Research on Menopause Symptoms and Cortisol
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Dr. Margaret Nachtigall Reviews the Research on Menopause Symptoms and Cortisol
Can managing the most common menopause symptoms — like hot flashes — help lower cortisol levels in menopausal women, thereby lowering risks for serious health issues down the road?
Let’s see what the science says . . .
I was very interested in a new study — The Treatment of Menopausal Symptoms: Concomitant Modification of Cortisol — that appears in the current issue of Menopause: The Journal of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS). The report is geared to the medical community, but I wanted to unpack the more important findings and share my thoughts with all of you.
What is the study hoping to show?
The purpose of the study was to investigate whether reducing menopausal symptoms would decrease levels of cortisol, which is often referred to as ‘the stress hormone’. Keeping cortisol levels low is critical to good health, especially during menopause, because high levels can contribute to abdominal fat, and might increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, bone loss, poor cognitive functioning, and more.
The researchers were basically asking this question: “Can levels of cortisol be lowered by reducing the severity of common menopause symptoms?”
What are the most common symptoms of menopause the researchers were studying?
The main symptoms in menopause include hot flashes, mood changes, night sweats, sleep disturbances, and vaginal dryness.
How was the research conducted?
The study followed sixty-nine postmenopausal women who were treated for their menopausal symptoms by one of three different ways: 1) estrogen therapy, 2) phytoestrogens, or 3) acupuncture. Cortisol levels were measured before and after the course of treatment for each volunteer.
The findings showed that when the menopausal symptoms decreased cortisol levels also declined.
Is Hormone Therapy (HT) the only course of treatment to mitigate some of the symptoms of menopause, thereby lowering levels of cortisol, according to this study?
When women experience these common menopause symptoms, their levels of cortisol also increase, which can contribute to a higher risk of heart disease, memory issues, bone loss, weight gain, and can also contribute to a decreased immune system and increase in metabolic disturbance. Therefore the overarching takeaway from this study is to decrease menopause symptoms to help lower cortisol levels. This study also demonstrated that women can lower or even eliminate their menopause symptoms in several ways. Hormone Therapy (HT) is only one course of treatment available to many (not all) women. However, (HT) has been shown to alleviate the symptoms, thereby improving quality of life, while also slowing down bone loss, lowering risk for heart disease, and improving cognitive functioning, mood, and sleep.
My fInal thoughts and recommendations.
While more research should and will be conducted on this issue, it seems clear that a reduction in common menopause symptoms can contribute to better health and wellbeing for menopausal and postmenopausal women by also reducing levels of cortisol. But, every person is different and every person has a unique medical history. Treatment must be personalized, based on many different factors. The main point here is that menopause symptoms absolutely should be treated and managed, so that cortisol levels can be lowered for better long-term health. My #1 recommendation is to find a menopause specialist or other healthcare provider who has first-hand experience with menopause, hormones, and women’s health overall. We always suggest visiting the North American Menopause Society website to find a health care provider in your area. And of course, you can always reach out to me directly with any questions you have at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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