What Happens to Your Body During Menopause?

Mood swings. Weight gain. Hot flashes.  Night Sweats. Brain Fog

For many women, their body is doing things they don’t recognize and they feel it’s all out of their control.

Is this normal?

Is there anything you can do?

In this two part series, I’m going to share what happens to your body during menopause and lifestyle strategies to help you feel your best.

“So many women I’ve talked to see menopause as an ending. But I’ve discovered this is your moment to reinvent yourself after years of focusing on the needs of everyone else. It’s your opportunity to get clear about what matters to you and then to pursue that with all of your energy, time and talent.” – Oprah Winfrey

Menopause is a dynamic and responsive process, not a single event.

And it may show up when you’re not expecting it.

Just as we go through puberty at different ages, perimenopause and menopause kick in at different times, too.

A woman “officially” reaches menopause 12 months after her last period. However, changes and symptoms can begin several years earlier. Some of these symptoms include changes in the monthly cycle and hot flashes. The time from when these changes start, to actual menopause is called “perimenopause.”

Perimenopause often starts between age 40-50 and can last several years (4, up to 14!). It begins with changes to the regular menstrual cycle.

What happens to your hormones during menopause?

Estrogen is one of the main hormones involved in both reproduction and the menstrual cycle, along with progesterone. As a female, you’re born with eggs in the ovaries, which are released every month as part of the menstrual cycle. Your ovaries also make estrogen and progesterone. Once you reach menopause, your ovaries no longer need to release eggs and menstruation isn’t required either.

At the same time, your levels of both hormones go down. For most women, this happens in the years leading up to menopause – known as perimenopause. The ovaries ultimately stop producing them completely during menopause itself.

Estrogen doesn’t just have an impact on your monthly cycle; it can also have pretty wide ranging effects for your whole body. Your brain and nervous system are commonly affected, which is why menopause can bring about so many cognitive and physical symptoms from “brain fog” to hot flashes.

Your levels of hormones such as serotonin alter too. This can leave you feeling tired, irritable and prone to mood swings. Declining levels of progesterone and estrogen are linked to pain and inflammation. As these hormones decline, you may also notice changes in muscle pain, arthritis, other types of joint pain, pelvic pain, or flare-ups of other chronic pain concerns.

Estrogen helps the female metabolism be more insulin sensitive and thus better able to handle starch and sugar. Both estrogen and progesterone together block the actions of cortisol, your stress hormone.  During this time as you experience a loss of estrogen and progesterone, your metabolism becomes more sensitive to the effects of stress and more carbohydrate sensitive compared to a younger female metabolism.  

The hormonal changes of menopause can be responsible for some of the increased weight gain and change of weight distribution in the body.

Another factor is that muscle mass generally decreases with age. With reduced muscle mass comes a reduced ability to burn calories which makes it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight. This is especially true for those who continue to eat and have the same lifestyle as they did before approaching menopause.

Do menopause symptoms disappear when periods stop?

There’s no easy answer to this as it can vary from woman to woman. For many women, symptoms are more intense during perimenopause and start to weaken once you reach menopause and are considered “postmenopausal”.

That’s not always the case though and some menopause symptoms can continue for quite a while after your periods stop, including hot flashes and mood swings.

On average, postmenopausal symptoms can last for 4-5 years. The good news? However long they last, they’re not usually as intense as before so they’re likely to have less of an impact on your life compared to perimenopause.

Generally speaking, a “sudden” menopause (that is brought on by surgery, for example) can lead to more severe menopause symptoms, compared to a natural menopause that involves hormone changes occurring more gradually.

What can happen post menopause?

Even after symptoms die down completely, there are a few risk factors that can develop after menopause, largely due to lack of estrogen:

After menopause, you can be at greater risk of developing heart disease as a result of falling estrogen levels. This makes it super important to follow a heart healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, and to exercise regularly. Being more likely to store fat around your abdomen can also increase your risk factor for heart disease (and other conditions such as type 2 diabetes).

Bone density can also be a problem when you reach menopause. Getting your bone density checked fairly regularly can help to spot early warning signs of osteoporosis. According to studies, as much as a fifth of bone loss can happen in the five years following menopause. Estrogen is heavily linked to stronger bones and bone density can become weaker once estrogen levels drop. Getting plenty of calcium in your diet is an absolute must for helping to keep your bones strong and healthy after menopause. Vitamin D is also needed for healthy bones and you may want to talk to your doctor about supplementing if you don’t get much from your diet and don’t spend much time outdoors in sunlight.

How do we learn to combat some of the negative feelings we have around menopause or perimenopause?

Many women say middle age is a time of empowerment. Restoring balance and harmony throughout all areas of your life are now your priority. You are officially entering your Power Years. NOW is a good time to do those things that you have ALWAYS wanted to.

Despite all these physical changes…during this period of life, new things will grow, fresh identities, opportunities, possibilities. Menopause is a great time to build new healthy habits and maintain current ones. Just as hormonal changes can affect your sleep, body composition, mental health, and more, your daily habits can impact how strongly you feel the impact of those hormonal shifts

In the second part of this Menopause series, I will share lifestyle strategies that can help alleviate menopause symptoms and help you feel your best.  

In the meantime, check out my Metabolism Boosting Recipe Book. The recipes contains key ingredients to promote healthy hormone production and detoxification, adrenal health, and thyroid function. The meals focus on healthy fats, fiber and plenty of protein for balanced blood sugar.

DISCLAIMER: This content is not intended to diagnose or treat any diseases.  It is intended to be provided for informational, educational, and self-empowerment purposes ONLY.  Please consult with your wellness team, and then make your own well informed decisions based upon what is best for your unique genetics, culture, conditions, and stage of life.