An introduction to hormones and menopause

“Is this the start?”

Before we talk about hormonal changes that occur during menopause, it’s worth spending a little time on the overall role of hormones in the body. Hormones are chemical messengers—coordinating and regulating many processes, like digestion, your sleep-wake cycle, and how exercise impacts your body.

In the same way that your nerves transmit electrical signals from your brain to muscles when you want to move your hand, organs such as your pancreas, thyroid, and ovaries transmit chemical signals to communicate with other parts of your body.

Hormones that act as chemical messengers are part of the endocrine system. An endocrinologist is a doctor who specialises in hormonal health. Oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid hormone, insulin, and cortisol are all examples of endocrine hormones (1). These hormones are released from glands and transported through your bloodstream to trigger changes in other parts of your body. These changes depend on the hormone and also what type of cell is triggered.

What hormones are involved in menopause?

There’s a lot more to menopause than low oestrogen.

As you age, the quantity of hormones your body produces changes—this can cause a lot of symptoms. Oestrogen starts to fluctuate during perimenopause and eventually decreases. Menopause occurs when your ovaries stop producing a sufficient amount of oestrogen to trigger ovulation, which means you no longer release an egg every month and your menstrual cycle ceases.

People often excessively focus on oestrogen decline in relation to menopause, but it’s also the interplay between the decline of other hormones that impact menopause symptoms, including (2):

• Progesterone
• Testosterone
• Melatonin

Both progesterone and melatonin affect your circadian rhythm (sleep patterns) (3). Oestrogen and testosterone together affect arousal (4). The connection between all of these hormones impact a variety of menopause symptoms including mood, hot flushes, libido, weight gain, and more. Understanding the unique roles and effects of hormones can help you understand why so many bodily changes happen during menopause.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) acts as a substitute for hormones that your body no longer sufficiently produces, thus helping to counteract menopause symptoms. Depending on your circumstances, you can receive HRT through tablets, patches, gels, or creams. Stay tuned for more information on these specific hormones and how different forms of HRT work.

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