Menopause is of worldwide interest. I suspect for two reasons: First, it influences most everyone in the world, some directly and others indirectly. Second, very few people understand what it actually is.
The symptoms of menopause seem to be pretty well understood. Everything from dry skin, brittle nails, depression, moodiness, poor sleep quality, hot flashes to low energy—just to name a few.
The word menopause is of Greek origin. Meno = monthy. Pause = cessation. Menopause is the cessation of monthly cycles. It is not defined as a change in female hormones, which is a common misconception about menopause. If it was, how would one describe the difference between puberty and menopause?
Monthly cycles cease when the ovaries stop producing estrogen. This is a natural phenomenon, as the human body is only at its most capable in regards to reproduction from late teens to mid-forties.
What happens after the ovaries stop producing estrogen is where things really become misunderstood.
The pituitary gland secretes a couple key hormones which include FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and LH (leutinzing hormone). When the ovaries no longer produce estrogen, the pituitary gland eventually slows its production of FSH and LH.
Unfortunately, LH also produces GH (growth hormone). This can become devastating because growth hormone is important for so many functions within the body. These functions include bone remodeling/repair, muscle preservation, body composition, health skin, sleep regulation, metabolism, libido, immune function, and more.
The good news is that GH can be significantly increased by weight-bearing exercise, which we’ll call resistance training. All women have heard that resistance training exercise is important during and after menopause. Why? Because it increases GH and triggers a sharp decline in bone loss, among the other ill effects of low GH production listed above.
At the same time the ovaries stop producing estrogen, the adrenal glands pick up the slack, as estrogen production is still important for non-reproductive functions. The adrenal glands utilize cholesterol (a very important hormone for females during and post-menopause) to create pregnenalone. At this point a fork in the road is presented. Pregnenalone can either make the necessary hormones to produce estrogens, or it will create cortisol.
Cortisol is our body’s primary stress hormone. When the body is under stress (from any kind of stressor, such as too little exercise, emotional stress, compromised diet, bad water intake, dramatic change in temperature, change in time zones, electro-magnetic fields, sleeping next to plugged-in devices such as cell phones and lamps, etc.), it will naturally increase the need or demand for cortisol. Because of the increased demand for cortisol, estrogen synthesis becomes compromised. As a result, women don’t feel well during menopause. As cortisol increases, we tend to store body fat in the belly (umbilicus region), another common symptom for many women going through menopause.
So what to do…
Master the basics. Healthier women have a more favorable experience with menopause.
Here’s a quick checklist of things anyone can implement for improved health, menopausal or otherwise:
✓ Get to sleep before 10PM (this will regulate sleep/wake cycles, which help regulate cortisol, growth hormone, and brain chemistry)
✓ Get rid of all electronics within six feet of your head while sleeping
✓ Participate in resistance training 2-4 times per week
✓ Eat right by increasing vegetables, healthy protein, and healthy fats. And yes, you should choose organic. It doesn’t make sense to voluntarily put known carcinogens into your body. Avoid white/bleached table salt—use Himalayan Sea Salt to nourish the adrenals.
✓ Drink 1/2 your bodyweight in ounces of water every day, minimum
✓ Work with the appropriate health professional to consider doing a systemic detoxification
✓ Identify obvious stressors and do your best to avoid them
Todd Stebleton CCN, CPT
Todd is a nationally Certified Clinical Nutritionist and corrective exercise specialist. He educates nationally and works with clients in the Minneapolis area.