While menopause is predominately considered to impact the reproductive system with hormonal fluctuations causing hot flashes, night sweats, and other undesirable symptoms, it is a whole-body transition that involves many different systems. As a result, many women may not be aware that their symptoms are tied to endocrine imbalances, leaving them overlooked and untreated.
“This link of the so-called sex hormones to all body systems is what is behind the surprising menopause symptoms in organs and structures that are not recognized as being highly regulated by the ovarian hormones,” A4M faculty member Felice Gersh, MD, told Well+Good in a recent interview.
A frequent and popular A4M speaker, Dr. Gersh is a board-certified OB/GYN, founder of the Integrative Medical Group of Irvine, and the author of Menopause: 50 Things You Need to Know. During her interview with Well+Good contributor Isadora Baum, Dr. Gersh outlined five surprising symptoms of menopause that are not commonly associated with the condition yet are essential to recognize and take into clinical consideration.
5 Surprising Menopause Symptoms
“All joints are impacted by hormones, and estrogen is essential for optimal joint lubrication, collagen production, and bone health,” Dr. Gersh said. “Ligaments and tendon health and function are estrogen-dependent, and loss of estrogen in menopause causes a deterioration of all joints, including the jaw, which can result in pain and arthritis development.” New research indicates that jaw pain and TMJ symptoms can worsen during the menopause transition.
To alleviate this symptom, she recommends consuming more healthy proteins, especially plant proteins.
“Antioxidants and polyphenols in foods can help, as well as the use of hyaluronic acid and taking collagen, curcumin, Boswellia, omega-3 and CBD,” Dr. Gersh said. Additionally, a wellness practice that includes “acupuncture, heat compresses, and red light therapy can be beneficial,” she added.
2. Dry Eyes
“Estrogen and testosterone have receptors in the glands that produce tears and tear components, and menopause and aging lead to a reduction in the amounts of these hormones and thus results in lowered quantity and quality of tears,” Dr. Gersh explained. “Using over-the-counter liquid tears and eye drops can help, as well as working with an ophthalmologist for treatment and using prescription eye drops, if necessary.”
3. Heart Palpitations
“At least a quarter of menopausal women develop heart palpitations,” Dr. Gersh cautioned. “Usually palpitations are not serious, but rarely they can progress to a more serious condition that’s known as atrial fibrillation.”
These symptoms occur as a result of decreased estrogen production. “Estrogen helps to regulate heart rate and rhythm, and without ovarian estrogen, the autonomic nervous system becomes imbalanced, which results in over-stimulation of the sympathetic nerves to the heart and heart palpitations,” Dr. Gersh explained.
According to Dr. Gersh, treatment includes hormone therapy, mind-body medicine, and other functional wellness strategies for preventing chronic stress and anxiety, magnesium supplementation, and the use of certain pharmaceuticals, such as beta-blockers, which may provide relief from symptoms.
4. Body Odor Changes
“Bacteria metabolize sweat to create distinctive odors, and so after menopause, bacteria change on the skin, and these different bacteria can lead to different scents being produced,” Dr. Gersh explained. “Use of a gentle body wash may help, as well as moisturizers, such as those containing shea butter, as well as other kinds of soothing essential oils.”
5. Increased Mood Swings
“The brain has receptors for estrogen throughout all regions, and estrogen is a key player in the maintenance of serotonin neurons and oxytocin—serotonin is a neurotransmitter involved in the ability to feel calm and happy, while oxytocin promotes feelings of love and bonding,” Dr. Gersh reported.
A decrease in these hormones caused by reduced estrogen levels contributes to the heightened incidence of mood swings, anxiety, and depression – as has been found in women going through menopause.
Dr. Gersh suggests treating mood swings with estrogen and progesterone therapy, as well as antidepressant medications if necessary. In addition, functional wellness techniques such as massages, meditation, and regular exercise can help stabilize mood swings and boost serotonin levels naturally.
It is important to remember that not all women will experience the same symptoms during menopause and that many may not be aware of the full spectrum of symptoms that can manifest. Many signs of menopause can also be caused by hormonal factors unrelated to estrogen, such as high stress, sleep problems, and poor nutrition. Comprehensive education and training are critical for clinicians to effectively distinguish between symptoms of menopause, other endocrine imbalances, and different health conditions.