Menopause is a challenging time for all women. It comes with a lot of symptoms, and few of them are pleasant. For example, the most common menopause issues include mood swings, bone weakness, sleep disorders, hot flushes, depression, and even physical weakness.
That last symptom is probably the most challenging one. What exactly makes menopause so tiring? Where does the muscle weakness come from?
During menopause, a woman’s estrogen levels hit an all-time low—and stay there if left unchecked. Unknown to most athletes, trainers, and even medical practitioners, low estrogen levels not only cause all the usual symptoms of menopause but also lead to muscle weakness in menopausal women.
Let’s explore the details, as well as how you can solve the issue in a natural way.
Estrogen and muscle: a strong connection
Although the primary male sex hormone testosterone is usually considered to have the most impact on muscle and strength, studies suggest that estrogens are just as important—especially for women.
Here are just some of the most interesting findings.
Estrogen enhances muscle recovery
Estrogen is crucial for muscle protection and regeneration after an intense workout.
Many studies have reported that estrogen can:
- Reduce muscle damage after workouts
- Alleviate exercise-induced soreness and muscle inflammation
- Enhance the healing of micro-injuries in the muscle tissue
- Promote the growth of atrophied (withered) muscles
So far, scientists don’t have a definitive answer to how exactly estrogen does all of that. Most likely, the effect is based on estrogen’s ability to stabilize the cell membranes in the muscles by significantly reducing oxidative damage.
Considering that the lion’s share of muscle damage is caused by oxidative stress, estrogen helps to prevent a great deal of the problem. In the same way, estrogen helps muscle recovery after exercise. That’s why many menopausal women use plant-based chest serums with estrogenic action to support the recovery and strength of their pectoral muscles, for example.
Estrogen enhances the growth of atrophied muscles
Studies have shown that estradiol, when used as a part of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), led to an increase in insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) levels, which in turn promote muscle growth. The catch here is that you can’t grow “new” muscle this way, only restore what has withered away due to the estrogen decline.
In other words, women around the menopause age can use estrogens (or their safer botanical counterpart, phytoestrogens) to restore their initial muscle mass. However, growing new muscle requires training and exercise, not just estrogens.
Estrogen increases muscle strength
A study on the effects of estrogens on twins showed astonishing results.
15 pairs of female identical twins aged between 54 and 62 years joined the research. In each pair, one of the twins received HRT, and the other did not receive any hormonal treatment for menopause for a total of 7 years.
The results were nothing short of amazing: the twin who received HRT had stronger muscles and a much lower body fat percentage. Their muscle strength was evaluated by checking the twins’ walking speed, and the twin on HRT was always stronger than her system (the twin who didn’t get any menopause-related treatment).
Other studies revealed that tibolone, a synthetic estrogen, can increase lean muscle mass in women.
All things considered, it’s quite obvious that estrogen can increase muscle strength and muscle mass—or at least prevent the decrease in muscle strength during menopause.
This brings us to the most crucial question of this discussion: how can you increase estrogen levels during menopause?
Bringing back your estrogen levels
The conventional approach of restoring estrogen during menopause is to get hormone replacement therapy (HRT), meaning synthetic estrogens.
This approach is extremely effective, but HRT has a lot of side effects. These can be as minor as vomiting, nausea, and abdominal bloating. However, they can also be very severe: Increased risk of blood clots, stroke, heart attack, and even certain types of cancers.
Thus, while HRT can be a life-changing therapy to treat very severe menopausal symptoms, it’s definitely not advisable for the sole purpose of increasing muscle strength.
Moreover, you’ll need a prescription from your healthcare provider to get HRT, and they will also strongly advise against HRT for the sole purpose of building lean muscle mass. It’s just not worth the risk, no matter how you look at it.
The alternative that many women prefer and encourage nowadays is taking phytoestrogens.
Phytoestrogens as a safe alternative to HRT
As the name suggests, phyto-estrogens are basically plant-derived estrogens that have a structure very similar to the estrogen produced in the human body.
This structural similarity allows phytoestrogens to act via the body’s estrogen receptors and cause pretty much the same effects.
Actually, you would be surprised to know that women all around have been consuming phytoestrogens for many decades to delay aging and stay youthful as well as to deal with menopause.
Some day-to-day food items rich in phytoestrogens include:
- Soy and soy products like soybeans
- Strawberries, cranberries, and raspberries
- Dried fruit
- Sesame seeds, and
- Red wine
Including more of these in your diet can help you manage mild menopausal symptoms. However, the phytoestrogen content in them isn’t high enough to relieve more serious symptoms—or improve muscle strength and recovery.
A more appropriate method would be to take a phytoestrogen-rich herb like the Thai shrub Pueraria Mirifica (also known as Kwao krua kao), which has over 17 different active compounds with phytoestrogenic action.
In the early 1900s, Suntara, a great Buddhist monk from Thailand, gave the shrub another name: the Fountain of Youth. He attributed the longevity of the natives and their youthful appearance to the long tradition of consuming extracts from Kwao krua kao.
Thanks to the favorable levels of phytoestrogens in the plant, its extracts would be a more welcoming alternative to HRT than excessive consumption of soy and wine.
Skincare products with Pueraria Mirifica are a great way to support muscle strength and recovery in the trying times of menopause-related estrogen decline. Additionally, that’s also a great natural way to improve skin health and fight signs of aging too! The topical nature of these products makes them much safer than other alternatives that need to be injected or consumed orally.
The bottom line
Phytoestrogens are a natural alternative to HRT. While there are multiple natural sources of phytoestrogens, the richest and most cost-effective options are extracts derived from Pueraria mirifica or other phytoestrogenic plants.
Apart from being a great option to consider as an alternative to HRT in managing the troubles of menopause, phytoestrogens are also worthy of being considered a substitute for synthetic anabolic supplements to increase muscle strength and lean muscle mass—at least in menopausal women.
Phytoestrogens in general, and specifically those derived from Pueraria mirifica would be a great option to consider under the supervision of your healthcare provider.