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Menopause Symptoms Explained

by Veronica Hughes
Most symptoms of menopause come from the decline in estrogen, which does many jobs around the body. We explain the biological mechanisms behind menopausal symptoms, from hot flushes and weight gain to terrible sleep and sometimes feeling like you're losing your mind. We also suggest some natural remedies that can help deliver relief.
Menopause Symptoms Explained

For a long time before you have your final period you will experience a range of perimenopause symptoms, which can last as long as 10 years. Perimenopause symptoms start when your ovaries begin to produce less estrogen. Declining and low levels of progesterone – the other main female sex hormone – are responsible for the rest of those bothersome perimenopause and menopause symptoms too. This article explains the biological mechanisms behind some key menopausal symptoms.

Menopause symptoms explained

Hot Flushes and Night Sweats

The drop in estrogen levels affects the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates body temperature. The hypothalamus mistakenly perceives the body as overheating and triggers the body's cooling mechanisms, leading to hot flushes and night sweats.

Vaginal Dryness and Atrophy

Decreased estrogen levels result in changes to the vaginal and urethral tissues. The reduction in blood flow and thinning of the vaginal lining, known as vaginal atrophy, can cause dryness, itching, and discomfort during sex.

Mood Swings and Irritability

Estrogen has an impact on neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine, which play a role in mood regulation. The decline in estrogen - and some wild fluctuations - may contribute to imbalances in these neurotransmitters, leading to mood swings, irritability, and changes in emotional well-being.

Sleep Disturbances

Hormonal fluctuations, particularly a decrease in estrogen, can influence the sleep-regulating mechanisms in the brain. This disruption may result in difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restful sleep.

Estrogen modulates the activity of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which is involved in mood regulation and sleep-wake cycles. It also influences the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. Changes in estrogen levels can impact the balance of these neurotransmitters, potentially affecting sleep quality.

Estrogen appears to influence the different stages of sleep, including rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep. Fluctuations in estrogen levels throughout the menstrual cycle may contribute to variations in sleep architecture, with some studies suggesting changes in REM sleep duration and latency.

Weight Gain and Changes in Body Composition

Why is it so hard to lose weight during perimenopause? Estrogen speeds up your metabolism, making you burn up stored fat more easily.  

Estrogen also plays a role in regulating fat distribution. There are two primary types of fat tissue in the body:

  • Subcutaneous fat is just beneath the skin, all over the body
  • Visceral fat surrounds internal organs inside the abdomen - it's belly fat that sits inside your abdominal muscles.

Estrogen influences the balance between these two types of fat. It encourages subcutaneous fat around the body, and helps reduce visceral belly fat. As estrogen declines, it takes extra dieting and exercise to keep the visceral belly fat at bay. 

There are many benefits to making this effort, even though it is hard. 

  1. Visceral fat is metabolically active - in other words, it makes its own hormones - and you don't want too much of them.
  2. Visceral fat makes ghrelin, known as the “hungry hormone” as it stimulates your appetite.
  3. Visceral fat is associated with inflammation throughout the body, which contributes to numerous chronic diseases including heart disease.
  4. It is considered a risk factor for conditions such as type 2 diabetes.
  5. Excessive visceral fat is associated with insulin resistance, meaning body cells don't respond to insulin as well as they should. Estrogen helps the body respond more effectively to insulin. As your estrogen levels fall, you can enter a vicious cycle - and the only way to break it is by reducing visceral fat. 


Bone Loss and Osteoporosis

Estrogen has a protective effect on bone density by inhibiting the activity of cells that break down bone tissue (osteoclasts). The decline in estrogen levels during menopause can lead to increased bone resorption, potentially resulting in osteoporosis and an increased risk of fractures.

Cognitive Changes

Estrogen receptors are present in the brain, but we are still learning how it influences the way the brain works.

The reduction in estrogen levels may contribute to cognitive changes, including memory lapses and difficulty concentrating. Estrogen affects memory and concentration in a few ways.

