Advancements in healthcare and healthier lifestyles are helping women live longer lives. Yet many women spend those years living in poorer health.
Why? It turns out menopause is more than just a hormonal transition. It’s a key factor determining our longevity and quality of life in later years.
The actions we take during this pivotal time in our lives will shape our health for years to come.
Menopause's Pivotal Role in Longevity and Health
Our ovaries, hormones, and brain have a deep connection. Ovaries produce estrogen and progesterone, which activate hormone receptors everywhere in our body. Having healthy hormone levels is crucial to our cognitive health, bone health, cardiovascular system function, and many other essential bodily processes.
Unfortunately, our ovaries age at twice the rate of any other organ in our body.
During peri-menopause, the fluctuation of our hormones caused by the decline of our ovarian health causes the many recognizable (and varied) symptoms of menopause. It also sets off a cascade of negative health effects, such as an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, stroke, and dementia. Our immune function is also impacted, leading to a multitude of chronic conditions.
In the years following menopause, our bodies will adapt to the lower levels of hormones found in the post-menopausal phase and many menopausal symptoms will ease — but the impact on our longevity is irreversible.
Estrogen: Our Vital Partner
Estrogen is often recognized primarily as a female hormone linked to reproduction. However, its influence on our bodies stretches far beyond that. One of estrogen's standout roles is in maintaining our bone strength. Estrogen aids calcium absorption and slows our bones' natural breakdown process, protecting them from weakening. As estrogen levels drop, bone loss occurs significantly faster.
Estrogen is also a guardian of our heart health. It lowers our cholesterol and helps ward off certain types of inflammation that can lead to blockages in our arteries. This means the presence of estrogen minimizes our risks of heart attacks.
When it comes to brain health, estrogen is extremely valuable. Estrogen helps improve brain functions, especially in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. These areas of the brain are responsible for critical functions such as storing memory, executive function, and emotional regulation. Here, estrogen helps create and strengthen connections between brain cells by interacting with special sites in the brain called estrogen receptors.
Not to be forgotten, progesterone is also vital in our daily life. Progesterone is responsible for helping steady our moods, regulate blood pressure, and improve our sleep cycle and quality. Low levels of progesterone, especially the impact on our sleep, can also affect our health and longevity.
The Acceleration of Aging
While the effects of declining hormones can change how our body feels and works; a larger shift is taking place inside our body during menopause. Menopause actually speeds up cellular aging by 6%. As estrogen levels drop, our immune cells aren’t able to function as well. This leads to a kind of ongoing, low-level inflammation that experts call "inflammageing"— aging that's driven by inflammation.
Inflammation is a key factor in the increased risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. But it can also cause issues that affect our daily quality of life: feeling tired, aching joints, or mood swings. Skin health can be affected as inflammation contributes to skin dryness, reduced elasticity, and the formation of wrinkles. Chronic inflammation can also affect mental health and plays a role in raising the risk of depression and anxiety.
The lack of sleep so many of us experience during peri-menopause can also lead to cellular damage and accelerated aging. In a sleep study, researchers from UCLA found that postmenopausal women with five insomnia symptoms were nearly two years older biologically than women who were the same age with no insomnia symptoms.
Timing is Everything When It Comes to Menopause
The age we go through menopause plays a critical role in our longevity. Going through menopause later in life has been shown to increase life expectancy. Women who experience later menopause, defined as being older than 55 years when menopause occurs, have improved bone, brain, and heart health compared to those who go through menopause earlier.
The duration of our symptoms during menopause also impacts our health and longevity. A 2017 study found that the more severe and longer-lasting a woman’s hot flashes and night sweats are, the greater her risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
As we take a look at the bigger picture of menopause and its impact on our health and longevity, we can clearly see that quality care is not just about managing menopausal symptoms but making sure our health and longevity are being treated in the best way possible.
Hormone Replacement Therapy: The Key to Longevity?
It's estimated that most women will experience menopause for nearly 40% of their lives, with about 85% facing at least one symptom that impacts their daily routine. Symptoms like hot flashes, brain fog, and vaginal atrophy are often the main driver leading women to consider hormone replacement therapy (HRT). However, due to a lack of education about menopause and misleading information about HRT, many choose to forgo this effective treatment.
But HRT does a lot more than simply help with the symptoms of menopause. When our hormone levels are properly managed — particularly from the beginning of peri-menopause — we can lower our risk of life-threatening diseases and enhance our quality of life.
Research into the effects of HRT on longevity is limited, but promising. One study, carried out between 1998 and 2012, showed that women on HRT were 20% less likely to see plaque buildup in the arteries of their hearts. Other research suggests that HRT doesn't just slow down bone deterioration — it can actually boost bone density by up to 5% while cutting the risk of fractures by 40 percent.
Benefits of Hormone Replacement Therapy for Longevity
- Relieves menopause symptoms, reduces the anxiety and stress they cause
- Reduces risk of osteoporosis, bone fractures, tooth loss
- Lower risk of developing certain diseases like colon cancer and diabetes
- Improves joint pains and muscle function
- Maintains muscle strength
- Reduces the risk of coronary artery disease
- Improves blood lipid levels
While hormone replacement therapy offers numerous benefits, it does comes with potential risks and side effects. Before starting any HRT regimen, it's important to consult with your healthcare provider to determine if it's the right choice for your individual health needs.
FemGevity: Supporting Menopause and Women’s Long-Term Health
Menopause is about more than just changes in reproductive health — our hormones shape the length and quality of our life. By learning more about the deeper story of menopause, we can equip ourselves with the knowledge we need to make choices that nurture and protect our health for years to come. Book an appointment with FemGevity to create a plan that helps ease your symptoms of menopause and protects your health for years to come.
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