Menopause: A Time of Accelerated Aging
As I have explained in previous articles, aging is your body’s inability to regenerate itself fast enough to recover from the wear and tear of everyday life — to be able to repair and rebuild tissues and cells, process and store fats for later use, and produce various cellular chemicals such as neurotransmitters, enzymes, antibodies, and hormones – at the same rate your body uses them. If your body cannot do so, you break down; you age. And as you break down, you become less able to build enough to keep pace with what you are using, so you break down further, continuing to widen the gap between building and using, and accelerating the speed with which you age. Aging is an inevitable downward spiral – you can’t stop it. But, you can control the rate.
There are two types of aging:
Genetic Aging, or what I like to call natural aging, which is a function of your heredity; it is the maximum possible age to which you are genetically programmed to live. This is what is known as your genetic potential. You can only live up to your genetic potential if you don’t accelerate your aging process. Did you know that many women have the genetic potential to live to be over 100 years old?
Metabolic Aging, which is the rate at which you actually age, in other words how much faster you age than your rate of genetic aging.
Metabolic aging is determined by your ability to maintain metabolic balance. The ability to maintain metabolic balance is determined by your ability to keep all of your hormone systems in balance, which is dependent on, among other things, your ability to produce all of your hormones at peak levels.
Diminished hormone production decreases your ability to rebuild the chemicals you use up daily and the structural tissues you wear down over time. This compromised condition further reduces hormone production.
Therefore, aging leads to further aging; it is a downward spiral.
Although the body’s ability to produce all hormones naturally reduces, to some extent, with age, the ability to produce the sex hormones diminishes to the greatest extent – effectively to zero. This nearly complete loss of two hormones is why untreated menopause accelerates aging to such a great degree.
While the loss of your sex hormone system affects both the building and using sides of your metabolism, initially, the building side is more affected. Without sufficient estradiol and progesterone, your body’s ability to build is severely diminished. At the same time, your using functions accelerate. The net effect is, you use more than you build. This is why women begin to age much faster once they are in menopause.
In fact, in the ten or so years following your last menstrual period, if you do not restore hormone balance with supplemental hormones, you will likely age more and faster than in any other period of your life!
Fluctuating energy levels, lower endurance, sleep disruption, an inability to recover from infections and injuries as quickly, and decreased muscle mass and bone loss, are all early signs that your sex hormone system and, therefore, all of your hormone systems are out of balance and you are using more than you are building. Examples of later signs include osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s dementia, and heart attacks.
This accelerated aging pattern usually lasts about 10 to 15 years and then plateaus because the using side of the metabolism also becomes impaired due to the stress it has been under for so many years. At that point, both using and building are affected and your capacity to regenerate fast enough to recover from the wear and tear of everyday life is severely limited. Again, women who do not properly treat their menopause by balancing their hormones, age more quickly, develop more degenerative diseases of aging, and die younger. Certain levels of estradiol and progesterone are necessary for maintaining metabolic balance in order to slow the aging process and forestall degenerative disease!
A Final Note
As I have acknowledged before, for whatever reason, women were “designed” to wear out early. Back when women died in their fifties and sixties, there wasn’t time for menopause to take its toll. But, today, two things are very different. Women are now living decades after the onset of menopause, as much as 30 – 40% of their lives in menopause. And, they are living much busier, more active and stressful lives. There’s more “using” going on that must be offset by building. Estradiol is a building hormone. Without it, you are less able to build effectively. So you break down more readily. And the busier you are and the more taxed your body is, the greater and faster the breaking down process.
So, if you don’t want to rebalance your hormones with supplemental, bioidentical hormones, but you do want to minimize the acceleration of your aging process due to the hormone imbalance caused by menopause, then the best thing you can do for yourself is to slow down. Minimize your activity, your commitments, the stress in your life, etc. and pay extra special attention to your nutrition, to ensuring you are getting adequate, quality sleep, to avoiding toxins, and to not exercising inappropriately.
To your health and happiness,
Diana Schwarzbein, MD