Stress and Early Menopause: What Every Woman Should Know

Women typically begin to learn about menopause around the time they experience their first period. It is knowledge passed down by mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and all those who help us grow into womanhood. They don’t always tell us everything we need to know, however.

Menopause can affect all women, but for some, it arrives earlier than for others. This is called early menopause, and it can seriously affect your fertility, health, and quality of life. There are several reasons early menopause can happen, and stress is one of the most common. This guide will explain what early menopause is, whether stress can cause early menopause, and what treatments are available.

What Is Early Menopause?

Menopause is the natural reduction of ovarian function and cessation of menstruation. It can happen at any time in women between the ages of 45 and 55, although it typically begins around age 52. That’s when the ovaries stop egg production, and estrogen and progesterone levels are at an all-time low. 

Stress and Early Menopause

Stress influences the menstrual cycle of strong, healthy young women, so it’s no surprise that it has an impact on menopause too. Early menopause can happen because of surgery, lifestyle choices, genetics, and certain health conditions, but stress also plays a significant role, especially when combined with other factors.

Cortisol

Chronic stress triggers hyperactivity in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. This action has a substantial influence on hormonal activity. Cortisol is called the stress hormone because it’s released when you’re feeling stressed. Too much cortisol could impact the onset of menopause and the other health problems it can cause.

Contributing Factors

Chronic stress is typically accompanied by several other factors that significantly affect your health and menstrual cycle. Smoking, alcoholism, and extreme weight loss all affect early menopause as well.

Signs of Early Menopause

There are several symptoms associated with menopause regardless of at what age it occurs. They include hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, vaginal dryness, weight gain, trouble sleeping, and chills.

Emotional Toll

Entering menopause at the expected age is an emotionally trying experience. Entering early can play even more havoc on your peace of mind due to the cultural stigma and hormonal imbalances.

Diagnosis

There are a few ways your doctor can tell if you are experiencing early menopause. The first step is to get a physical exam and a blood test to rule out pregnancy and thyroid issues. The next is a particular test that measures your system’s follicle-stimulating hormone or FSH levels. FSH is higher when estrogen starts to decline.

Research on the effects of stress and early menopause is ongoing, but there is strong evidence that stress, in association with other factors, can speed up the occurrence of menopause.

Treating Early Menopause and Stress

Taking a few proactive steps to ensure you enter menopause at the right time of your life can also help improve your overall health. There are many natural options that are effective in combating stress. 

1. Exercise

Increasing your heart rate and blood circulation is an effective way to combat stress. Try dancing, running, biking, or even skipping to get your heart pumping and your spirits rising. As with any major life change, consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program to make sure it’s right for now.

2. Meditate

Meditation brings a peaceful state of mind and a deep feeling of relaxation as your mind focuses on the act. All stressful thoughts are sent to the background, and your mind is given a mini vacation.

3. Call Someone You Love

Expressing your feelings and telling someone who cares what’s happening to you is cathartic. Sharing fears helps relieve tension and stress when you hear someone else’s thoughts on the matter.

4. Start a New Hobby

Distract yourself by picking up a hobby that keeps your mind and hands busy. Crochet, gardening, cooking, or building furniture, for example. They’re all effective ways of combating stress.

5. Yoga

Yoga stretches can enhance your overall well-being and combat stress and anxiety. There are variations available for all fitness levels. 

6. Proper Sleep

The right amount of sleep is crucial in the fight against stress. Getting between 6 and 8 hours of sleep per night helps you stay healthy in mind and body. The quality of sleep matters too. Tossing and turning all night affects your mood, concentration, and energy.

Treating early menopause with bioidentical hormones is an option once it has officially begun. Fighting stress before early menopause starts can keep it at bay even longer. 

Health Issues Related to Early Menopause

The symptoms of early menopause can bring on other health issues. The decline in the estrogen hormone in particular can cause problems, including:

  • Osteoporosis: A condition causing weak and brittle bones
  • Depression: A mental condition causing negative feelings
  • Dementia: Describes the loss of memories, problem-solving skills, and language
  • Periodontal disease: A disease affecting the gums and teeth
  • Tooth loss: Loss of one or several teeth
  • Cataracts: A cloudy film covering the eye
  • Heart disease: The term used to describe several types of heart conditions 

Early menopause doesn’t mean you’re destined to suffer all these other health issues. It does mean that the risk is heightened, and you should stay mindful. 

Learn More About the Connection Between Stress and Early Menopause

The most important thing to know is that specialized care is available for all hormonal changes and imbalances. Dr. Karen Threlkel is available for virtual and in-person visits to help you feel better. She is a naturopathic doctor serving primarily women and women’s health issues in the greater D.C. area. 

Dr. Threlkel provides a holistic approach to medicine that encompasses mind-body-spirit with natural-focused remedies for treating symptoms and underlying conditions. Contact Dr. Threlkel to schedule a consultation for more information about a health topic or to learn more about natural remedies or treatments. 

Sources:

Choi B-O, Lee Y-J, Choi J-H, Cho S-W, Im H-J, An J-E. The association between stress level in daily life and age at Natural Menopause in Korean women: Outcomes of the Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2010-2012. Korean journal of family medicine. 2015 Nov [accessed 2022 Sep 6]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4666866/#:~:text=19)%20Moreover%2C%20elevated%20levels%20of,as%20amenorrhea%20or%20early%20menopause

Early or premature menopause. Early or premature menopause | Office on Women’s Health. 2021 Feb 22 [accessed 2022 Sep 6]. https://www.womenshealth.gov/menopause/early-or-premature-menopause

About The Author:

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Threlkel received her degree of Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from The National College for Naturopathic Medicine (now called The National University of Natural Medicine) in Portland, Oregon. She also holds a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology from The University of Maryland. She is licensed in Naturopathic Medicine by the Government of the District of Columbia Department of Health. Dr. Threlkel is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, past president & current member of the Washington DC Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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