Prevention & Recovery

Women's health: What are hormones like in your 50s?

By: Jackie Middleton

Photography by © Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photography by ©

Prevention & Recovery

Women's health: What are hormones like in your 50s?

By: Jackie Middleton
Absent progesterone, low estrogen levels and dwindling testosterone signal the approach of menopause. According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, the average Canadian woman reaches menopause at 51 years old.

Energy level
Energy lulls may afflict some women; they're often due to sleep deprivation. "We don't think that fatigue is an estrogen-related phenomenon. It's more associated with sleep problems," says Wolfman. Sleep can be interrupted by menopause-induced night sweats and hot flashes.

Medications such as Venlafaxine, Desvenlafaxine, Paroxetine, Escitalopram (all antidepressants), Clonidine or Gabapentin, or hormone replacement therapy may reduce their frequency.

Maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding alcohol and spicy foods, and dressing in layers may also help. Sage, black cohosh and vitex are herbal supplements that Vanderhaeghe recommends to quell hot flashes. The best news? These symptoms will vanish in time.

Sex drive
Shrinking testosterone levels may numb your arousal and sex drive. Unfortunately, a Viagra-type pill hasn't been invented for women. "There's no approved therapy for women's decreased libido in Canada," says Wolfman.

Even if you're up for sex, intercourse may be painful. Estrogen deficiency physically alters the vagina, prompting dryness, shortening and tightening. A waterbased lubricant or a physician prescribed vaginal estrogen product can make sex more comfortable.

Menstrual cycle
Approaching menopause, you may start skipping periods or your cycle may stop altogether. You've reached menopause when you haven't had a period for 12 consecutive months. "Menopause is a normal state," says Wolfman. "Your hormones aren't out of balance."
Body and weight
As your metabolism slows down, your weight will increase. "Eat well and be active every day, and don't worry about that number on the scale," says Reid. A lack of estrogen can contribute to general aches, joint discomfort and osteoporosis. Thyroid dysfunction is common too, and can mimic menopausal traits. Your physician can differentiate between the two.

The absence of estrogen impedes cell turnover, leaving your skin dry, flaky and dull. It also shrinks the plumpness of your face, as your body absorbs and redistributes facial fatty issue.

(The corners of the mouth, temples and areas underneath the cheeks are often affected.) Age spots, wrinkles and freckles are "almost exclusively the result of sun exposure and aren't hormonal," says Searles.

What happens after age 60?
Postmenopausal women may continue to feel the effects of missing hormones. The absence of estrogen can lead some women to experience drastic bodily changes, including shrinking of the vulva, and urinary problems such as incontinence, frequent cystitis, urinary tract infections and bladder prolapse, says Dr. Wendy Wolfman, director of the menopause unit at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital.

Without the protection of estrogen, the risk factors for heart attacks and strokes also increase after age 60. You may notice hair sprouting from your upper lip and chin, another result of low estrogen.

This story was originally titled "The Truth About Hormones" in the March 2013 issue.

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Prevention & Recovery

Women's health: What are hormones like in your 50s?