Hormones – something most of us pretty much take for granted until they start to wreck havoc in our lives. Truth is, my struggle with hormones began much earlier than most when I had to have my thryoid removed due to precancerous cells in my thirties, and then again after the birth of my daughter. Having been on the receiving side of plenty of grief with my hormones, I am hugely respectful of them, and know just how important it is to understand them if we want to feel okay within ourselves. But what about hormones in your 40s? Well, that is a whole other chapter, right my friends?
During my thirties when I felt so bad I felt that I was actually going mad, it was The Marion Gluck Clinic that came to the resuce. They righted the wrong that nobody else seemed to be able to understand, and for that I am every thankful. That’s why this World Menopause Day, I really wanted to work together with them – as a world-leader specialising in hormone balancing therapy using bioidentical hormones – to produce this quick guide to hormones in your 40s.
It is both a privilege and honour that we have Dr Marion Gluck – Hormone and Women’s Health Specialist and Founder of The Marion Gluck Clinic – herself to share her incredible knowledge on the subject of hormones in your 40s.
Can you explain what exactly happens to women’s hormones their 40s?
From around the age of 40 ovaries will slowly lose their function and the effects of hormonal change starts to become evident as the body makes the natural transition to menopause. This phase is called the perimenopause, and the reproductive hormones, most significantly estrogen and progesterone, start to decrease.
When women are perimenopausal it is likely they will notice symptoms but will still have their period. During this time, hormones will start to fluctuate on a big scale. There could be some months when ovulation occurs and then there could be some when it doesn’t. It’s a time of extremes and as a result, can cause dramatic mood swings and extreme symptoms. It can be a very difficult time for women because they often don’t understand what’s going on and just don’t feel themselves.
The ‘normal’ age for perimenopause varies. Most will become aware of the transition when they reach their mid to late forties, but some women can begin to experience symptoms of perimenopause as early as the age of 35. Often the timing of this phase is similar to the time when a woman’s mother went through the same transition. That being said, the length of time and severity of menopause-related symptoms for any individual woman cannot be predicted, and every menopause is unique. Genetic and environmental factors are an important factor in determining when a woman may enter the menopause.
What sort of knock-on effects do these changes have in relation to our bodies and minds?
Although some women will sail through perimenopause, many will experience symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Those who experience severe symptoms often find it impacts on quality of life. Signs of perimenopause are many and varied. Symptoms can include:
- Irregular periods
- Periods that are heavier or lighter than usual
- Low libido
- Mood swings
- Hot flushes
- Weight gain
- Anger and irritability
- Heart palpitations
- Vaginal dryness
- Memory loss
- Night sweats
- Dysfunctional uterine bleeding
- Fluid retention
- Breast tenderness
- Aches and painful joints
- Frequent headaches
- Urinary incontinence
- Dry skin
Can you share some insider tips on how to manage
a) Sleep problems
A good night’s sleep is the best treat your body can ask for, especially when perimenopausal or menopausal. Good sleep helps to balance blood sugar, reduces the risk of heart disease, helps maintain a healthy weight, reduces inflammation, boosts the immune system, increases energy and concentration, and reduces anxiety. There are several factors that can affect sleep such as stress, hormonal changes, diet, and inflammation to name a few. For better sleep try the following:
– Regular moderate exercise is an excellent way to support good sleep.
– Try limiting your alcohol intake, particularly in the evenings. Too much alcohol can have a detrimental effect on sleep quality as it reduces REM sleep (the restorative part of the sleep cycle) and can interrupt the circadian rhythm, a study has shown.
– Avoid foods containing a substance called tyramine, particularly in the evening, as this causes the release of norepinephrine, a brain stimulant. Foods with high content of tyramine include aged cheeses, red wine, some beers, cured meats, and smoked fish.
– If you are experiencing or have experienced prolonged periods of stress in the past, it may be recommended to get your daily cortisol pattern checked (a qualified medical professional or naturopath can help you with that). A disrupted cortisol pattern can affect your energy levels as well as sleep. If this is the case, a class of herbs known as adaptogens can be of great help.
