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Posts Tagged ‘menopause’

326 menopause causes sleep apnea

We commonly think of sleep apnea as being caused by obesity or structural problems. However, in women the transition into menopause can contribute to sleep apnea too. When estrogen is low, the brain fails to signal the palate and tongue to retain its tone during sleep. As a result they over relax and block the airway.

Female hormones play a role in sleep

The hormonal factors that contribute to sleep apnea are different in women than in men. In a study involving rats, researchers discovered that young male rats respond to normal episodes of hypoxia, or brief periods of oxygen deprivation, during sleep by increasing brain activity to take deeper and more frequent breaths. The older male rats did not have the same response.

But when scientists looked at female rats they discovered they reacted much differently to these hypoxic episodes. For instance, older female rats had a more positive response to oxygen deprivation than the older males. That response was even better during certain stages of the menstrual cycle in younger female rats, suggesting female hormones play a role in the response to hypoxia during sleep.

This could help explain why many women begin to experience sleep problems during perimenopause (pre-menopause) and menopause, when estrogen production begins to decline. Estrogen influences serotonin, an important brain chemical that transmits signals, including to the tongue and palate.

To test the theory, researchers removed the ovaries from female rats, inducing estrogen deficiency and menopause. They found less serotonin in the region of the brain controlling the tongue, which compromised the female rats’ ability to respond to hypoxia during sleep. The lack of estrogen affected the brain function involved in breathing. This is consistent with evidence that shows the incidence of sleep apnea increases in women during midlife.

The rate of sleep apnea also increases in midlife for men, as declining testosterone results in worse brain coordination for sleep. This helps explain why many people start snoring as they get older.

Middle-aged men tend to snore more and experience the cessation of breathing during sleep. Middle-aged women, however, more commonly complain of insomnia, headache, fatigue, and irritability related to poor sleep. That estrogen deficiency promotes weight gain only compounds the problem of sleep apnea. Estrogen deficiency can also play a role in restless leg syndrome.

When estrogen begins to decline in women, the adrenal glands ideally take over the production of estrogen. The adrenal glands sit atop the kidneys and regulate the body’s response to stress. Stressful lifestyles, processed foods, high sugar intake, and other factors of modern life leave many women entering midlife with poor adrenal function. As a result, estrogen levels may drop too low during perimenopause and menopause. Estrogen is vital for all aspects of a woman’s health, including that of her brain, bones, immune system, and ability to sleep well. Adopting a whole foods diet free of processed carbohydrates and supporting adrenal health are some strategies to support estrogen levels.

For more information on supporting hormone levels and proper sleep, contact my office.

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Why is menopause so hard for some women?

Question
I’m going through menopause and feel like I’m falling apart. I get severe hot flashes, mood swings that border on psychosis, and my brain isn’t working. Why?

Answer
As the ovaries begin to wind down production of the sex hormones the adrenal glands, our stress organs, are supposed to take over that job. Unfortunately by the time most women reach menopause their adrenal glands are worn out and not up to the task of making sex hormones.

Chronic stress taxes the hormones
In the face of stress our adrenal glands secrete adrenal hormones to help our bodies cope and adapt. However we were designed to call on this action only on an occasional basis. These days our adrenal glands are on constant red alert.

Factors that activate the adrenal glands include lack of sleep, being over scheduled, excess caffeine, inadequate nutrition from a poor diet, and too many sweets and starchy foods. Lesser known stressors include chronic inflammation, autoimmune disease, overgrowth of yeast and bacteria in the intestinal tract, leaky gut, and chronic viral or bacterial infections.

Hormones are vital for proper function of body and brain
As a woman nears menopause her ovaries begin to produce fewer reproductive hormones, including estrogen and progesterone. Women still depend on these hormones even after fertility for proper function of the brain, thyroid activity, immune system, and other systems in the body.

Because so many women enter menopause with fatigued adrenals, their adrenal glands cannot produce enough sex hormones or produce them in an appropriate manner. The result is deficiencies or swings in hormone production, which disrupts the function and health of other systems in the body. This causes the symptoms so commonly seen today, including hot flashes, memory loss, poor cognition, depression, strong mood swings, and more.

The best option is prevention
Natural medicine offers many solutions to help women transition through this period more safely and comfortably. However the best option is prevention. Ideally a woman will work to shore up her adrenal health, which is a whole-body diet and lifestyle approach, well before menopause.

Working preventively will help prevent or minimize the unpleasant symptoms associated with the transition into menopause.

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