Monday, October 2, 2017

The Female Change: A Brief Overview

Migraines? Weight gain around the middle? Hot flashes? Mood changes? Bloating? These are all symptoms of our declining hormones. Given that estradiol, our predominant form of estrogen during our younger years affects more than 400 tissues, it's no wonder we feel the effects of hormonal changes!

In our reproductive years, estradiol is produced by our ovaries and is responsible for the maturation of a few to a few hundred eggs in their follicles. When we ovulate, releasing one egg, the ruptured follicle produces progesterone in order to prepare our uterus for possible implantation of our fertilized egg. As we age and lose our eggs, our reproductive system slows, ovulation stops and we no longer produce progesterone from our ovaries (even though menses may continue). This is when we enter phase 1 of perimenopause, also known as "estrogen dominance." This phase is characterized by a constant feeling of PMS with bloating, mood swings and tender breasts. In phase 2, estrogen also declines leading to symptoms such as hot flashes, memory problems and migraines. In the third phase, estrogen and progesterone decline to near menopausal levels and many of the unpleasant symptoms disappear. In phases 2 and 3, menses has most likely ceased. Estrogen and progesterone are like yin and yang; they counterbalance each other. When there is an imbalance between the two hormones, we experience the unpleasant side effects previously mentioned.

As we travel through the phases and no longer produce estradiol from our ovaries, we start to produce estrone (another estrogen) in our fat cells via conversion of our androgens (male hormones). This is one reason why women with more fat cells might experience a greater degree of estrogen imbalance (hot flashes, etc.). We see an increase in fat in our stomachs because abdominal tissue contains more androgen receptors. Progesterone, on the other hand, is produced from cholesterol in our adrenal glands when we no longer ovulate. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is also produced in our adrenal glands. If we are overly stressed and constantly release cortisol,  we will inhibit the production of progesterone, which also exaggerates and prolongs an imbalance between the two hormones.

As we go through these changes, there are a few things we can do to minmize some of the more unpleasant symptoms of hormonal imbalance and decline. One, we can exercise to reduce stress and weight gain. Two, we can eat more foods containing phytoestrogens (soy). Three, educate ourselves on the types of supplements that will boost our progesterone, and Four, enjoy some dark chocolate which contains magnesium and improves our mood!

It's no wonder we feel the effects of hormonal changes!

Lee, John R., M.D. "What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause." Hachette Book Group, 2004.
Corio, Laura E.,  M.D. "The Change Before The Change." Bantam, 2002.
Dalton, Katharina, M.D. "Once A Month." Hunter House Inc., 1999.

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