Finding a rogue hair on your chin is the least of your worries, if you’re perimenopausal.
What a mouthful – but what does it mean?
“Perimenopause” simply means “around menopause” and refers to the body’s transition from the active reproduction phase of a woman’s life cycle to the menopausal phase, wherein:
- The menstrual cycle becomes irregular and eventually stops.
- Weight gain is possible.
- Hot flashes are normal.
- Vaginal dryness and decreased libido are common.
- Moods may be tough to track and interpret.
- Night sweats are expected.
- Digestive problems can worsen.
- Hair loss/unusual hair growth is likely.
- Depression and anxiety may develop.
- Cognitive function could decline.
- And plenty more.
A lot of these unwanted and inconvenient changes in our bodies and mental states are due to rumblings inside the endocrine system…
Which is to say, fluctuating hormone production. After all, the body has been running a certain way since puberty for the most part. Perimenopause marks the beginning of a period of great change for women!
And like a lot of things that happen in women’s health, these changes are shrouded in mystery for many women, even those who are experiencing them. The endocrine system has been producing the exact right amount of hormones, day in and day out, for decades (unless you have a hormonal organ condition of some sort), and now, all of a sudden…
The whole thing seems confused about what it’s supposed to be doing.
That’s down to just a few major hormones’ levels shifting out of whack…
Throughout the lives of women, estrogen circulates in the body at relatively stable levels, or rather, its cycle of rises and falls can be predicted to coincide with the menstrual cycle.
When perimenopause hits, everything changes.
Estrogen production becomes erratic, appearing to slip and surge, during perimenopause before sliding into a steady decline during menopause.
Considered the “female” hormone, estrogen is responsible for a lot of female production functions. Most estrogen is produced in the ovaries, although amounts are produced by the adrenal glands and fat cells.
It’s been responsible for stimulating the growth of breast tissue, keeping the vagina elastic and lubricated, thickening the lining of the uterus during menstruation, encouraging the growth of pubic and armpit hair, preserving bone, and more.
As production levels fluctuate during midlife and perimenopause, symptoms vary equally. Extra high estrogen production can cause bloating, tender breasts, heavy periods, and more.
But extra low levels are where you see hot flashes, night sweats, sleeplessness, loss of bone density, vaginal dryness, fatigue, and other similar symptoms.
Connected to pendulous estrogen levels is progesterone, another hormone.
Also produced in the ovaries, progesterone is a hormone that helps the uterus prepare to reproduce.
Progesterone production is typically stable throughout a woman’s life and helps to keep menstrual cycles regular, consistent, and predictable. It also aids in conception – its production typically increases after ovulation, to help make the uterine lining thicker so that a fertilized egg can find purchase there and result in pregnancy.
During perimenopause, less progesterone is created, especially as ovulation becomes less frequent and eventually stops altogether.
When that happens, you see longer and heavier periods with worse cramps, mood swings (it’s partially responsible for stabilizing mood), fatigue, brain fog, and more.
And that’s not the only hormone in decline…
Even though it’s considered a “male” hormone, testosterone has always been active in the hormone cycles of women.
It’s produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands and helps to regulate estrogen production as well as sex drive. Plus, it contributes to the durability of bone and muscle mass.
Now, after your 20s are over, testosterone production naturally begins its decline, and continues on as you hit perimenopause, although interestingly, it does continue being produced by the ovaries even after they stop making estrogen.
Although the effects of testosterone decline are debated among scholars, the theory is that the decline in testosterone presence results in a lower sex drive for women experiencing perimenopause and eventually, menopause.
Some women disagree, saying instead their libido isn’t one of the casualties of their reproductive systems closing up shop.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of perimenopause, consider seeing an endocrinologist for help balancing your hormones!
Or keep your eye out for a future issue about how to use diet, adaptogens, and other natural methods to rebalance and stimulate hormone production on your own.
And breathe through it!