Hormonal Health research and awareness in women has been primarily focused on conception or peri and menopausal stages. During the menopause stage there is a natural decline in the hormones produced in the ovaries with symptoms vary greatly from woman to woman. However, aren’t hormones important in post-menopausal women, too? Here is a brief explanation of the main hormones at play and how they affect health.
You might have come across the name Insulin in relation to Type 2 Diabetes. Insulin is a hormone which works to decrease blood sugar levels by moving glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells, where it can be used directly as fuel or stored as body fat.
Higher level of insulin may be caused due to eating excessive amount of refined carbohydrates or eating too often (Insulin gets released every time we eat ANY type of food, too). These high levels might also prevent fat from being broken down for energy (the body first favours glucose as a more quick source of energy).
However, it is a little-known fact that the hormones Oestrogen and Progesterone also regulate how Insulin works. Considering this, many post-menopausal women notice fluctuations in their blood sugar levels. These may be causing symptoms such as mood swings, cravings, dizziness when standing, energy fluctuations, just to name a few.
How to manage this: In these cases, addressing nutritional deficiencies (Vitamin D, Magnesium, Chromium, etc.), balancing the dietary intake to include adequate levels of protein and fat, managing stress and other nutritional strategies may be helpful.
Oestrogen is the primarily female hormone, which levels drastically fall after the menopause.
It is important to understand that there are several types of this hormone. Estradiol is one of the types of Oestrogen, which decreases during the menopause. It helps to regulate metabolism and body weight and decreased levels might lead to weight gain.
During the menopause the body still makes small amounts of Oestrogen by using hormones called Androgens, which are turned into Oestrogen via hormone called Aromatase, which is produced mainly by fatty tissues. This type of Oestrogen is called Oestrone and it is usually much ‘weaker’ than the other types of Oestrogens.
The production of too much Oestrone, say in obese women with plenty of fatty tissue, has been linked to an increased risk of breast and endometrial cancers, because having too much adipose tissue hypothetically can increase the levels of this type of Oestrogen.
Lifestyle habits such as alcohol consumption, diet and even exposure to xenooestrogens can have an impact on Oestrogen metabolism. Xenoestrogens are ‘foreign’ Oestrogens, substances that are close enough in molecular structure to Oestrogen that can bind to Oestrogen receptor sites at cellular level with potentially adverse outcomes. Sources of Xenoestrogens include plastics, pesticides, chemicals, etc. To find out more about these, please see my previous article here.
Foods such as those high in fiber and cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and walnuts, may also help your body balance levels of Oestrogen.
How to manage this: Aim to stay a healthy weight, regularly consume foods, which helps your body manage Oestrogen (see above), minimize alcohol consumption and avoid xenooestrogens, which can further disrupt hormones.
Progesterone is the other female hormone, which dramatically falls after the menopause. This is one of the hormones that is directly linked to brain function in post-menopausal women, which is often characterized with persistent brain fog. It is also Progesterone that is involved in skin health and collagen production and many women experience more drastic skin changes such as more wrinkles, decreased skin elasticity, skin thinning and dryness.
A good way of maintaining Progesterone levels is to keep Oestrogen levels in check and preventing Oestrogen dominance (see above), by maintaining a healthy weight. Managing stress can also be a key in healthy Progesterone levels, because when post-menopausal women experience chronic stress (physical or emotional), their bodies prioritize the production of the stress hormone Cortisol over Progesterone.
Some foods such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, pumpkin, spinach, whole grains and nuts can help you stimulate your body’s production of this hormone.
How to manage this: Maintain healthy Oestrogen levels, keep a healthy weight, manage stress through techniques such as yoga and meditation, consume foods, which stimulate your body to produce more Oestrogen (see above).
Androgens and Testosterone
Testosterone is from the Androgen family of hormones, which give men their ‘male’ characteristics. Although Testosterone is considered primarily a male hormone, women also have some levels of it too. Like Oestrogen and Progesterone, levels of this hormone naturally decrease during the post-menopausal period.
High testosterone level in postmenopausal women has been suggested to be associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, increased triglycerides, insulin resistance and increase in the risk of developing breast cancer.
Testosterone levels in older women seem to be closely linked to insulin resistance and fluctuating blood sugar levels. This is yet another finding that highlights the importance of managing insulin levels for hormonal health during the post-menopausal stage.
In addition, previous diagnosis of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Steroid medication use and Adrenal Gland disorders such as Addison’s or Cushing’s Disease may also increase the levels of Testosterone in post-menopausal women.
Some herbs and natural compounds such as Green Tea, Spearmint and Licorice may help balance Testosterone levels.
How to manage this: Maintain stable blood sugar levels and insulin resistance, consume natural compounds, which naturally balance your Testosterone levels (see above).
Do Men Experience Hormonal Changes, too? Yes, men also have their own version of the Menopause called ‘Andropause’, where some of their hormones such as Testosterone also fluctuate. I plan to write an article about that soon.
Note regarding fore mentioned herbs and supplements:
Please note that all advice on herbs and supplements is for general knowledge only and any of these may have interactions with over the counter or prescription medications, so best to work with a specialist such as a Registered Nutritional Therapist.