There are currently about 7.9 billion people in this world and almost half of them are females. And all females go through menopause, including all the glorious signs and symptoms that go along with it — hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, depression, anxiety, brain fog, and even vaginal dryness (*sad face*).
As it turns out, all of these symptoms you endure during perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause don’t actually start in your ovaries. They’re actually neurological symptoms, explains Dr. Lisa Mosconi, neurologist and director of the Women’s Brain Initiative, in an episode of The Mindvalley Podcast with Vishen.
What does that mean? It means menopausal symptoms actually start in your brain.
What Happens to Women During Menopause?
Before we get deep into what goes on in your noggin’ during menopause, let’s get familiar with this “no period” phase of your life.
What is menopause?
Menopause is the stage in life when the female body stops raising the red flag, a.k.a your monthly menses. And you’re considered in menopause when your ovaries stop producing high levels of hormones, especially estrogen.
This phase typically happens in your 40s or 50s, but it varies from person to person, depending on a number of factors, like your genetics and lifestyle.
On a side note: there are instances, however, where menopause isn’t a transition, but more of a “sudden” circumstance, like surgery or medically-induced (for cases like cancer).
And now, here are three stages you’ll go through:
This stage can start long before you even enter the yard of menopause, somewhere between the 30s or 40s. Your ovaries will start to gradually produce less estrogen and you can experience some symptoms.
But don’t worry, you’ll still have your monthly Aunt Flo coming to visit, which also means your chances of having babies are still quite high.
This stage is the one everyone is familiar with when they talk about menopause. It’s when your ovaries basically halt the production of estrogen and release your eggs.
You’re considered to be in menopause when you’ve gone without menstruating for 12 months in a row.
In this phase, your menstrual cycle has stopped for more than a year.
The good news is that your menopausal symptoms may decrease, but your low levels of estrogen can put you at a higher risk of osteoporosis and heart disease.
Keep in mind that there are medical options, like hormone replacement therapy, and ways to support your health that can help make this transition more manageable.
What happens to your body during menopause?
As your body transition into, through, and after menopause, your reproductive cycle slows down and your ovaries make less and less estrogen. So not only will your period stop, but your ovaries will no longer release eggs into your fallopian tubes.
And as your body starts to take down its red flag, it finds ways to adapt to the changes in hormone levels. This is when symptoms of menopause start to emerge:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Peeing more frequently
- Mood swings
- Joint and muscle pain
- Brain fog or difficulty concentrating
- Vaginal dryness
- Changes in sex drive
Even though menopause is one of the most natural biological transitions, it puts all women in a paradox: although they could be perfectly healthy, women going through menopause are considered sick. And this misinformation is due to the fact that women’s health, including menopause, is grossly underrepresented in clinical research.
Enter Dr. Lisa Mosconi and her colleagues. As an amazing contribution to women’s health, they’ve published a study that observes in detail what happens to women’s brains during menopause.
What Happens to Your Brain as You Go Through Menopause?
The neurons in our brain are in constant interactions with our bodies, giving them signals to function properly. And one of those interactions is with our reproductive system.
For women, especially, this interaction is crucial for our aging. And it’s commonly known that when women head into menopause, their estrogen levels go down.
Men’s testosterone doesn’t run out until late in life, which is a slow and pretty much symptom-free process, of course.
Women’s estrogens, on the other hand, start fading in midlife, during menopause, which is anything but symptom-free.— Dr. Lisa Mosconi, neuroscientist and director of the Women’s Brain Initiative
Hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, memory lapses, depression, and anxiety, are all menopausal symptoms women experience. And it’s all signals from the brain.
Why your brain is impacted by menopause
It turns out that your brain and ovaries are part of the neuroendocrine system, allowing both organs to communicate with each other every day of your life. So, it’s no wonder that the health of your ovaries is linked to the health of your brain, and vice versa.
On top of that, estrogen not only plays a role in your ovary function but also in your brain function. When estrogen levels decline, it affects various areas of your brain, which then cause your menopausal symptoms:
- Hot flashes occur due to your hypothalamus, which is responsible for regulating your body temperature. When estrogen doesn’t activate the hypothalamus as it should, your brain is not able to regulate your body temperature as it should. And that’s why you experience hot flashes.
- Insomnia comes from your brain stem, which plays a role in your REM cycle. When estrogen doesn’t activate this part of the brain correctly, you have trouble sleeping.
- Mood swings are thanks to your amygdala (the emotional center of your brain) and the hippocampus (the memory center of your brain). A drop in estrogen levels in this region causes mood swings and/or brain fog.
Estrogen, in particular, is really key for energy production in the brain. … If your estrogen is high, your brain energy is high. When your estrogen declines though, your neurons start slowing down and age faster.— Dr. Lisa Mosconi, neuroscientist and director of the Women’s Brain Initiative
The research by Dr. Lisa and her colleagues shows brain energy for women is relatively normal before menopause. But as you progress through the stages of menopause (perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause), it gradually declines to at least 30% of what it was pre-menopause.
“The truth is that your brain might be going through a transition, or is going through a transition, and needs time and support to adjust,” explains Dr. Lisa.
So when you’re in this stage of your life, it’s important to understand that your menopausal health is your brain health.
Keep Your Story Going
Menopause, no matter what ‘brules‘ you believe in, is not the season finale of your life’s story. It’s just a plot twist that you saw coming.
But now that you know what to expect, you know how to prepare for it. And Mindvalley can help you.
By signing up to Mindvalley, you can listen to free lessons of Quests that can support the transitions through your womanhood, like WildFit for your nutrition, The M Word for your stress, and even Tantra Touch for your sex life. And you can also connect with the Mindvalley Tribe for moral and emotional support.
Whatever you’re looking for, we’ll see you at Mindvalley.