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  • Writer's pictureNarelle

Stop blaming oestrogen for menopausal woes

Perimenopause and menopause are currently viewed as a hormone deficiency disaster - rooted in the withdrawal of oestrogen.  Oestrogen is the culprit, the root of all menopausal woes.  We just don’t have enough of it and these declining levels create physical mental and emotional changes.

Oestrogen is to blame.

But I don’t think the body is that stupid….

I don’t think oestrogen is the culprit and I don't think is it fair to blame oestrogen for all female perimenopausal and menopausal woes?

Is it possible our modern stressful lifestyle is getting in the way?

Firstly lets take a closer look at oestrogen. There are three types of oestrogen - one type is produced in the ovaries, one in the placenta during pregnancy and one produced in adipose (fatty tissue) and the adrenal glands.  Before menopause, oestrogen is mainly produced in the ovaries and a little bit in peripheral fat tissue.  After menopause the ovaries no longer produce oestrogen and it mainly comes from fat tissue and the adrenal glands.

So once the ovaries retire after a lifetime of work storing and releasing eggs, we don’t just stop producing oestrogen, other areas take over.  As the oestrogen produced by the ovaries slows down gradually the adipose tissue and adrenal glands produce their form of oestrogen. During perimenopause the adrenal glands take over some of the work to produce oestrogen, and even more of the work in menopause.

One of the biggest culprits in exacerbating perimenopausal symptoms (and menopausal) is stress.  I am sure I don’t need to remind you that stress can be a variety of things from lack of sleep, poor diet, personal stress, work stress and perimenopause (how much more do people irritate you?).

When we are stressed our adrenal glands prioritise producing stress hormones over oestrogen.  Our body will always prioritise survival and stress hormones are there to help us survive. Makes sense really - your body staying alive over hot flush discomfort and a dry vagina.  Whilst the adrenal glands should be able to ease the drop in hormones and take over, it can be a case of no raw materials left to produce them.  If you are pumping out stress hormones, the adrenal glands can’t really produce enough oestrogen.

Plus when you produce large amounts of cortisol your “steal” production from oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone.  So you have less hormones to replace what the ovaries produce because the adrenals are already taxed by stress.

But another thing happens too.  Oestrogen and progesterone also work against the impact of stress in our body - they buffer it’s negativity.  Once these levels start to lower in perimenopause the buffering is less effective making the symptoms of stress worse.  In fact one study found that women in early and late perimenopause perceived higher levels of stress than premenopausal women meaning the hormone changes may exacerbate further the negative effects of stress.

It is also interesting that many symptoms of high cortisol are also symptoms of perimenopause like insomnia, lowered energy, weight gain round the middle, low libido, aches and pains and even an increased risk of osteoporosis.  Never mind the anxiety and increased irritability.

Stress is a big culprit. Perhaps more so than oestrogen.

Oh my - this is huge.  Remembering that peri-menopausal and menopausal women are often at the stage of life with teenage or early 20’s kids AND elderly parents.  The “sandwich generation” we can be busy, stressed and have little time for ourselves. Plus the fluctuating hormones can affect how we physically and emotionally respond to stress.   

The body is amazing at adapting as we transition through life stages and the adrenal glands produce oestrogen to back up the ovaries and the body.  But the adrenal glands cannot produce these female hormones whilst they are constantly pumping out stress hormones.  If those adrenal glands are taxed, exhausted or given up then they just can’t supply what is needed.  They cannot smooth out hormonal changes and  we need these hormones for our health and well being.

We blame oestrogen for a lot of menopausal symptoms and health issues but is it really lowered oestrogen? Or is it other external and lifestyle factors preventing the body from transitioning to other ways of producing oestrogen? Maybe oestrogen was just masking what was already an underlying issue?

Healthy adrenals are more resilient to hormonal fluctuations.  Stress management is a must during perimenopause and menopause and I always recommend and use adrenal support with all my menopause treatments with incredible results.  Whilst the symptoms don’t go away they are less extreme, less intense and less frequent.

Whilst not taking away from the symptoms (sometimes extreme) of perimneopause and menopause, it is food for thought.  Are we blaming everything on oestrogen and hormones when maybe the symptoms were always there and the oestrogen masked it or propped it up.

Is it oestrogen or is it stress?

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