How Menopause Affects Metabolism & Immunity
by Laura Power, MS, PhD, LDN
© July 2014
If you are menopausal or post-menopausal, you need to read this. Have you ever wondered
why women become so tired after menopause? Or why 80% of autoimmune conditions attack
post-menopausal women? Or why your body seems cold, and you can’t produce enough energy,
or you’re developing allergies? There’s a reason, and it’s not just “age.”
As a woman, all your adult life your body has made progesterone. It helps control your
menstrual cycle and pregnancy. But did you know that some progesterone goes to your adrenal
glands and is converted to cortisol?
The two adrenal glands are tiny but amazing glands that sit atop your kidneys. They
produce the master hormone pregnenolone, which converts to progesterone, which then converts
to cortisol, DHEA, and mineralocorticoids. Pregnenolone is also made in the brain, and improves
cognition and memory. Cortisol regulates glucose metabolism by converting fats and amino
acids to sugar. It stimulates anti-inflammatory proteins and down-regulates pro-inflammatory
proteins. Cortisol also converts to aldosterone to maintain blood pressure. DHEA is the most
abundant hormone in the body, and a precursor to sex hormones (testosterone and estrogen).
DHEA is also made in the brain and affects mood. Mineralocorticoids act on salt and water
Suddenly at menopause progesterone disappears! But it affects more than your
reproductive organs. It affects your adrenal glands, which in turn affect your metabolism.
Meanwhile, your adrenal hormones have declined with age. At this point, around age 50, many
women crash. They suffer severe fatigue, low body temperature, cold hands and feet, insomnia,
low blood sugar, and low blood pressure. Women also experience changes in their immune
system, because there is inadequate cortisol to mount a proper anti-inflammatory response.
Many women develop allergy symptoms, and later inflammatory diseases or autoimmune
Why doesn’t this happen to men? Research shows that men have adrenal glands that are 2
to 4 times larger than women’s. But they can suffer adrenal fatigue at a later age.
If you have any of these symptoms, get lab testing for adrenal hormones (pregnenolone,
cortisol, and DHEA), also thyroid hormones (TSH, T4, T3). Both glands influence fat cell
metabolism, cholesterol levels, and mitochondrial energy production.
How can you balance your body? Nutritional supplements are available to help support
adrenal and thyroid hormones. Your doctor can prescribe bio-identical micronized progesterone
(20 - 30 mg), which lacks the negative side affects and risks of synthetic progestins. Natural
progesterone is also available OTC as a cream.