Menopause is part of being a woman; there’s no getting out of it. Unfortunately, along with all the inconvenient and frustrating symptoms of menopause, there may also be a risk of developing certain chronic inflammatory disorders – most notably, rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Women of any age know how much hormones can affect the body and mind. Even a slight imbalance in hormones can cause a wealth of uncomfortable symptoms. Research is always being conducted on risk factors of RA; this research was published in Rheumatology journal.
Ovaries produce hormones throughout the years before menopause. Once the onset of menopause begins, certain hormones in a woman’s body will begin to lessen. Some of the most common hormones that decrease in prevalence during menopause are progesterone, estrogen, calcium, and testosterone. Although it may not seem like a big deal, these hormones play an essential role in regulating the body; this includes the inflammatory and immune system.
In order to understand why menopause puts women at an increased risk of RA, it's important to understand what takes place during menopause that makes the body susceptible to RA.
Menopause normally occurs later in life for women, after child birthing age. The average age for menopause is 51 but it is known to happen anywhere from your 40’s and up. In rare cases, women will undergo menopause earlier than usual, sometimes even in their 20’s. Once menopause begins, a women’s body will no longer allow her to become pregnant. Menopause can occur for a variety of different reasons. The most common reason women experience menopause is the general decline in reproductive organs. This decline involves a declining production in estrogen and progesterone.
Estrogen, the most well-known female hormone, aids in your bones density, health, and healing. As estrogen declines, women’s bones are at risk of losing bone density, which is why they are often encouraged to take calcium supplements or hormones to boost production. If bones are unable to repair themselves and stay protected, they will begin to deteriorate and be more susceptible to disease and chronic conditions – like RA.
Now that you are aware of menopauses role in hormones, your ovaries, and your bones, you can begin to understand the basis for this study and the research they conducted. Dr. Deshire Alpizar-Rodriguez from the University Hospitals of Geneva in Switzerland states that there is an increased prevalence in rheumatoid arthritis in women and the decline in the ovarian function of women may contribute to the autoimmunity associated with RA. This study also noted that high estrogen, as well as low estrogen, can both put a woman at a higher risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis.
It is important to note that women who experience low estrogen may begin taking hormonal supplements. Hormone levels need to be monitored to assure estrogen levels are within normal limits because if they aren’t, this negates the purpose. The study also went on to describe that because of this new knowledge, practitioners can use this information to better screen patients during preventive care.
Knowing what to screen for and what factors women may put a woman at risk during and after menopause is crucial in maintaining a healthy state of being. Rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating and degenerative disease that is difficult to treat and impossible to reverse, so researchers are always looking for ways to prevent it. The study noted that there were some factors they were unable to control that may or may not impact the results of the study.
These factors included the self-reporting of female hormonal factors, heightening the possibility of error.
Lifetime estrogen was summarized into one value, whereas the lifetime value of women’s estrogen fluctuates throughout her lifetime.
Participants that showed the beginning stages of RA were excluded from the results to eliminate bias and potentially overbearing results.
What You Can Do
As a woman, it is important to continually see you doctor for annual screenings and preventive measures. Women should get regular blood work to be sure their hormones and other metabolic measurements are within normal ranges. Paying close attention to any changes in your body prior to menopause, during menopause, and afterwards. You know your body best so pay attention to it. Eating healthy and maintaining a healthy weight is a given; most of us know the impact healthy diet and exercise will have on our health.
A factor many of us ignore is our mental health. When we stress or let anxiety rule our lives, our body excretes hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that sets other hormones out of balance. Finding ways to calm yourself and maintain a calm state of being for a good portion of the day is critical. Most of us are unable to avoid stress for an entire day, but finding ways to relax in the morning, evening, or afternoon can help significantly in keeping hormones leveled.
Regular exercise has long been known to keep hormones regulated. When we sweat, our body is filtering out excess chemicals and toxins that it no longer needs, allowing our body to run more efficiently and effectively. There are so many factors that come in to play when dealing with hormones, but knowing what is at risk if you don’t at least attempt to maintain them, can be all the push some people need.
Revisiting previous paragraphs, researchers have discovered that low levels of estrogen and high levels of estrogen put women at a significant risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Due to the ovaries declining function, low levels of estrogen are often reported with menopause, which is why menopause specifically is being linked to RA risk. High levels of estrogen are also known to put women at risk for developing RA – this hormonal imbalance is often seen with birth control, tumors, or hormone medication being taken for other conditions.
Researchers and physicians are working together to create a wider range of preventive interventions to lessen to likelihood of developing RA for individuals at risk. Until more preventive interventions are created, women need to take it upon themselves and be diligent in maintaining their health and hormone levels. Maintaining hormone levels can be done thorough exercise, eating healthy, regular blood work, maintaining a healthy weight, and paying attention to any signs and symptoms that may arise. Knowing what stage you are in (menstruating, premenopausal, menopause, and post menopause) will help you better understand what you are at risk for.
Along with estrogen, there are other hormones that decline during menopause; progesterone and testosterone. As of now, researchers are unclear if decreased amounts of progesterone and testosterone during menopause also contribute to the increased risk of RA, but speculation is bending more in favor. Because the three hormones: estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, work together to maintain healthy reproductive organs and hormone levels, it would be foolish to believe that only one hormone contributes to an increased risk.
As a woman, take the time to learn more about these hormones. Know what causes deficiencies, elevated levels, and imbalances. Different stages in women’s lives result in different levels of hormones being produced; knowing these stages is important as well. The anatomy of a woman is complex and adding in hormones only complicates things even further.
One thing most woman agree on – rheumatoid arthritis is not something you want. Chronic inflammatory conditions make everything more difficult and painful. Keeping your body healthy throughout your youth will benefit you as you age, and make the process all that much easier as you continue through menopause and beyond.