Menopause is a normal part of a woman’s life. It is not a disease but a transitional period.
Menopause may be accompanied by undesirable symptoms. Hormonal changes can cause symptoms such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, weight gain, insomnia, hair loss, and depression. A high-fat, high-carbohydrate, low fiber diet and stress can make these symptoms worse.
Let’s look at what is really happening with hormones through menopause and clear up some misconceptions. Below are questions frequently asked about menopause.
Do I have estrogen and progesterone deficiencies when I am in menopause?
Menopause means women stop ovulating, or producing eggs. Estrogen is made from a variety of tissues including fat tissue. Women also get estrogen from their diet or chemicals in the environment. Most menopausal women have normal or elevated estrogen levels in their tissues.
Progesterone, another hormone, can be very low in post-menopausal women. Progesterone is produced by the ovaries after ovulation, which ceases after menopause. It is also made in the adrenal glands. It is not readily available through diet or the environment.
Feeling healthy most often depends on a delicate balance between these two hormones. If either hormone is too high or too low, undesirable symptoms may develop.
Do I need progesterone if I have gone through menopause or had a hysterectomy?
Estrogen and progesterone affect many places in the female body. These hormones both act in breast and brain tissue. Progesterone is a diuretic and an anti-depressant. It inhibits growth of breast cancer when at normal levels in the body. It builds bone and helps brain injuries heal because it is involved in the production of myelin (the insulation around nerve cells). It induces sleep. It is a precursor to other hormones, like cortisol and Aldosterone. Without adequate amounts of progesterone, cortisol and Aldosterone will not be produced in normal amounts. This affects water and sodium balance, the immune system, sleep cycles, energy, and blood sugar levels.
When do I need estrogen?
Before starting estrogen replacement, it is important to determine a woman’s estrogen levels by using a saliva or bloodspot test. Taking estrogen can alleviate symptoms of hot flashes and night sweats temporarily, but the symptoms often return. If women have too much estrogen, they can experience:
- Breast tenderness
- Decreased sex drive
- Foggy thinking
- Increased blood clotting
- Weight gain
- Water retention and bloating
- Increased breast cancer risk
- Facial hair
Does what I eat or do contribute to my hormone levels?
The best thing to do for your hormone balance is to eat a diet that is high in fiber and low in sugar. Lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains will contribute to more balanced hormone levels. Substituting unhealthy oils like margarine, shortening, and vegetable oils with healthy oils like olive, almond, and canola will also help maintain health. For more information, view the Food and Hormones page.
In addition to healthy eating, regular exercise is important to maintain healthy hormone levels. Learning and practicing relaxation techniques like belly breathing, yoga, or tai chi will also help hormones to balance naturally.
Should I use hormone replacement?
Conventional hormone replacement with prescription products containing conjugated estrogens and progestins can alleviate symptoms, but may not be safe for all women. Hormones that are the same chemical structure found in your body are the best and show the most benefit. These can be placed in creams, troches, suppositories and capsules to deliver to your body the hormones it needs in the way you prefer. We can partner with your doctor to use lab results to give you the smallest dose possible to restore your hormones to normal levels without giving you too much. We use the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy in Rexburg, Idaho for all of our prescription hormone preparations.
How quickly would I see results?
When you change the amount of one hormone in the body, it can affect other hormones like thyroid, DHEA, testosterone, and cortisol. The balance of hormones is important, therefore, doses should be started low and adjusted slowly. Usually, results are seen within the first couple of weeks. It can take months for all the hormones to balance in your system, so your hormone dose should not be changed until at least 2-3 months for progesterone and estrogens, and 4-6 months for testosterone.
What kind of lab testing would I need?
Hormones are only present in the blood when they are being transported from one tissue to another. Because hormones are fat-soluble, they do not dissolve in the blood and so they must be carried in the blood by proteins. When they reach the tissues in the body, hormones move off of the carrier protein and into the tissue. Hormones can be much more concentrated in the tissues than in the blood. Therefore, serum hormone levels are not always an accurate picture of what is happening in the tissues. Saliva and bloodspot testing, because they are testing fluid that is in the tissues, give a more accurate picture of hormone concentration in the tissues. We can provide a kit that you can prepare at home and send away. Not all saliva lab kits are the same! There are many saliva lab kits available of poor quality. Please do not place your health in the hands of poor quality results.
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