  • Estrogen helps control chemicals in our brain, like serotonin and dopamine, which influence our mood and focus.
  • It also has a protective role, supporting the health of the brain cells that are essential for memory. By affecting the synapse connections between these cells, estrogen helps us learn and remember things.
  • It also improves blood flow to the brain, providing necessary nutrients for good cognitive function.
  • Estrogen's involvement in creating new brain cells and its potential impact on conditions like Alzheimer's disease show just how vital it is for our brain health.


At what age does the menopause start?

There’s no hard and fast rule as to what age any woman will reach menopause, though according to the NHS, menopause usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55, the average age being 51. But some women – around one in 100 – experience an early menopause, which is when they have their last period before they hit 40 (the medical term is premature ovarian insufficiency). Others can experience early menopause symptoms as a result of having cancer treatment or after having their ovaries surgically removed. 

When it comes to getting the best idea of when you’ll get to menopause, mother knows best! Researchers have discovered almost half of daughters reach menopause around the same age as their mums did. Studies also claim smoking, body weight, ethnicity and oral contraceptive history can influence when you have your last period.

Natural ways to control menopause symptoms

We know much more about medical treatments like HRT these days than we used to, which means this approach is more effective and safer now for lots of women. If, like 90% of women in Britain, you prefer to go down a more natural route, there are plenty of science-backed herbs and nutrients to help you.

VitaBright can help

Most women find the severity of individual symptoms varies over time, which is why they may use different forms of natural support through the years of perimenopause. Try browsing our product range by looking for the menopause symptoms that are currently the most severe for you. 

Improve calm, memory and focus

Omega 3 Oils - Incorporating Omega-3-rich foods or supplements into your diet supports brain function and emotional well-being during this transitional phase of life.

Vitamin B - Super Vitamin B complex delivers B vitamins, electrolytes and choline that are essential to the production of neurotransmitters that keep you firing on all cylinders. 

Lion's Mane - Lion's Mane Mushroom Complex is enhanced with Ginkgo Biloba for the extra benefits of this remarkable natural support to cognitive functioning.

Support with weight loss

Apple Cider Vinegar - The Apple Cider Vinegar Digestion Complex slows down carbohydrate absorption, and is combined with Turmeric, Ginger and Cayenne Pepper to boost metabolism and burn fat.

B Complex Vitamins - The Super Vitamin B complex delivers a high-strength dose of all eight B vitamins plus vitamin C, in the most absorbable forms possible, to boost your metabolism.

Hemp Seed Oil - Our Cold Pressed Hemp Seed Oil Softgels deliver complete plant-based protein containing all 9 essential amino acids and the ideal ratio of essential omega 3 fatty acids, lipase (fat-digesting enzyme), soluble prebiotic fibres, and a wealth of vitamins and minerals.

Fenugreek - Organic Fenugreek Seed Powder is rich in insoluble prebiotic fibres and 'unavailable' carbohydrates which provide roughage and support the good bacteria in your intestine which work to slowly break down these indigestible materials, which helps to make you feel full. It's also been used traditionally for centuries to stabilise female hormones. 

Keep your bones healthy

The drop in estrogen that defines the menopause triggers a weakening of the bones and the onset of osteoporosis.

Vitamin D3 - To maximise your chances of keep bones healthy, you need active exercise and the right nutrition. Vitamin D3 helps you absorb calcium. 

Vitamin K2 - Vitamin K2 helps your body lay down calcium correctly in your bones and teeth. 

About the Author

Veronica Hughes is a writer and researcher with a lifelong passion for nutrition and healthcare. She has spearheaded a medical research charity as its CEO, been an influential committee member of National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to shape treatment guidelines for the NHS, and actively contributed to the development of Care Quality Commission treatment standards for the NHS. Her publications include newspaper articles and insightful blogs covering a spectrum of health topics, ranging from diseases and nutrition to modern healthcare and groundbreaking medical research.

by Veronica Hughes

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