Menopause occurs when the production of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone begin to change; estrogen production drops significantly and the ratio between the two also changes. Most women enter perimenopause in their early 40s, but full menopause usually occurs around 50. At that time, menstrual periods stop entirely and women are no longer capable of pregnancy. Prior to full menopause, periods may become irregular or change in amount or duration. The shifting hormone levels of perimenopause and menopause can cause a variety of symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and insomnia. Other symptoms include vaginal dryness and changes in sexual desire.
Menopausal weight gain is common in many women. A variety of factors are at play in most cases. Insulin resistance becomes more common as people age, and affects metabolism. The stress associated with body and mood changes can affect eating patterns. Sleep disruption and sleep apnea (both associated with menopause) are also known to increase the risk of weight gain.
Hormone therapy was once the norm for menopausal women. However, a large study found an increased risk of heart disease, and now physicians recommend hormones only on a case-by-case basis. Bioidentical hormones made from plants like yams and soybeans and are considered much closer -- chemically speaking -- to natural estrogen and progesterone than synthetic hormones, replacements made from chemicals. Bioidentical hormones are available in pills, creams, gels, vaginal tablets, and vaginal rings.
Once women reach menopause, they are more susceptible to heart disease, osteoporosis, and sleep apnea. Heart disease may occur because of weight gain, but it seems that the female sex hormones, especially estrogen, do offer protection against heart disease. Osteoporosis is bone thinning, and lower estrogen levels have been clearly linked to this condition. Women who have early menopause, for example, are much more likely to develop osteoporosis. Although sleep apnea is generally more common in men, post-menopausal women can develop the condition and often have more severe symptoms than others with sleep apnea.
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