By Rachel Lankester
It’s often reported that we lose (o)estrogen completely post menopause. This recent BBC article said “With production of oestrogen having stopped altogether, there is a long-term effect on the bones and heart.”
But as we often find with media reporting around menopause, this isn’t true. Estrogen production post menopause continues. It’s complicated.
I thought that the ovaries maybe stopped producing estrogen, but that it was still produced elsewhere in the body. But I’ve discovered that even the ovaries keep producing estrogen post menopause. Hence why it’s often thought preferable to leave the ovaries behind when doing a hysterectomy, for example – unless there is some specific risk associated with the ovaries.
Estrogen is the group name, but there are actually three types of estrogen:
- Estradiol is what we lose most of post menopause but the ovaries still produce some
- Estrone is the weakest form of estrogen and is typically higher after menopause, declining with age
- Estriol is highest when pregnant and is almost undetectable when not pregnant
All three types of estrogen form in the adrenal glands and fatty (adipose) tissue. Estradiol and estrone are also produced by the ovaries. A 2013 study found that the hypothalamus in the brain can produce and release estrogen too, though I’m unable to find data on which type of estrogen that is.
We know that there are estrogen-related cancers post menopause, so there must be estrogen still in the body. Rates of ovarian androgen production do not significantly drop at menopause and these androgens are then converted to estrogens.
In addition to peripheral estrogen production, postmenopausal women are certainly not without estrogens. This is one reason for aromatase inhibitor use after postmenopausal breast cancer, to reduce the remaining circulating estrogens.
One thing I have learned and which I wrote about in my book, is the importance of the adrenal glands and stress management as we go through menopause and beyond. The was written about also by Jackie Lynch in her book The Happy Menopause.
The body doesn’t just leave us stranded without estrogen post menopause. Despite what some commentators say about us being deficient in hormones post menopause. The body has a back-up plan that provides us with enough estrogen. If we look after ourselves.
The adrenal glands produce estrogen for us post menopause. But if the body thinks we’re under stress – whether that’s actual stress or just presuming we’re under threat because our blood sugar levels are all over the place, then the adrenals will prioritise stress hormone production over estrogen.
That’s why stress and menopause isn’t a good combination. Stress can make everything so much worse as we transition through menopause.
Stress management is a vital part of managing our menopause. As is a good, healthy diet and balancing our blood sugar levels as much as we can. This gives us the best chance of capitalizing on the reduced, but still present, estrogen that our body continues to produce.
And if you’re struggling with a bit of meno belly, go easy on your body. She’s also just trying to make the most of the estrogen that your fatty (adipose) tissue continues to make.