Menopause and Hormones Explained

The liver, hormones & health.
June 1, 2021
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Menopause and Hormones Explained

This article is designed to bring a little simplicity to the questions

  • What is menopause?
  • What are the stages of menopause?
  • Which are the most common symptoms of menopause?
  • How is menopause diagnosed by your GP?
  • What are the roles of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone, and how do falling levels affect you during menopause?

I’ll also introduce you to the stress hormone cortisol, and the role it plays in hormonal chaos.

Why am I sharing what seems such basic information?:

  1. Because I’m always amazed how some are unaware of what the term ‘menopause’ actually means.
  2. For you to share the information with others who ‘may need to know’, eg partners, friends, colleagues, relations.
  3. So that you , or anyone, can start to have an understanding of the biochemistry of the body throughout the menopause transition, and thereby feel confident that you can do something to help balance hormones, not allow menopause to dictate you how you live your life.

What is Menopause?

Firstly, and SO importantly, Menopause is a completely natural time of life  that every woman will go through!

It’s simply the transition from a woman’s reproductive to a non-reproductive life stage. A time when there is a reduction in the number of healthy eggs the ovaries produce causing a change in the menstrual cycle. Every woman is born with approximately 2 million eggs, and from puberty onwards the number is depleted, the fertile years are coming to an end.

However, the use of the term “menopause” is confusing, as there are actually 3 stages in this transition.

Peri-menopause, menopause and post-menopause.

What’s the difference between the stages?

Stages of Menopause

Typically around the age of 45 progesterone and oestrogen, the two main hormones involved in this natural transition start to decline over the following 5-6 years.

You can see from the diagram that progesterone generally has a more even decline, oestrogen behaves much more erratically, with ups and downs similar to a roller coaster. These dips and troughs can lead to many and varied symptoms in what we know as the PERI-menopause years, including change to the frequency and flow of periods.

(The hormones testosterone and cortisol also contribute towards symptoms, see later).

MENOPAUSE is actually just ONE DAY. It’s the single day following 12 months without a period. Anything beyond this day is referred to as POST menopause.

However the whole journey from peri-post is often referred to as menopause, which can be very confusing!

I must reassure you here that the above diagram is for illustration purposes only! EVERYone’s journey through the peri-post menopause years is completely unique. Some women will experience symptoms varying in frequency and severity, and also length of time.

Which menopause symptoms are common?

There are over 34 recognised symptoms of menopause, and those symptoms can be many and/or varied through your personal menopause transition.

Due to the play of the main hormones oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone and cortisol, common symptoms include:

  • Mood Swings
  • Anxiety
  • Hot flushes
  • Night sweats
  • Brain fog
  • Decreased libido
  • Irregular periods
  • Vaginal Dryness

 

How is Menopause diagnosed?

In the UK, if you are 45 years old or over, the diagnosis of peri-menopause is usually based on the symptoms you may experience.These are laid down in the NICE guidelines for GP’s

  • Irregular periods/not had a period for 12 months
  • Hot flushes

Only a very minimal symptoms considered by your doctor, and in my research of over 850 women, these symptoms were not the first women presented to their GP. It was anxiety and depression. In my personal opinion more knowledge, understanding and empathy is required by the doctors in the UK towards a large slice of life affecting over 50% of the population <stopped myself from sharing a full blown rant there!>

If you are between 40 and 45 years old you MAY be offered a blood test for Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), or if you are below 40 and thought to have Premature Ovarian Insufficiency i.e. early menopause. If FSH levels are high, above 32, it is an indication that the menstrual cycle is no longer functioning as expected.

The menopause hormones, oestrogen, progesterone & testosterone

Hormones are chemical messengers produced by the body to regulate the activity of tissues and organs, our body’s growth, metabolism, sexual development, and function.

The hormones are secreted by seven glands, collectively referred to as the endocrine system. It’s a fascinating system, with glands supporting each other when the need arises.

A perfect example of this:

The ovaries are the main producers of the three hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone, but as they become less able to produce them, the adrenal glands try and pick up some of the slack.

The adrenal glands also produce the stress hormone cortisol, and for many during mid-life and menopause stress levels increase, meaning the adrenal glands can’t support the menopause transition as well as it perhaps could.

The hypothalamus, within the Endocrine System, controls the pituitary gland by sending messages to it, and is situated immediately above the pituitary gland in the brain (see diagram).

The pituitary gland is often called the ‘Master Gland’ because it controls several other hormone glands in our body, including the thyroid and adrenals, the ovaries, and testes in men.

These are constantly trying to balance all hormones to ensure we function at our very best.

The role of oestrogen

Oestrogen is actually a collective term for the 3 different types of oestrogens in the body.

