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The Science of How Hormones Change During Menopause

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Are you tired all the time? Do you have less energy than you used to? Is your memory just not what it used to be? Do you have hot flashes or night sweats?

These symptoms may mean you have a hormone imbalance.

Hormones are chemical messengers that carry instructions from the brain to other parts of the body. Certain hormones are specifically important for your sexual function and well-being:

  • Estrogen is a key female sex hormone that is produced in a woman’s ovaries. Estrogen plays an important role in the development of a woman’s sexual characteristics and reproductive organs. It also helps regulate fat distribution in the hips, legs, and breasts and is instrumental in breast development.
  • Estrogen also works throughout the body to regulate cholesterol levels and bone growth.

  • Progesterone is another hormone produced in the ovaries. Progesterone is used by the body as a step in the making of many other hormones including testosterone and estrogen. It is also instrumental in regulating blood sugar, developing intelligence and building bones.
  • Progesterone helps prepare a woman’s uterus for pregnancy by causing the lining of the uterus to thicken as a normal part of her menstrual cycle. During pregnancy, progesterone works to prevent contractions of the uterus and helps prepare the breasts to produce milk after the baby is born.

  • Testosterone is actually important for women too, although you may have heard that testosterone is a male sex hormone. Small amounts of testosterone are produced by a woman’s ovaries and adrenal glands. In women, testosterone is involved in estrogen production and contributes to libido or sexual desire. Testosterone also helps strengthen bones and muscles.

In an ideal world, our hormones would always be in perfect balance. But in reality, many things, including age and menopause, affect our hormone balance.

As modern women live longer than their ancestors, the tissues in the body that produce hormones need to work longer than before. At the same time, increased stress, poor nutrition and lack of exercise all can reduce hormone production.

Perimenopause is the time that leads up to menopause. At this time, hormone production naturally starts to taper off and the unpleasant symptoms of hormonal imbalance associated with menopause may begin. Perimenopause may start several years before your last period.

Menopause officially begins when a woman has not had a period for 12 consecutive months.

Fluctuations in hormone production during perimenopause or menopause can result in a variety of symptoms:

  • Low Levels of estrogen can trigger hot flashes, irregular heartbeat, headaches, tiredness and vaginal dryness that can make sex uncomfortable. Low estrogen can also contribute to weak bones and a higher risk of osteoporosis. High levels of estrogen can cause bloating, heavy periods and tenderness in the breasts.
  • Low Levels of progesterone can result in irregular periods or periods that are longer or heavier than normal.
  • Low Levels of testosterone can result in reduced sex drive, weight gain, hair loss, mood swings, hot flashes and night sweats.

If you are age 40 or older, chances are higher that your hormones are not in optimum balance.

The good news is that hormone imbalance can be treated using bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) to restore hormones to their optimal levels.

This can help relieve the unpleasant side effects of perimenopause or menopause, and help your body function more effectively.

Bioidentical hormones are derived from naturally occurring substances and are designed to replicate the chemical structure of the hormones that are produced naturally by the human body.


BodyLogicMD. What is Hormone Replacement Therapy. Web. April 5, 2015. https://www.bodylogicmd.com/

National Institute on Aging. Menopause. Web. April 5, 2015. http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/menopause

The North American Menopause Society. Changes in Hormone Levels. Web. April 5, 2015. http://www.menopause.org/for-women/sexual-health-menopause-online/changes-at-midlife/changes-in-hormone-levels

EndocrineWeb. An Overview of the Ovaries. Robert M. Sargis, MD, PhD. Web. April 5, 2015. http://www.endocrineweb.com/endocrinology/overview-ovaries

Reviewed May 8, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.