The causes and hormones of menopause
What causes menopause?
The leading cause of menopause is age. Menopause, as mentioned, marks the end of your childbearing years and is the result of your ovaries starting to gradually slow down. However, there are also a number of specific surgeries, as well as medical treatments that can induce menopause as a side effect. These surgeries and treatments include the removal of ovaries, which is known as bilateral oophorectomy, pelvic radiation therapy and chemotherapy. If you have undergone a hysterectomy, which entails removing the uterus surgically, and your ovaries were not removed, this does not result in menopause, but you will still not experience your menstrual period.
The below factors can cause menopause:
- Hysterectomy – Having a partial hysterectomy means that your uterus, and not your ovaries, will be removed. This will not result in the immediate onset of menopause, however, as stated, you will no longer have your period. In still having your ovaries intact, they will continue to release eggs and produce the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone. Having a complete removal of your uterus and ovaries, known as a bilateral oophorectomy and total hysterectomy, will result in menopause without the transitional phase. Your period will stop immediately and you are likely to experience the typical symptoms of menopause, which can sometimes be severe as hormonal changes are abrupt and have not occurred gradually over a number of years as is naturally the case.
- Primary ovarian insufficiency – This is a condition where your ovaries will not be able to produce the normal levels of hormones needed for reproduction before you turn 40. This is often the result of an autoimmune disease or a genetic factor, however, the cause is often unknown as doctors are unable to find it. Roughly 1% of women will experience menopause before they turn 40, this is known as premature menopause. The treatment for women with primary ovarian insufficiency is hormone therapy until they reach the natural age that menopause is supposed to start in order to prevent osteoporosis.
- Natural decline of reproductive hormones – Your ovaries will start to make less oestrogen and progesterone as you get closer to your late 30s in life. These are the hormones that regulate your menstruation. As well as this, your fertility will also decline. As you reach your 40s, you will find that your menstrual cycle may be shorter or longer, lighter or heavier and overall seem to be irregular. This will eventually get to the point, around the average age of 51, where your period will stop entirely.
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy – These are cancer therapies that have been known to induce menopause as a side effect and cause symptoms such as hot flushes which can occur shortly after or during the treatment. Even though these therapies halt your menstruation, and in turn, your fertility, this does not mean that you should discontinue birth control as this halt can be a temporary thing.
What do hormones have to do with menopause?
As your ovaries begin to produce less oestrogen, your body will try to get it from other places. Your fat cells are also capable of producing oestrogen, therefore, the body will work extra hard to convert any calories into fat in order to increase the oestrogen levels. Because your fat cells do not burn calories in the same way that muscles do, your body may automatically gain weight as a result.
Menopause is often linked to water retention due to the fact that bloating and water weight are a result of progesterone levels decreasing. This does not result in actual weight gain, but can give the appearance of being bigger.
This hormone will typically increase with the onset of menopause as it is responsible for redistributing the weight to the midsection instead of the hips, it has also been shown to help ease the symptoms of menopause.