Menopause and the years of shifting hormone levels that lead up to it (called perimenopause) cause changes in the body that affect both mental and physical health. Decreasing levels of estrogen and progesterone influence not just the reproductive system but also the nervous system, urinary tract, circulatory system, bones, muscles, hair, skin, and more.
While menopause often brings uncomfortable symptoms, it can also bring welcome changes, such as the end of monthly periods, shrinking of uterine fibroids, the increased freedom that comes with children reaching adulthood, and greater self-confidence.
What are some effects of low estrogen in menopause?
Each person who goes through menopause experiences it differently. Some have a smooth transition with no uncomfortable effects, while others struggle with physical and mental health issues as hormone levels fluctuate and ultimately decline.
Hot flashes are the most common menopausal symptom. Low estrogen is thought to make the body’s thermostat more sensitive to temperature changes. When it senses the body becoming too warm, it brings on a hot flash to induce its natural cooling mechanisms. These sometimes appear as night sweats, which can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep.
As estrogen levels drop, tissues become thinner, drier, and less elastic. This can lead not only to more wrinkled skin but also to vaginal inflammation and decreased lubrication, pain during sex, and urinary problems.
Estradiol is one form of estrogen that helps the body regulate metabolism in body weight. This can be one reason many women experience weight gain in menopause, which often concentrates in the abdomen in the form of visceral fat. Additionally, loss of muscle mass causes fewer calories to be burned during exercise, making it even more difficult to keep weight down.
Musculoskeletal and cardiovascular health become important points of focus during menopause. Estrogen helps the bones retain calcium, and decreasing levels can cause bone loss and osteoporosis. Excessive alcohol consumption, tobacco use, and certain medications and health conditions increase the risk of developing osteoporosis.
Estrogen also provides protection from heart disease in multiple ways, some of which are still being discovered. It’s been found to increase HDL (good) cholesterol, lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, facilitate blood flow, and reduce free radicals, preventing damage to arteries. A reduction in these natural protections makes heart healthy choices even more important in menopause.
Mood swings, irritability, fatigue, anxiety, and depression are all symptoms associated with menopause. Hormone fluctuations can influence these symptoms, but they can also be secondary to or exacerbated by other symptoms, such as hot flashes and the sleep interruptions they can cause.
How can I support my physical and mental health in menopause?
The list of symptoms can sound dire, but there is good news, too! You can do several things to help keep your mind and body healthy and strong well beyond the menopausal shift. Follow these tips to keep yourself in great shape for the many adventures yet to come.
Cultivate a positive attitude toward menopause.
We all have negative thoughts. While ignoring them isn’t useful, consciously creating more positive thoughts is. Consider seeing the next phase of your life as filled with opportunity. As children grow, the possibility of future pregnancies disappears, and your mature stage of life instills greater self-assurance, the world may hold more possibilities for you than ever before. What have you always wanted to do but never had the time, money, or confidence for? Maybe now is the time.
Often, the 30s and 40s are filled with busy schedules brimming with obligations. While this often continues well past menopause, the body’s increasing demands require more of our attention at this time of life. Rather than thinking of the need to practice self-care as yet another item to add to your to-do list, try regarding it as an opportunity—or an excuse, if you feel you need one—to take care of yourself. It’s about time, isn’t it?
Get outside and exercise, spend time with friends, and make some delicious healthy foods. Making these fun activities into regular habits will help reduce your stress levels and support your physical and mental health in numerous ways!
Get more plant-based estrogens.
Phytoestrogens are substances that occur in many plants and are similar to the estrogen produced in the human body. As a result, consuming foods that are high in phytoestrogens may help alleviate menopausal symptoms. Examples include
- Soy products, such as tofu, soy milk, and miso
- Legumes, such as beans, peas, and peanuts
- Flax and sesame seeds
There are also supplements that contain phytoestrogens, but it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before adding any supplements to your routine. Black cohosh, dong quai, red clover, evening primrose, and chasteberry are examples of herbs commonly used to relieve symptoms of menopause.
Talk to your doctor about hormone therapy.
If natural approaches aren’t providing the symptom relief you desire, your doctor may prescribe some type of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This is most often used for women within ten years of menopause up to age 59 and typically includes both estrogen and progesterone supplementation. HRT can increase the risk of several health conditions, however, so it’s important to have a thorough conversation with your doctor about potential benefits and side effects before moving forward with this treatment.
Get important health screenings.
As estrogen levels decline and the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease rise, it becomes more important to take care of your heart and your bones. Screening tests like the DEXA bone density scan and cardiac calcium scoring give you insight that supports more informed decisions about the best ways to care for your health. A DEXA scan will reveal bone loss and osteoporosis, and a cardiac calcium score is used to detect coronary artery disease. Studies have shown that a high cardiac calcium score can also indicate an increased risk of other conditions such as cancer, kidney disease, and COPD.
Iowa Radiology provides state-of-the-art imaging services with a focus on excellent patient care. See our Guide to CT Scans for more information about cardiac calcium scoring, or subscribe to our blog for regular updates on a variety of health care topics.
Coward M. Low estrogen bladder symptoms and treatment. MedicalNewsToday.com. Published April 19, 2022. Accessed July 5, 2022. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/low-estrogen-bladder-symptoms
Estrogen and Hormones. ClevelandClinic.org. Reviewed April 29, 2019. Accessed July 5, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/16979-estrogen--hormones
Galan N. Can estrogen levels affect weight gain? MedicalNewsToday.com. Published May 17, 2018. Accessed July 5, 2022. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321837
Holland K. Mental Health, Depression, and Menopause. Updated August 12, 2020. Accessed July 5, 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/menopause/mental-health.
Johnson TC. Better Skin After 50. WebMD.com. Reviewed August 16, 2021. https://www.webmd.com/menopause/ss/slideshow-better-skin-after-menopause.
Mayo Clinic. Perimenopause. Published August 7, 2021. Accessed July 5, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/perimenopause/symptoms-causes/syc-20354666.
North American Menopause Society. Urinary Incontinence. Menopause.org. Accessed July 5, 2022. https://www.menopause.org/for-women/sexual-health-menopause-online/causes-of-sexual-problems/urinary-incontinence.
White A., Cherney K. Are Phytoestrogens Good for You? Healthline.com. Updated June 10, 2021. Accessed July 5, 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/phytoestrogens.
Menopause causes changes in the body that affect both mental and physical health. Learn tips for coping with them.
Menopause can bring many troubling symptoms, but there are several steps you can take to relieve them. Learn more on our blog.
Hot flashes keeping you up at night? Learn tips for managing them on our blog.
Menopause is a time of intense change. Learn tips for navigating it with ease.