The Midlife Hormonal Rollercoaster: What Men and Women Can Expect
Blame it on the hormones.
Remember the last time hormones ruled your life? When as a teenager you had out-of-control acne and you were riding an emotional roller coaster?
Aging brings on another major hormonal change for both women and men – and it can start earlier than you think.
The hormonal culprits are still the same: estrogen in women and testosterone in men.
But instead of being overloaded with too many hormones, aging means your sex hormone production is beginning to slow down.
Women can begin noticing changes as early as in their 30s or 40s, as estrogen levels could begin to rise and fall unevenly. Those early fluctuations could affect the menstrual cycle, and some symptoms including hot flashes, sleep problems and vaginal dryness may result. It’s a time referred to as “perimenopause” – a sign that the body’s estrogen production is preparing to shut down and fertility is starting to decline.
However, you can still get pregnant and have a child during perimenopause.
Following a low-fat, high-fiber diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as calcium-rich foods, can help combat perimenopause symptoms. Watch your alcohol and caffeine intake, as they both may trigger hot flashes.
Staying active and following a consistent sleep schedule can also help, as well as managing stress through meditation or yoga.
But some perimenopause symptoms are best addressed through medications – including hormone therapy. Talk to your doctor about what dosage is right for you.
Vaginal dryness can be addressed with over-the-counter, water-based lubricants, or with an estrogen tablet, ring or cream that’s administered directly to the vagina. Hot flashes can be managed with certain antidepressants, and Gabapentin – a drug approved to treat seizures – has been shown to help reduce hot flashes as well.
Once you’ve gone 12 months in a row without a period, it’s official. You’ve reached menopause. That means your body has stopped ovulating, and you can no longer get pregnant.
Men aren’t immune from hormonal changes, but their experience is much different from female perimenopause and menopause.
While women’s hormone production plummets quickly, men slowly stop producing testosterone over time.
A blood test is truly the only way to diagnose low testosterone. But men may notice symptoms like changes in their sexual function, insomnia or increased sleepiness, emotional changes and physical changes like increased body fat, decreased muscle bulk and decreased bone density.
This can be called “andropause,” or in a more informal way, “man-o-pause.”
There isn’t a direct way to increase your natural testosterone production – and be wary of herbal supplements. Talk to your doctor to find a solution that’s right for you. Most importantly, ask for help if you need it: depression can accompany aging in men and there are many effective treatments available.
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Photo credit: AMR Image