Guest Article by Marina Gutner, PhD from the Thyroid Blog OutsmartDisease.com
Menopause is the transition from reproductive to non-reproductive phase which refers to the natural part of the aging and is a normal life stage of every woman. However, there is a large individual variation and each woman experiences menopause in a different way. One woman may go smoothly through these hormonal changes, while another can suffer with many debilitating symptoms until she receives proper treatment.
Stages of menopause
Perimenopause is a transitional period from a normal to completely absent ovarian function. During this time ovarian function becomes erratic with fluctuations in estrogen levels that results in some physical symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, headaches, mood swings and irregular periods. Perimenopause usually begins when a woman is in her 40s and lasts as long as four to eleven years.
During perimenopause the ovaries start to decrease their ovulatory function. The majority of women do not notice the menopause onset until they reach the last few years of perimenopause when estrogen production drops more quickly and dramatically.
Menopause begins when the ovaries stop to release eggs and a woman no longer has periods. Menopause usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 with an average age of 51 in the US. A general indication of menopause is cessation of periods for 12 consecutive months.
The postmenopausal time is divided into two stages:
- Early postmenopause is within the first five years since the last menstrual period. At this stage hormone therapy is initiated if the symptoms, osteoporosis and bone loss become severe.
- Late postmenopause is five years and beyond.
Who is more likely to experience the symptoms of menopause:
- Women with personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer
- Women who have blood clots
- Women with personal or family history of hormonal abnormalities
- Women with autoimmune diseases and thyroid problems
- Women who have early menopause
- Women with surgical removal of the ovaries, after chemo- or radiation therapy
Factors affecting menopause
It is not well understood why the age of the menopause onset varies form woman to woman. Many environmental and lifestyle factors such as the use of oral contraceptives and smoking are related to the beginning of the natural menopause.
Genetics determines the number of eggs in the woman’s ovaries and the age when she goes into menopause. A strong association between genetics and the onset of the menopause were found based on the studies of the menopausal age of mothers, daughters and between siblings. If the women in your family went into menopause around 50, chances are 30 to 85% that you will experience menopause around this time also.
Smokers and women with chronic illness, autoimmune diseases, surgical removal of the ovaries or damage to the ovaries from the chemotherapy or radiation therapy are more likely to experience an early menopause. On average smokers reach the menopause two years earlier than non-smokers.
Premature menopause is characterized by the absence of normal ovarian functions and occurs in less than 1% of women under the age of 40 and 0.1% before the age of 30.
Women experience symptoms such as palpitations, heat intolerance and hot flashes that are believed to be caused by fluctuations of estrogen. Clinical diagnosis of early menopause is based on the absence of periods for at least 4 months in combination with FSH levels exceeding 40 IU/L before age of 40. However, about half of the patients show intermittent estrogen production and could ovulate making pregnancy possible after a diagnosis is made.
Women who have an autoimmune condition are at a higher risk to develop another one. Premature ovarian failure or oophoritis is a painless autoimmune inflammation of the ovaries resulting in early menopause before age forty with a loss of fertility and ovary hormonal functions. The incidence of premature ovarian failure of the autoimmune origin is higher in women with Hashimoto’s and Grave’s disease.
Thyroid and menopause connection
It is challenging to define the hormone related symptoms of menopause from those caused by aging, environmental stressors or other diseases. For instance, there is a sharp increase of autoimmune thyroid condition called Hashimoto’s disease in women approaching menopause.
At Hashimoto’s, thyroid antibodies attack the thyroid gland causing its destruction and release of an excessive amount of thyroid hormones into the bloodstream. During this transient event called hashitoxicosis a woman can experience typical hyperthyroid symptoms such as hot flashes, heat intolerance and insomnia that can be easily mistaken for symptoms of menopause.
Low-grade hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism and Grave’s disease in women around 50 can be confused with symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. Hypothyroid symptoms such as fatigue, depression and low libido are often attributed to signs of aging and menopause. The disease diagnosis is frequently missed and it can lead to a lack of proper treatment.
Hormonal changes during perimenopause and menopause can also interfere with thyroid function. There are two possible mechanisms how estrogen can affect thyroid function:
1. Elevated estrogen increases the levels of specific protein called Thyroid Binding Globulin (TBG). After the thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones it is bonded by TBG proteins and carried to the cells where it’s needed. Once the bonded thyroid hormone reaches the target cells the protein is removed and the hormone turns to its free metabolically active form.
When TBG is increased, more thyroid hormone is bound to the carrier proteins preventing the active thyroid hormone from entering the cell. As a result, women can have low thyroid function and suffer from hypothyroid symptoms such as low energy, hair loss, fatigue and difficulties to lose weight despite lab tests showing results in the normal range. In this case bringing estrogen and progesterone into a balance will correct low thyroid function and most women do not require thyroid medication.
2. Estrogen stimulates immune activity which seems to be counteracted by progesterone. In perimenopausal and menopausal women with estrogen unopposed by enough progesterone the immune system tends to be over stimulated, which can contribute to autoimmune thyroid disease.
According to the naturopathic physician Dr Holly Lucille, it is important to consider the effect of estrogen and progesterone on the thyroid function and take necessary steps to establish and correct hormonal imbalances that may occur in women approaching the menopause.
Dr Holly Lucille created an informational audio program Naturapause where she introduces a safe, natural and effective solution to hormone problems. She is a primary care physician who is trained in natural therapeutics and is an expert on women’s health and hormonal issues. Dr Holly Lucille has more than ten years of clinical experience in working with patients and getting positive results in her practise and has been featured on the Discovery Health Channel and on the Lifetime Television for Women.
Her educational program is designed for men and women over 30 and women approaching menopause who experience hormonal changes and symptoms. She explains what the root cause of all hormonal imbalances is and if not addressed properly in time why it makes the transition into menopause so difficult for many women.
The Naturapause program gives you knowledge on how to correct hormonal imbalances using proven natural method of treatment without using hormone replacement therapy. The origin of hormonal imbalance is treated so women can recover, get relief from menopausal symptoms and be protected from the diseases of hormonal origin such as uterine fibroids, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, breast and uterine cancer.
Marina Gutner has a PhD in natural science and is a medical writer on Hashimoto’s disease and associated health conditions. To learn more about connection between menopause, autoimmune diseases and underactive thyroid in women subscribe to FREE Nutritional guide for Hashimoto’s disease and hypothyroidism on her Thyroid Blog OutsmartDisease.com
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