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How to Reduce Cortisol in Menopause

May 10, 2024 • read

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How to Reduce Cortisol in Menopause

Perimenopause and menopause occur when a woman’s ovaries stop releasing eggs and menstrual cycles stop, which generally happens in your 40s and 50s. It’s caused by fluctuations in levels of the hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, along with another hormone that not many people realize plays a significant role in menopause, cortisol.

Cortisol is best known as the “stress hormone,” because your cortisol levels rise when you feel stressed or anxious. The problem: Perimenopause and menopause prompt various symptoms like depression, body aches, insomnia, sweating, and sexual problems—and elevated cortisol levels can make these symptoms even worse. 

Understanding Cortisol and Its Impact on Menopause Symptoms 

You have receptors for cortisol all over your body. That means fluctuating cortisol levels can affect everything including your heart, brain, muscles, and bones. Not only that, but your cortisol levels also regulate your vital processes—your mental function, energy levels, immune responses, stress responses, and metabolism. So when your cortisol levels are off, it’s going to affect your entire body.

When you’re in menopause and your cortisol levels are too high, you may have a harder time sleeping and handling stress. Since cortisol controls food cravings and how the body digests food, you may also find that high levels of it can impact your metabolism, increase blood sugar levels, and lead to weight gain.

What’s more, a change in cortisol levels can also hinder your cognitive function. This can make it difficult to remember basic things and also heighten mental health troubles. 

What Elevates Cortisol During Menopause?

You may be wondering why you have heightened cortisol levels, even if your life isn’t particularly more stressful than years prior. That’s because the level of your “feel-good hormone” progesterone lowers during menopause. Since progesterone is made from the same building blocks that cortisol is made from, less manufacturing of progesterone can lead to more of a surplus of cortisol production.  

Common Signs of High Cortisol Levels in Menopausal Women 

High cortisol levels can cause an array of symptoms that differ with how high the cortisol level is and how long it remains elevated for. Some common symptoms of high cortisol are:

  • Fatigue
  • Low energy
  • Weight changes
  • Brain fog
  • Low sex drive
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Unhealthy food cravings
  • Digestive woes and feelings of bloating
  • Overall body aches

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you may want to see a healthcare provider to learn ways to lower your cortisol.

What are natural ways I can lower cortisol during menopause?

Leading a healthy lifestyle can help you manage menopause symptoms and also lower your risk for diseases like heart disease and osteoporosis. Here’s what to do:

  • Adopt a heart-healthy diet: Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, fish, and whole grains, and limit your consumption of salt, sugar, processed foods, caffeine and alcohol.
  • Get your supplement levels checked: Calcium and vitamin D are essential nutrients, particularly for menopausal women. Talk to your doctor about getting your levels tested and potentially taking a supplement.
  • Exercise regularly: Moving your body—whether through walking, HIIT, or pickleball—this daily movement can help keep your heart and bones strong, manage your weight, and boost your mood.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene: Skip the naps, avoid caffeine, bid adieu to blue light in the evening, keep your bedroom cool, and create a bedtime routine to foster a good night’s rest.
  • Find tools to help you feel calm and collected: Introduce calming exercises into your day, like breathwork, meditation, journaling, gratitude practices, yoga, and talk therapy. 
  • Quit smoking: Saying goodbye to cigarettes can also mean saying goodbye to hot flashes—and serious health risks.

How can supplements and hormone therapy regulate my cortisol levels?

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a treatment used to alleviate the symptoms of menopause. It works by supplementing your body with hormones like estrogen and progesterone through medication to help restore the body’s hormonal balance. Recent studies show HRT can also counteract the negative effects of high cortisol levels. That means it can help you stress less and sleep better. HRT can be administered in many forms, such as a patch, gel, and vaginal ring. In Canada, it’s most commonly taken as a pill. 

When it comes to natural options, supplements may help. As previously mentioned, calcium may be beneficial to you because it’s essential for bone health. If you’re not eating enough calcium-rich foods (think: dairy products and leafy greens) and you’re not able to add more to your diet, your doctor may recommend a calcium supplement. It’s important not to take calcium before talking to a professional—too much of it in your body can contribute to hypercalcemia, which is a build-up of calcium in your bloodstream.

Vitamin D may also be a good fit, as it aids in calcium absorption. Over a third of Canadians have inadequate vitamin D levels. If that’s you, you may benefit from the sunshine vitamin. Ask your doctor if it’s a good option.

Another supplement that may help soothe menopausal symptoms is ground flaxseed (also known as linseed). While research on it is mixed, some people find it helps ease hot flashes. Plus, ground flaxseed also contains omega-3s, which are a key element to a healthy diet. But note: flax contains phytoestrogens, which have estrogen-like effects on the body. That means it’s important to check with your doctor before taking ground flaxseed if you’re receiving treatment for uterine or breast cancer.

Consulting with Healthcare Professionals for Cortisol Balance 

It can be helpful to seek professional help for managing your cortisol levels and menopause symptoms. If you have a family doctor, schedule a visit. But be prepared: You may not have as much time with them as you’d like. There’s a family doctor shortage in Canada, which means they generally have limited time for each patient. To make the most of your visit: 

  • Think through your main concerns and write them down so you can make sure to address them all.
  • Describe your symptoms and concerns thoroughly, including how they impact your life, so your doctor can offer a treatment plan best suited for you.
  • Use “I statements” to explain the symptom and the effect it has on you, such as “When I sneeze, I pee a bit, which is inconvenient and makes me feel embarrassed.”

If you don’t have a family doctor or if you’re looking for more information and help with managing symptoms of menopause, consider Maple for virtual care. We can match you with a range of doctors, including a:

Virtual care is not meant for medical emergencies. If you are experiencing an emergency like chest pain or difficulties breathing, for example, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

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