or perimenopause. Some herbs and supplements provide relief from night sweats, especially foods rich in natural plant oestrogens such as flaxseeds and flaxseed oil.
As hormones fluctuate, so can your insulin or blood sugar levels, which causes weight gain. Avoid refined carbohydrates and refined sugars, and go for grains, legumes and starchy vegetables instead. Changing the way that you exercise can also have a positive impact – in fact, exercise can reduce most menopause symptoms.
As for increasing vaginal lubrication and reducing urinary incontinence, you can begin training your pelvic floor muscles before menopause or perimenopause even begin. A stronger pelvic floor contributes to better bladder control and vaginal elasticity – what’s more, regular sexual activity can also help to keep the vaginal walls thick and moist.
Life need not end with menopause – in fact, women can change the narrative around this inevitable life transition. Open discussion and sharing essential information will inspire confidence in others that menopause can be managed – why not spread the good news?
Find out more about Elvie Trainer and the ways it can support you before and during menopause.