Estrone: a weak form of oestrogen found in the body post-menopause

Estradiol: the most common oestrogen through the fertile years. An excess of estradiol may result in acne, loss of sex drive, osteoporosis, and depression. Very high levels can increase the risk of uterine and breast cancer. However, low levels can result in weight gain and cardiovascular disease.

Estriol: levels of this hormone rise during pregnancy, with levels peaking just prior to birth.

Levels of oestrogen vary amongst an individual’s lifetime, with signs of an imbalance including:

  • irregular or no menstruation
  • light or heavy bleeding during menstruation
  • more severe premenstrual or menopausal symptoms
  • hot flushes, night sweats, or both
  • mood changes
  • insomnia and fatigue
  • weight gain
  • low libido
  • vaginal dryness and vaginal atrophy
  • mood swings
  • feelings of depression & anxiety
  • dry skin

Many of the menopause symptoms so many women experience.

The role of progesterone

Progesterone has a huge part to play preparing for a potential pregnancy. It triggers the endometrium lining of the womb to thicken to accept a fertilised egg. If no fertilisation occurs, then progesterone levels drop and menstruation occurs.
As levels fall through the menopause transition, symptoms that may be experienced include:
  • irregular periods
  • abdominal pain
  • sore breasts
  • spotting between periods
  • vaginal dryness
  • depression, anxiety, or mood swings
  • low libido
  • low blood sugar
  • headaches or migraines

The role of testosterone

Many associate the testosterone as purely a male hormone. Yet you can see from the diagram above that it’s produced in both the ovaries and the adrenal glands. Levels do naturally decline throughout a woman’s life span, peaking at age 18-24, and then halving between agea 65-75.

Combined with oestrogen testosterone helps with the growth, maintenance, and repair of a woman’s reproductive tissues and bone mass.

Low levels commonly affect mood and libido, also the ability to orgasm.

How cortisol contributes towards menopause symptoms

Although cortisol is not a hormone associated with menopause, it does interact with oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone, especially when the adrenals are supporting the ovaries. Why? Cortisol is the stress hormone, and any stress in your life is seen by the body as a potentially life threatening attack. It doesn’t care if it’s an argument with your partner or a sabre tooth tiger, the biochemical change is the same. As cortisol is so important, it has first call on the mother hormone pregnenolone that feeds the cascade all these hormones fall under. Cortisol steals pregnenolone leaving insufficient to support oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone.

So reducing your stress levels, will certainly help reduce the frequency and severity of many of those symptoms.

What can you do to help create greater hormone balance?

First port of call if you have ANY concerns about symptoms you may be experiencing is to talk to your doctor. They should be able to help, and explain any medical options you could consider.

And of course, I would encourage you to look at your stress, diet and lifestyle to ensure you’re doing the best you can to help yourself!

I share lots of information in my articles, but often you may not know where is the best place to start? Or you may be overwhelmed by the range of suggestions?

The best place for sure to find all the information you need is by following my Natural Menopause Road Map. Working on the physical and mental/emotional symptoms of menopause it is a fabulous start to taking back control of your life, creating the change you want to see, living the life you desire.

No prescriptive diets, no expensive gyms or lycra, just simple steps to take you from where you are now to where you want to be … you get both lifetime access and my personal help while embracing positive change.

To complement this article I’m offering  20% discount for the programme/workshop.

Simply enter MRM20 at checkout.

THIS OFFER IS ONLY AVAILABLE VIA THE LINK IN THIS ARTICLE.

I look forward to getting you off the starting blocks and following your menopause journey, helping you smash through any road blocks and challenges as necessary.


As always, any questions  please do let me know.

Clare 🙂

Helping busy ladies naturally create harmony and  health through the menopause years and beyond. 

Regain control, confidence, and be free to live the life they choose.


A full hysterectomy in her 30s led nutritional therapist and health coach Clare on an amazing adventure exploring the many opportunities available to manage her enforced menopause and create long-term health.

Clare prefers the natural approach, and qualifying in nutritional therapy gave her the confidence to come off HRT, take back control of her life and health, and look forward to living the best third of her life free of prescription drugs. Understanding the importance of creating harmony of health of both body and mind through menopause and beyond, she’s now on a mission to inspire, educate and empower other women, too. Help them create their ‘new life’.

Click HERE to find out more about how Clare shares her years of exploring, experience and knowledge through 1:1 consultations, speaking and online programmes, and where you can request a FREE 30 minute consultation with Clare to discuss any personal menopause/health concerns you may have.

Registered Nutritional Therapist

Member of the British Menopause Society

Award winning Menopause Coach & Educator

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Claim 20% off the Natural Menopause Road Map workshop using code MRM 20 at checkout.

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