Menopause and Hormones


Is The Menopause An Illness?

No, it is definitely not an illness! There is however still a view adopted by some people that it is a disease rather than a natural event. Way back in 1966, Robert O. Wilson, MD published what became a best selling book, Feminine Forever. He wrote “Many physicians simply refuse to recognize menopause for what it is – a serious, painful, and often crippling disease.”

He was an ardent promoter of HRT (hormone replacement therapy now more often known as HT or hormone therapy) and his influential writing reinforced the idea that menopause is a disease that needs to be “cured” by supplying hormones. Women were prescribed HRT in their millions.  In the present time, GP’s are more cautious in recommending HRT due to links that were found with increased risks of breast cancer and cardiovascular problems.  However, for some women it remains the treatment of choice.

What is the Alternative to HRT?

Maybe you have weighed up the risks and decided you want an alternative to HRT.  A useful starting point is to look at the menopause as a natural transition rather than a deficiency disease. The hormonal flux of the menopause is inevitable but symptoms are not. The focus then shifts to strengthening your body both physically and mentally to build up resilience to the changes taking place.

Diet and nutrition play a very important role in creating this resilience. Blood sugar balance, less than optimal levels of specific vitamin and minerals, antioxidant status, gut health and food intolerances, inflammation, sub optimal functioning of the adrenal and thyroid glands and being over or underweight can all disrupt hormone balance and are factors to consider and manage.

What Happens at the Menopause?

Not so long ago “The Change” was a taboo subject. Your Doctor suggested that you put up with it and your family tolerated your erratic moods with a mixture of embarrassment and bewilderment. The menopause and its seemingly inevitable catalogue of unpleasant symptoms wasn’t something that you talked openly about with your friends either. Thankfully, these days there is a lot less secrecy and mystery surrounding the menopause.  But there is still quite a lot of information that you may not be aware of.

Menopause in its literal sense means the last menses or period. It is defined medically as not having had a period for a year. The medical term for what is commonly referred to as the menopause, is in actual fact the peri-menopause, a phase which can last 10 years or more, in which the hormones are fluctuating and symptoms are occurring.

Menopause Symptoms

During the peri-menopause, oestrogen production decreases which produces a corresponding drop in progesterone. Periods can stop suddenly, become heavier or lighter or the cycle can shorten or lengthen. The levels of FSH will keep increasing in order to try and stimulate the ovaries to produce oestrogen.

The main symptoms that can be experienced are hot flushes, insomnia, weight gain, reduced libido, mood swings, loss of bone density, vaginal dryness, loss of skin elasticity and tone, dry eyes, headaches, and fatigue.

The commonly promoted belief is that the above symptoms are the result of reduced oestrogen levels. If this were true, every woman going through the menopause would experience symptoms but this is not actually the case. All the more reason to try working on your nutrition.

See my article Menopause Help – 4 Ways to Thrive on the home page of this website in the articles section, for nutrition tips. Email to book a nutrition consultation with me and receive a personalised programme to address your specific needs.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

Back in 1981, a woman killed her boyfriend after an argument by running him over with her car. The woman was given a conditional discharge for 12 months and banned from driving for the same period. The reason for the light sentence was that the verdict was diminished responsibility due to PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome).

This is an extreme example of the effects of PMS. However, many women experience monthly mental and physical symptoms ranging from mild to life disrupting. Some of the common ones include:

  • Abdominal bloating
  • Excess gas
  • Wind pains
  • Constipation
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Weepiness
  • Clumsiness
  • Poor concentration
  • Feeling “spaced out”
  • Weight gain
  • Headaches
  • Food cravings especially for sweet foods

To be classified as PMS the symptoms must occur after ovulation (i.e. the middle of the month) and disappear around the time your period starts. Recording your symptoms in a diary can be helpful. If the symptoms occur throughout the whole month then PMS is unlikely to be the cause.

There has been quite a lot of research into the cause of PMS, so far without any conclusive results. Most of the conventional treatments on offer consist of giving drugs such as synthetic hormones, diuretics or anti-depressants. None of these treatments addresses the underlying cause of PMS and they have side effects.

The nutritional approach is to maximise nutrient intake by following the right eating plan, especially paying attention to balancing blood sugar levels, and use additional supplements of herbs or nutrients to correct any deficiencies and imbalances.

A client of mine, Karen, complained of abdominal bloating, severe mood swings, sugar cravings and pain and spotting before the start of her period. All the symptoms except for the bloating would disappear as soon as her period started. We changed her diet quite radically and she took mineral supplements, an active form of B6 and a herbal blend containing herbs to balance her progesterone levels. After 6 weeks her symptoms were much reduced and after 12 weeks, virtually gone. Her reason for consulting me was infertility and once the PMS was sorted out she did go on to conceive 6 months later.

These case studies show success with individuals clients. It is important to remember that we are all unique and an individually tailored eating and supplement programme is recommended to ensure an effective outcome.

Copyright © Penny Crowther (London Nutritionist)
Tel: 07761 768 754 | Email:

Footnote: Riad-Fahamy D, Read GF, Walker RF. Salivary steroid assays for assessing variation in endocrine activity. J Steroid Biochem. Jul:19 (1A):265–72. 1983.