– Getting your daily boost of sunshine is the way forward to better sleep. This is because we need sunlight to keep our circadian rhythm going, which tells our bodies when it is time to sleep and to be awake. Sunlight also plays a role in Vitamin D production, which is essential for so many aspects of our health.
The skin contains estrogen receptors, as well as receptors for progesterone and testosterone. Therefore, deficiencies of these three hormones contribute to skin aging, in both men and women and results in the skin becomes more prone to sun damage, pimples and rashes, and can be easily irritated.
Acne, which is usually a curse of adolescence (teenage acne) can also occur for the first time later in life (adult onset acne). All acne is hormone related but when we talk about ‘hormonal acne’ we typically refer to adult female acne.
Hormonal acne tends to affect more the lower part of the face and adult female acne can present with cyclical outbreaks and is usually more resistant to the standard treatments. Adult female acne can be caused by different hormonal imbalances such as raised male androgens or an imbalance
When experiencing female acne it is recommended that the woman complete hormone profiling to help determine which hormones require rebalancing. A bespoke treatment plan can then be actioned to target their needs. Prescription hormone face creams can also be used to improve female acne. Unlike commercially available skincare products, prescription creams are formulated to cater to the individual, addressing specific concerns.
c) Brain drain/Lethargy
Many women describe experiencing ‘brain fog’ during perimenopause and menopause and think that symptoms such as forgetfulness and increased anxiety are signs of them getting old or ‘going mad’. However, many of these symptoms can be attributed to the hormonal changes that take place during menopause.
Research has shown that certain lifestyle modifications can have a positive impact on cognitive function during menopause. A recent study found that cognitive training, for example, doing puzzles or learning a new skill, improved people’s memory. Practising mindfulness and doing exercises, such as yoga and Tai Chi have also proved to be effective for improving cognitive function, partly through their stress-reducing qualities.
A balanced diet, low in sugar, caffeine and alcohol, is also recommended. Studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet, full of ‘good fats’ and fresh produce, is particularly beneficial for cognitive function.
Sleep is also vital as it removes toxins from the brain and quality, deep sleep enables memory consolidation and information processing from the day. Limiting screen time at night is essential as the blue light emitted from devices causes decreased levels of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
What other options are out there for balancing hormones in your 40s?
If you’d rather not take hormone replacement therapy, then there are some natural alternatives you can try. One suggestion is Agnus Castus which is said to break down excessive hormones and rebalance them. The other widely known remedy is Evening Primrose oil which many people swear helps relieve menopausal and perimenopausal symptoms.
What are some signs you should not ignore when it comes to hormonal imbalance?
An optimal balance of hormones is vital to overall wellbeing including brain function, cardiovascular health, bones, vaginal and urethral health. We use bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT), an alternative to HRT, to replenish these hormones to your optimal levels in order to maintain health, energy, mood and brain function. Any symptoms that affect quality of life, or brain or body function, should be checked by a professional.
When should women seek professional help?
As women move through each phase of perimenopause and menopause, hormone levels can fluctuate significantly causing hormonal imbalance. These vital hormones, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone remain important for bones, vaginal and urethral health, skin, brain function and cardiovascular health. It is therefore important to effectively balance and replenish these hormones in order to maintain health, energy, mood and brain function.
Menopause may be something all women go through, but that doesn’t mean there is a ‘one size fits all’ treatment path. Every woman is unique, and their symptoms will be unique too. Women should seek help if their symptoms are having a detrimental impact on their life, and they feel unable to achieve tasks that before were commonplace. By looking at the whole picture, including lifestyle factors, nutrition and family medical history with a professional, a tailored treatment plan can be produced.
Have you experienced any of the above knock on effects of hormones in your 40s? Do leave a comment below and share your experiences and join our community on Instagram here where we’ll be keeping the conversation going.
About The Marion Gluck Clinic
The Marion Gluck Clinic is the UK’s leading medical clinic that pioneered the use of bioidentical hormones to treat menopause, perimenopause and other hormone related issues. Headed up by Dr. Marion Gluck herself, the clinic uses her method of bioidentical hormonal treatment to rebalance hormones to improve wellbeing, quality of life and to slow down ageing.