You have this incredible best friend named Hannah. And you have been through
it all, together - marriage, pregnancy, parenting, job promotions, job loss,
spousal problems, maybe even divorce. There isn't anything that you and Hannah
haven't shared in your lifelong friendship. You couldn't be closer if you were
Then one day you meet Hannah for lunch. You're wearing this brand new blue
sweater and you can't wait to get her opinion on it. But when you ask her how
she likes it, she says it's nice -- but comments that she likes you better in
It’s a question many women wonder about, especially if you’re thinking about planning a family and your 20s are but a distant memory.
How many more years of fertility might you have, and how much longer will it be before you start experiencing “the change?”
Here's what does -- and does not influence the age at when a woman reaches menopause.
KABOOM! In an instant, your best friend turns into the wicked witch of the
West! You're feeling hurt beyond belief, immediately convinced she's always
been jealous of you, and, totally certain that the only reason she said you
look better in pink is because you actually look better in blue! Within moments
you work yourself up into believing she was never really your friend at
What's going on? It's just your brain -- on menopause! A time when
everything can seem topsy-turvey, when you cry at the drop of a hat, when every
single molehill looks like a mountain, and, yes, a time when even a seemingly
innocent comment from a good friend can leave you screaming mad or unbearably
Menopause Hormones Affect the Brain, Too
But what's happening, and why? In a word, the answer is
"The constant change of hormone levels during this time can have a
troubling effect on emotions ... leaving some women to feel irritable and even
depressed," reports the American College of Obstetricians and
Indeed, while everyone thinks of hormones as the chemicals that drive our
reproductive system, in truth, there are receptors for both estrogen and
progesterone throughout our body.
When these hormone levels begin to decline, as they do in the months and
years leading up to menopause, every system that has these hormone receptors
registers the change, and that includes your brain.
And while most of us can recite chapter and verse about what happens to our
uterus or ovaries around this time (including problems like irregular bleeding
or declining fertility), we hear very little about what happens when the
hormone receptors in our brain begin running on empty!
What does happen? A disruption in an entire chain of biochemical activity,
which in turn affects the production of mood-regulating chemicals, including
serotonin and endorphins.
The end result: Mood swings, temper tantrums, depression, surprising highs
followed by equally unexpected lows -- and none of it seems to make any
"Your ovaries are failing and trying to keep up estrogen production.
Some days they overshoot it, other days they can't produce enough," says
Darlene Lockwood, MD, assistant professor at the University of California in
Each time your hormones do a little dance, your brain chemistry has to
compensate. When the change is small, that compensation occurs quickly, and you
hardly notice any symptoms.
But when it's more dramatic, an entire range of unexpected behaviors can
come alive: You burst into tears when the bakery is out of rye bread. You weep
uncontrollably during a greeting card commercial. You find that one minute
you're loving your son's new girlfriend and the next you have an overwhelming
urge to push her face into a cream pie. And nothing seems to make any