How to Counteract Menopausal Changes in Your Body

You can’t stop menopause from coming. But you can learn to counteract the menopausal changes that come along — when you understand how your body works. In this article, I’m going to break down the changes that are happening to your body in menopause, particularly in your endocrine system.

We’re going to look at:

  • The symptoms of menopause

  • Basics of the endocrine system

  • How menopause affects you physiologically

  • What that means for tackling the symptoms

This is one of those full-circle moments. Because it’s education that helps you understand your menopause experience. Learning about how your body works makes it easier for you to advocate for yourself with your physician. And it’s understanding why symptoms occur that helps you control them better.

Remember, Girlfriend: menopause is mandatory, but suffering is optional.

OK, let’s take a look at menopausal changes from a more technical perspective!

Menopausal Changes: The Symptoms

Most of the time, when we talk about menopause, we talk about the symptoms that accompany menopausal changes to your hormones.

These symptoms can begin to appear slowly and can start when you’re in your 30s. In some cases, they may intensify as you age and your endocrine system changes more rapidly.

Some of the common symptoms of menopause include:

  • UTI

  • Anxiety

  • Brain fog

  • Migraines

  • Painful sex

  • Depression

  • Hot flashes

  • Headaches

  • Weight gain

  • Night sweats

  • Mood swings

  • Vaginal dryness

  • Vaginal atrophy

  • Decreased libido

  • Difficulty sleeping

A lot of the time, for simplicity’s sake, we talk about menopausal changes in terms of hormones. In menopause, your hormone levels are changing. Most notably, your estrogen and progesterone levels.

When you’re younger, your body is used to having ample amounts of these hormones circulating in the body.

And then, when your sex hormones seem to disappear, it causes all of those symptoms I mentioned above to crop up.

But why are those hormones changing?

Ultimately, it’s changes to your endocrine system that cause the changes to your hormones.

What Is The Endocrine System?

The endocrine system is the complex network of glands that orchestrates the symphony of hormones in your body. This network stretches throughout your body, from the pituitary gland in your brain to the adrenal glands that sit atop your kidneys. (1)

The endocrine system regulates your sex hormones, which include the all-important estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. But the endocrine system is also involved in the creation and distribution of other hormones as well, like thyroid hormones and melatonin.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways your endocrine system is affected in menopause.

The Pituitary Gland And Menopause

The pituitary gland is often considered the conductor of the endocrine orchestra. The pituitary produces and regulates various hormones that control different functions throughout the body. However, the hypothalamus controls the function of the pituitary gland. (2)

During the menopausal transition, your pituitary starts to produce more follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).

When you’re cycling regularly, FSH and LH are the hormones that coordinate with your ovaries to get an egg ready for ovulation. (3,4)

But as your ovaries prepare to cease baby-making activities and your estrogen levels drop, the pituitary tends to push out more FSH and LH, as if to give extra encouragement to the ovaries. Sometimes, we use this as a diagnostic tool to see if you’re in perimenopause or menopause.

If a blood test shows your FSH or LH is high, that’s typically an indicator that menopausal changes have begun in the pituitary. However, it’s important to note that the stage of menopause you’re in, BMI, and race/ethnicity can affect how your FSH levels drop. (5,6)

There’s also some evidence to suggest that elevated FSH leads to the weight gain and brain fog that so many women experience during this transition. (7)

The HPA Axis In Menopause

So we know that the hypothalamus controls the pituitary and the pituitary is affected in a big way during menopause.

But there’s another part of the HPA picture we haven’t looked at yet: the adrenal glands.

The adrenal glands are the “A” in HPA Axis. The “H” stands for Hypothalamus, and the “P” stands for Pituitary.

The adrenals are small glands that sit atop your kidneys. And they are responsible for producing both steroid hormones, sex hormones, and precursors to sex hormones. (8)

But, they aren’t great multi-taskers. If they’re focused on producing those steroid hormones — like cortisol (which is the stress hormone), that means they aren’t making sex hormones.

In menopause, your adrenals take over as the main producer of sex hormones in the body, as your ovaries bow out of hormone production.

That means you very strong adrenal health can help make the menopausal transition smoother.

Problem is, your adrenals are quite delicate.

And modern life is not easy on them. With all the stress of day-to-day living, a lack of quality sleep (often brought about by menopausal changes, too), and a less-than-ideal diet — by the time menopause rolls around, they’re depleted.

Too depleted to handle the additional burden of sex hormone production. Cue the hot flashes, night sweats, mood issues, and brain fog.

This is why it’s so crucial to take care of your adrenals.

They need plenty of sleep, lots of self-care, and high-quality nutrients to function at their best and be the backup generator for your hormones in menopause.

Menopausal Changes To Your Ovaries

Perhaps the most obvious changes your endocrine system experiences occur in your ovaries.

As your ovaries age, they contain fewer viable follicles (eggs that haven’t been ovulated yet). You stop ovulating every month. And your ovaries cease to produce much estrogen and progesterone as a result. (9)

So many of the uncomfortable menopausal symptoms that we’re all too familiar with happen because of the loss of these hormones that your body is so used to having around in abundance. When they decline, you feel it pretty much everywhere.

But also, Girlfriend, when you stop ovulating you can’t get pregnant. So now is the time to start enjoying your sex life to its fullest.

Other Changes To Your Endocrine Function In Menopause

There are many other changes to your endocrine system in menopause. So many that researchers are still studying them.

Notable changes include (10):

  • Thyroid function — many women see changes in their thyroid function as they age, with rates of hypothyroidism increasing during this time.

  • Pancreatic function — your pancreas is responsible for maintaining blood sugar. As we age, insulin resistance typically increases as your pancreas tends to produce less insulin.

  • Bone metabolism — your hormones play a role in the maintenance of your tissues, muscles, and bones. When your hormones drop in menopause, it puts you at greater risk for issues with bone density, such as osteoporosis. 

Menopausal Changes And How To Tackle Them

You can’t stop menopause from coming.

But, when you support your endocrine system in a meaningful way, it makes the transition so much smoother.

The best way to do that is through a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, and a very health dose of self-care.

My two other favorite tools are:

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Dr. Anna Cabeca

Dr. Anna Cabeca

Certified OB/GYN, Anti-Aging and Integrative Medicine expert and founder of The Girlfriend Doctor. During Dr. Anna’s health journey, she turned to research to create products to help thousands of women through menopause, hormones, and sexual health. She is the author of best-selling The Hormone Fix, and Keto-Green 16 and MenuPause.

Learn more about my scientific advisory board.