After a lifetime of hard work, it’s time for your ovaries to take a much-deserved break! There’s a time when hormones need to slow down and with that comes a certain amount of upheaval. It has only to be expected. But, what exactly are those hormones responsible for?
Oestrogen, progesterone, androgen – what do they do and what does it all mean when “the change” happens?
After they have run out of follicles, our ovaries’ mechanism shuts down. This is when they stop producing oestrogen and progesterone. We all know that this is when the body’s fertility comes to an end, but how else do those hormones affect us? There are more consequences; the whole body’s mechanism is altered.
Oestrogen, progesterone, and androgen: what is what?
All three are hormones secreted by the ovaries.
What is Oestrogen?
At puberty, these hormones drive the development of our breasts, the vagina and the uterus. They also have an influence on the distribution of fat in our bodies, the strength of our bones, cholesterol and triglyceride levels in our blood. When their balance is disrupted, the body’s overall balance is askew too.
You might notice the lack of oestrogen has a ripple effect on our entire body including disturbed sleep; memory problems; loss of sex drive and joint pain.
It sounds frightening, but, thankfully, menopause doesn't necessarily mean you’ll suffer from all these symptoms. Each person’s experience varies significantly depending on heredity and lifestyle.
A drop in oestrogen levels is often blamed for a problem that is rife for women over 40: osteoporosis, when bones become brittle and are more likely to break. Since bone mass is lost rather than gained over time, our bones gradually become more porous, more fragile and less resistant to shocks, making them more prone to fractures. One woman out of three will be affected at some stage in her life after menopause, with the risk increasing after the age of 65.
In reality menopause and the lack of oestrogen secretion are not the main causes of osteoporosis. Our bone structure is 80 % dependent on our genetics. The fact that our bones “lose” mass is, above all, a sign of aging. At the age of 30, our bone mass is at its highest. After that, it begins to decline, at a rate of between 3 and 5% per decade. Menopause simply speeds up the process, with the decline in oestrogen disrupting protein and calcium metabolism. Bone loss then increases to 1.5% per year - and much more, in some women - with osteoporosis becoming a real threat.
What is Progesterone?
The main role of this hormone is to promote implantation of the fertilised egg, thickening the lining of the uterus. It’s key to a healthy pregnancy. It also counter-balances oestrogen. For example, it has a diuretic effect that opposes the “fluid-retaining” effect of oestrogen, helping to combat bloating of the breasts and body usually associated with menstrual cycles.
What are Androgens?
The precursor of all oestrogens, they are primarily responsible for the growth of pubic and underarm hair, these male hormones decrease at menopause but do not disappear completely because they are produced by the adrenal glands, as well as the ovaries. The best-known androgen is testosterone.