Somewhere around age 35 to 40 a woman’s estrogen and progesterone levels begin to naturally decline. This time is often referred to as “premenopause.” The decline in hormones typically accelerates until around age 50 when a woman reaches “perimenopause.”
However, the decline in estrogen and progesterone do not occur at the same rate. As the graph above illustrates, there is roughly a 35% drop in estrogen, but about a 75% drop in progesterone over this period in a woman’s life. This process is part of normal aging but it creates most of the symptoms many women experience as they enter the perimenopausal years.
Unfortunately, many other factors – including periods of high stress, unhealthy dietary choices, extreme weight loss or weight gain, hormone therapies or exposure to environmental toxins – can cause a much greater discrepancy during this time, which can shift the body into estrogen dominance.
In addition, as a woman approaches menopause, her hormone levels often go through dramatic fluctuations as they gradually decline over time.
These fluctuating levels of female sex hormones affect the rest of the endocrine system (including all of a person’s other hormones – see Sex Hormone Synthesis (LINK TO SEX HORMONE SYNTHESIS POST) to understand why). This system must constantly readjust itself to these fluctuating sex hormone levels in order to work effectively. The wide variations in female sex hormones during perimenopause and menopause can wreak havoc on the endocrine system, causing other hormone imbalances, including:
- Cortisol and DHEA production in the adrenal glands that can increase fat storage, decrease muscle mass and decrease metabolism.
- Thyroid hormones, which can reduce metabolism and adversely affect sleep.
- Blood sugar and insulin levels, leading to insulin resistance, which decreases metabolism, increases inflammation, increases stress on the body and creates neurotransmitter imbalances–causing you to feel tired, gain weight, hurt more and crave the foods that made you that way.
- Inflammatory hormones and compounds that can lead to insulin resistance, increased adrenal stress and neurotransmitter imbalances.
The end result is decreased metabolism, increased fat storage, mood imbalances and pain; many women at this point are desperate, as they have “tried everything” to lose weight and keep it off but find that nothing works. As you know by now, weight loss cannot occur in these cases because the underlying issues causing weight gain have not yet been properly addressed. Eating less and exercising more won’t correct the hormone imbalances. Many women in this state are given medications to alter their hormone levels; unfortunately, this usually makes the underlying problem worse. However, hormone therapies can make the problem worse.