Estrogen is the leading hormone in a woman's life, and the ovaries are the chief organs that produce it. Other organs that generate a small amount of estrogen are the adrenal glands and fat tissue. As a woman ages, the ovarian function and reserve decline; as a result, the production of estrogen also decreases. Menopause is the final stage of a woman's reproductive journey. The ovaries stop producing estrogen, which leads up to the cessation of the menstrual cycle. To truly understand the repercussions of estrogen loss, one must understand the essential functions of estrogen.
You may be aware of one of the significant functions of estrogen; how it regulates the menstrual cycle, how it helps in the development of secondary sexual characteristics upon reaching puberty (such as the development of breast, pubic hair).
However, estrogen does more than that. It also:
● assists in regulating sleep
● maintains cognition and mood
● supports vaginal health (maintains the vaginal secretions and lubrication) and manages sex drive
● protects bone health (prevents bone loss)
● protects cardiovascular health by preventing the deposition of fat within blood vessels
● maintains lipid levels by increasing the good (HDL) cholesterol and by decreasing
the bad (LDL) cholesterol
● regulates body temperature
● improves skin health by increasing blood supply to the skin and by increasing
So you can imagine what will happen when the ovaries stop producing estrogen. The transition to menopause is an arduous one. Women typically attain this title at 50 years of age. But, symptoms of menopause may begin five to ten years prior. The transitory phase, known as Perimenopause, consists of a range of symptoms due to fluctuating hormonal levels. Some may experience irregular periods, or others may experience more intense premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms. Once this hormonal storm passes, a woman faces the aftermath, no estrogen.
Most of us will experience the following symptoms:
● Hot flashes, night sweats
● Changes in mood: women with low estrogen levels have an increased risk of anxiety, depression
● Changes in sleep patterns: most women experience insomnia
● Vaginal dryness, itching, or burning
● A decrease in sex drive, pain, or discomfort during sex
● Changes in the skin: dryness, itchiness
● Increase in urinary frequency and urgency
● Weight gain
Menopause is inevitable, which is why it will be beneficial to prepare for the storm beforehand.
Being aware of these imminent changes is the first step in managing the situation. Adopting a healthy eating lifestyle and regularly exercising will reduce the intensity of the menopausal symptoms. But how would one control it?
One of the effective therapies that provide symptomatic relief from the loss of estrogen is Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). So what a woman has lost her internal source of estrogen, she can rely on the external source. HRT will alleviate most of the symptoms, and if taken before the onset of menopause, it can prevent the symptoms of menopause from manifesting.
But what if someone is not a suitable candidate for HRT? What should they do? That's where nutrition comes in handy. Consuming foods high in estrogen (soybean, tofu, cruciferous vegetables, seeds, peaches, etc.) and increasing intake of vitamins and minerals will tame most of the symptoms. Antidepressants manage severe mood changes, such as depression and anxiety. Vaginal creams will soothe the dryness and itchiness, and the use of adequate lubrication will prevent pain or discomfort during sex.
Like every other reproductive phase in a women's life, menopause is just as challenging. As I mentioned before, it is inescapable. But that does not mean that it is not controllable. Estrogen depletion substantially impairs the quality of our lives. So, let us take control of the wheel and steer menopause towards our comfort.
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