Updated: Jun 30
Menopause is a natural process where a woman transitions from her childbearing years to the next stage of her life. Whilst menopause usually occurs around age 50, a woman is said to be officially in menopause once she has not had a menstrual period for twelve consecutive months so this can occur at various ages. However, for many women, the months or years leading into menopause (known as perimenopause), can mark the onset of challenging symptoms including irregular menstrual cycles, flushing sensations, irritability and night sweats.
So what is actually happening within a woman’s body during menopause? Firstly, the ovaries stop producing hormones, particularly oestrogen, which results in the cessation of the menstrual period. You still need some oestrogen for important non-reproductive functions such as supporting bone health, therefore many other tissues including the brain, adrenal glands, and adipose (fat) tissue actually continue the role of oestrogen production for the remainder of a woman’s life, which begins to reveal why some woman experience menopause differently to others. What this means is – what impacts these tissues, impacts your symptoms.
Is it Getting Hot in Here or Is It Just Me?
Up to 80% of peri- and postmenopausal women report having vasomotor symptoms (VMS), such as hot flushes and night sweats; with up to half of these women reporting moderate or severe symptoms. The drop in oestrogen that naturally occurs in menopause is seen to be a significant culprit for hot flushes, however it is not the only cause. As similar levels of circulating oestrogen are found in women with and without VMS symptoms, this indicates other factors are at play.
Remarkably, menopausal hot flushes are a result of the brains perception of temperature, due to the narrowing or reduction in something called the thermoneutral zone. Normal variations in body temperature within this zone means the body does not have to start shivering to warm up, or sweat to cool down. However, in menopause, the narrowing of this zone means that any slight elevation in temperature then triggers the sweating and flushing response, as the brain perceives the body’s temperature to be too hot.
As further proof of this, women experiencing menopausal flushes are not actually hotter in temperature than people not experiencing flushing – how fascinating!
Whilst declining oestrogen is one of the reasons for the narrowing of this zone, it is not the only cause. In fact, it is stress levels that play a larger role than oestrogen levels in triggering hot flushes. To highlight this, recent research has found that menopausal women have increased activity of the stress centre of the brain right before the onset of a hot flush.
Therefore, it is vitally important to support a healthy stress response, not just hormones, to reduce menopausal symptoms.
Ingredients to Support Your Stress Response
The good news is that specific herbs and nutrients can support and nourish your stress response, and hence support your menopausal symptoms. Such ingredients include:
B vitamins: as they have an increased demand during stressful times, with vitamins B5 and B6 especially required by your adrenal glands to synthesis their hormones. If a woman has a narrowed thermoneutral zone due to stress, and is hence experiencing VMS symptoms, B vitamins will help the adrenals function optimally.
Magnesium: is a mineral that your body increases the elimination of when stressed, but is actually needed to calm the stress response. Therefore, supplying magnesium helps decrease your body’s sensitivity to stress, and as a bonus it helps improve energy levels.
Rehmannia Six: a traditional Chinese medicine herbal combination that has been used for centuries to treat night sweats, anxiety and insomnia, making this an ideal formulation to discuss with your Practitioner for reducing symptoms associated with menopause. The influences of these herbs on the thermoneutral zone were demonstrated in a clinical trial on menopausal women, with the Rehmannia Six combination significantly reducing hot flushes and sweating.
Time to Put Yourself First
Now you know that stress is a key factor creating menopause symptoms, it’s no surprise that your lifestyle plays a fundamental role in helping you sail through this life transition.
Research shows that mind-body therapies, such as yoga, tai chi, mindfulness, meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy and aerobic exercise improve overall menopausal symptoms, such as flushing, night sweats, insomnia and mood changes.
Further, 65% of postmenopausal woman are classified as obese. Therefore, moving your body using the above methods will help to not only lose weight but also improve your symptoms, with evidence showing weight loss alone to be enough for some women to reduce their hot flushes.
In this transitional time for women, it’s important to examine your stress levels, review your current lifestyle choices, and establish healthy habits. Remember, hormones are one part of the picture in menopause, but they aren’t the only contributor. Your whole body is made of many complexities, and addressing all aspects that influence your menopausal symptoms is vital when embarking on this next stage of life. For tailored support with your journey towards a balanced and vibrant body book an appointment with your Power by Nutrition registered nutritionist.
Author: Rachel Jorey.
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