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1. Stress puts more pressure on your body once you hit menopause.
Located on top of your kidneys, your adrenal glands release the stress hormone cortisol when life hands you a high-pressure situation. For menopausal women, the adrenal glands play another important role. "When your ovaries stop producing hormones, your adrenal glands are supposed to kick in and make estrogen, testosterone, DHEA and other hormones," says Vanderhaeghe. If your adrenal glands are tired from pumping out high amounts of cortisol, you can develop adrenal exhaustion, which can result in stress-management issues, insomnia, increased belly fat, and salt, sugar and caffeine cravings. It can also worsen menopause symptoms, such as hot flashes and mood swings. To avoid this, Vanderhaeghe recommends trying yoga and deep breathing for relaxation, as well as getting sufficient sleep and making time for yourself.
2. Your thyroid could be causing some of those midlife symptoms.
The thyroid gland secretes hormones that control your body's metabolism, which means it also affects variables such as your energy, temperature and weight. One in 10 Canadians have a thyroid condition, and up to 30 percent more have subclinical low thyroid (meaning hormone tests were inconclusive, but there may still be symptoms), says Vanderhaeghe. Women in midlife are most vulnerable to thyroid problems, and some of them might confuse the side-effects with menopause. "Low thyroid hormone levels may cause extreme hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness, all symptoms of menopause," says Vanderhaeghe. But if these symptoms are the result of a thyroid issue, you can get help. Talk to your doctor if you suspect your thyroid is out of whack. According to the Thyroid Foundation of Canada, as many as 50 percent of thyroid conditions are undiagnosed.
3. Some hormonal balances don't come from within.
Did you know that hormones—some of which are harmful—exist in the world around us? "Toxins build up in your body's connective tissue from environmental estrogens found in plastic bottles, synthetic estrogens in medications, chemicals in cleaners, parabens in cosmetics, pesticides in plant foods and hormone mimickers in animal foods," says Vanderhaeghe. Ridding your environment of estrogens can ensure they don't end up inside you, disrupting your natural hormone balance. The foods you eat can also be troublesome. "Consumption of too much red meat, fat, sugar, caffeine and alcohol can disrupt your hormones by burdening your liver," says Vanderhaeghe. The good news? She says exercise can help you sweat out toxins, and eating cruciferous vegetables (think cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts and kale) can help stimulate your body's natural detoxification process.
Learn four ways to get through menopause naturally.