There’s a lot more to menopause than just hot flashes and night sweats!

For instance, did you know that menopause can also impact heart health, autoimmunity, and brain function?

Or that there are strategies to ease your symptoms?  

If you’re in the throes of this hormonal shift, wonder if you might be, or want to know what’s to come, here are 7 important things to keep in mind.

1. It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

You don’t wake up one day in menopause. Instead, it’s a gradual process that unfolds over a period of years. (This is a good thing because it gives your body time to adjust!)

The first phase of this process is called perimenopause. It begins when your ovaries’ production of estrogen and/or progesterone slows down. During perimenopause, you may experience symptoms such as:

  • Irregular periods
  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Insomnia
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Weight gain
  • Breast tenderness
  • Mood imbalances
  • And many more (see the checklist below)

Perimenopause occurs most often in your 40’s or early 50’s, but it can begin as early as your 30’s. It may last for 4 to 8 years, or progress more quickly. Each patient’s timeline is unique.

Once a full year has passed since your last period, you are considered in menopause.

Wondering if your symptoms are caused by menopause or perimenopause? Download our free menopause symptom checklist!

2. There are Solutions for Vaginal Dryness!

Painful sex caused by vaginal dryness is probably the number one concern I hear from my menopausal patients. 

By the time they come to see me, they’ve typically been told by their gynecologist or primary care doctor that vaginal dryness is just part of getting older. The implication here is that you should either suck it up or that your sex life is a thing of the past. Neither of those has to be the case!

There are safe and effective solutions for vaginal dryness, including bioidentical estrogen creams, non-hormonal suppositories, and lubricants. Supporting your hormone levels with diet, lifestyle strategies, and supplements can also make a world of difference.

3. Menopause Can Increase Your Risk for Heart Disease

Many people don’t realize that estrogen plays an important role in heart health. It helps manage cholesterol levels and keeps the inner layer of your artery walls healthy and your blood vessels flexible.

As estrogen declines, you are more likely to experience blood pressure problems and unhealthy cholesterol levels. Overall, women see an increase in heart attacks approximately 10 years following menopause.

4. You Might Experience Brain Fog or Memory Issues

The reproductive hormones estrogen, progesterone, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and luteinizing hormone all play a role in cognition. It’s no surprise then that 60% of women going through perimenopause and menopause report difficulty with concentration and memory. 

Unfortunately, the feeling of fogginess can be exacerbated by the insomnia that pops up during this time too.

The good news is these issues are temporary and do not cause any structural damage to the brain. In the meantime, you can minimize their impact and promote optimal brain function by relieving stress, getting regular exercise, and eating a nutrient-dense diet.

5. Menopause May Impact Autoimmunity

Nearly 80% of autoimmune patients are women, suggesting that female sex hormones play an important role autoimmunity. One leading theory is that estrogen heightens the inflammatory process, fueling chronic inflammation and therefore autoimmune disease

During the perimenopause process, estrogen production spikes and plummets before eventually slowing for good. This can cause a flare in autoimmune symptoms.

On the other hand, studies show women have a lower risk of developing an autoimmune condition after menopause, likely due to the decrease in estrogen.

6. Synthetic Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) Can Come with Serious Risks

For many years, conventional medicine considered hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, the saving grace of menopausal women.

With HRT, you are prescribed synthetic estrogen and/or synthetic progesterone in the form of a cream, patch, ring, or pill. In theory, this would counteract your body’s natural decrease in sex hormones and prevent menopausal symptoms. 

In reality, these synthetic hormones are not metabolized the same as the ones produced by your body and they have been shown to increase the rate of heart disease, stroke, blood clots, and most notably, reproductive cancers.

7. Bioidentical Hormones Are a Safer Option

Fortunately, there is a way to ease menopause symptoms without the danger of synthetic hormones! Bioidentical hormones are forms of estrogen and progesterone that are chemically identical to your body’s natural hormones.

They deliver on the promise of HRT (normalizing sex hormone levels) with far less risk and usually better results.

Menopause may be inevitable, but unbearable symptoms don’t have to be! With the right foundation and strategies, you can navigate this transition confidently while still feeling like yourself. 

About the Author: Dr. Seth Osgood is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Dr. Osgood received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.

Want to work with Dr. Osgood and the GrassRoots team? Become a patient in our West Lebanon, New Hampshire Functional Medicine clinic, our Burlington, Vermont Functional Medicine clinic, or our Austin, Texas Functional Medicine clinic!