Female hormone health expert, Dr. Fiona Barry PhD, helps us understand the role of women’s hormones and the part they play in menopause.
What is oestrogen’s role in the body?
In addition to prompting our ovaries to produce an egg each month, oestrogen protects against a whole myriad of ailments including heart disease, osteoporosis, memory loss and even Alzheimer’s. This is as a result of oestrogen receptors being present all over our body, including our brain. Oestrogen is responsible for regulating the hypothalamus, a corn-kernel like section of the brain that controls (among other things) thirst, hunger, sleep, desire and body temperature. Oestrogen is to a woman what testosterone is to a man!
Hot flushes are one of the symptoms most associated with menopause. Why do they occur?
The exact mechanism that causes hot flushes is still not clear. It seems that when oestrogen levels fall, a false message is sent to the hypothalamus, indicating the body has overheated. In response the hypothalamus tries to cool it down by rushing blood to the surface and inducing us to perspire, resulting in hot flushes and night sweats. However, that may not be the whole story. The body, in an attempt to stimulate the declining ovaries to ripen follicles and ovulate, stimulates the hypothalamus to produce larger and larger quantities of FSH (follicle stimulating hormone). In turn, it also produces higher quantities of LH (luteinising hormone). LH, which naturally causes the rise in body temperature that we see at ovulation, is produced in short bursts over a couple of minutes, approximately 30 minutes apart, which correlates to the timing and the way that women experience hot flushes.
Another benefit of oestrogen is that it produces collagen which not only keeps our skin relatively wrinkle-free but prevents incontinence. It does this by bolstering the walls of our vaginas and urethral tracts. It also keeps them slightly acidic to ward off bacterial infection. As oestrogen levels fall, the vaginal walls become thin, dry and more alkaline, not just making sex hurt and peeing a full-time career, but making us more prone to urinary tract infections.
Dr. Fiona Barry is a certified Chinese Medicine Practitioner with two busy practices in County Cork, Ireland, and holds a PhD in pharmacology. She has a special interest in female hormone health, has extensive experience in the use of botanical ingredients and has sat on the Health Products Regulatory Authority subcommittee for Herbal Medicines. As part of the Meno Active formulation team, her expertise and input have been critical to the development of our comprehensive super supplement for women during and after menopause.