Seriously, what the hell happens to our hormones as we get older?
I know we all hit ‘middle age’ at different times, but it hit me at around 41. I felt fine on my 40th birthday – in fact I had a big party. I wore my little black dress, and remember getting quite a few compliments on how I wasn’t looking my age…assuming they weren’t being sarcastic (or polite!).
One year on and it felt like 10 had gone by. Where did those lines come from? What happened to my waist- that LBD was way too snug. Why did I feel so shattered all the time? What happened to my brain – I couldn’t think straight or remember anything. And where was the fun girl I used to be? I just seemed to feel permanently grumpy.
And now I am out the other side, enjoying my late 40’s and have learnt a bit more about what happens to us and how to deal with it.
I’ve decided that our bodies have some kind of 40 year warranty……
For the first 40 years we can live how we like (within reason!), eat and drink what we want and unless we have a particular genetic disposition we will usually be OK. After 40 however, the warranty has definitely run out! Unless we look after ourselves, we will be in and out of the garage with varying degrees of damage!
Oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone are in great shape, getting you ready to have a baby (whether you want one or not!). Your energy, sex drive, stress resilience and mental ability is high. You find it easy to lose weight and get fit. Your body is young and strong enough to cope with life’s stressors.
However, your lifestyle and environment can start to put a burden on your hormones at this age;
- toxins – alcohol, caffeine, drugs, smoking, medications, environmental toxins, food chemicals – can all put a burden on the liver (which detoxifies excess oestrogen)
- poor diet – processed foods, trans fats and low nutrients can affect how hormones function
- oestrogen dominance – from environmental oestrogens (like plastics), the contraceptive pill or poor liver detoxification – can increase risk of PMS, fibroids, endometriosis and breast or ovarian cancer
- excess stress – can affect digestion, immunity, weight, sexual function, fertility
TIPS; The more of these things that are stressing your hormones, the more chance you will have some symptoms. But your body generally in your 20’s is super resilient and can cope with a lot before showing any strain.
Your cycle should still be pretty regular, but your hormones are starting a gradual decline and may tip out of balance, especially if you've had children. You still might not have any symptoms at this stage, but your resilience can start to weaken and you may notice subtle changes in your energy levels and libido.
- Natural decline in progesterone can increase oestrogen dominance (PMS, poor sleep, fatigue, declining sex drive, fibroids, endometriosis)
- Stress hormones are working harder – you might be juggling family, career, parents, partnerships, friends
- Poor diet – too many processed foods, refined carbohydrates, trans fats, alcohol – can all contribute to weight gain, digestive issues, hormone imbalance
- More toxic accumulation – longer exposure to toxins, as well as your liver becoming less efficient means that toxins can accumulate (usually in your fat cells)
- Thyroid can weaken under the pressure of our stressful lives, or pregnancies – slowing our metabolism, reducing energy levels and making it harder to lose weight
- Digestive system may be feeling the impact of wear and tear, poor diet, toxins and stress
TIPS; No more yo-yo diets – to lose weight and keep it off you will need to adopt a low GL diet with plenty of good protein and healthy fats. Stress management and liver support is key to supporting your hormones. And get your thyroid checked if you have any symptoms, especially if you've been pregnant.
By your 40’s, things can get really tricky – you are officially entering peri-menopause, where your ovaries are coming to the end of their usefulness (ouch!).
- Progesterone, DHEA and testosterone are generally low, oestrogen is rollercoastering – the list of symptoms is long, but includes PMS, irregular periods, mood swings, insomnia, anxiety, hot flushes, night sweats, low libido, low energy, vaginal dryness, urinary infections, joint pain, brain fog and forgetfulness
- Stress hormones have been raging for some time, making you tired, overweight, anxious, unable to sleep and moody
- Thyroid is struggling to cope, making you feel exhausted, depressed, overweight, constipated, sluggish and cold. You might be losing your hair and your nails might be brittle
- We may have now built up quite a store of toxins putting a burden on our liver (so its harder to detox our hormones properly, allowing them to recirculate)
- Diet choices tend to be ruled by low energy levels and blood sugar dips – coffee, carbs, sugary snacks – just to keep going
- Our digestive and immune functions can start to weaken (food intolerances, leaky gut, frequent infections, indigestion)
- Inflammation and oxidative stress are building (both increase risk of chronic disease)
TIPS; Get yourself tested for hormone imbalance if you have any symptoms. Cortisol, thyroid, sex hormones are all under pressure in your 40's and need to be supported with a nutrient-rich, organic diet. Reduce the alcohol and it's definitely time to ditch the smoking if you haven't already. This is when you could look into trying yoga, pilates, meditation or relaxation techniques. Get a dog! Long walks are great for your mood, stress levels and general fitness. Supplements are recommended for general support – a good multivitamin, fish oil, vitamin D during the winter, and herbal remedies for hot flushes can be very effective (check with your Dr before taking any new supplements).
The average age for official menopause (when your periods have stopped completely for one whole year) is around 52. You've run out of eggs, which also means your hormones will never quite be the same again (this is fine if you are healthy!).
- All sex hormones (oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone) are at a much lower level – this can lead to wrinkles, dry skin, low libido and vaginal dryness, weight gain, poor bone and heart health, cognitive decline, hot flushes, night sweats and joint pain
- Stresses – this decade can be stressful if you have a demanding job, marital issues, family, elderly parents or other psychological stresses (such as bereavement) – this can exacerbate menopausal symptoms
- Slow metabolism – a sluggish thyroid, less exercise and a natural decrease in our muscle tissue tend to slow the metabolism even more, increasing fatigue, brain fog and/or weight gain
- Long term poor dietary and lifestyle habits – may be taking their toll now, with higher risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, dementia, arthritis and cancer
TIPS; Discuss your options with your Doctor or health practitioner if you are suffering menopausal symptoms. HRT is the standard treatment for menopause, however there are natural alternatives, such as herbs, supplements and Bio-Identical hormones. It's very important to reduce any stress, take regular exercise and eat a healthy diet.
OK so now you're thoroughly DEPRESSED (even if you weren't before!) – PLEASE DON'T DESPAIR!
This list does not apply to every woman, it's just a guide to what might be behind any symptoms you're feeling. And the earlier you are aware of what might be happening to your health (and particularly to your hormones), the more chance you have of taking action to stay happy and healthy as you get older.
If you have any of these symptoms, I would recommend you talk to your doctor or health practitioner. There are some prescription treatments available for hormone imbalances, which can be very effective, and you need to rule out anything more serious.
I have armed myself with this knowledge so that I can be as preventative as I can in looking after my own health and my family's health (and doing it as naturally as possible). Not just for my sake – of course I want to grow old with all my faculties intact, but I also want to be around for my kids – and not be a burden to them. That's my motivation.
If you want to feel good again, it just takes some commitment – either to sorting it out yourself or to getting some help from an expert. Hormone imbalances respond brilliantly to a few tweaks to your diet and lifestyle – you'd be amazed how much!
Go grab the free resources I am giving away to help you get back control of your hormones.
I really hope you will take on the commitment and invest in yourself NOW. After all, how many lives would be improved if you were at your absolute best?
Click here for your FREE Hormone Balancing Guide.
(The information presented in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or doctor or other health care professional)