So, you are 37 or 38 and you think Menopause is at least a good 12 – 15 years away. Nothing to worry about. So not going to affect you. You exercise most days, eat well, and generally take good care of yourself.
But annoyingly, you have noticed a slight weight gain around your middle that just will not budge. You have upped your training schedule, but there it still is. Work is driving you mad, not every day, just sometimes, it never used to, but there are days when people make you want to just – well smack them!
PMT anyone? There is nothing wrong with you – its just, well your husband and children – they just need to know the truth about their annoyingness at least for one week of the month! And you just cannot keep your thoughts to yourself anymore!
Take yourself now to 42 or 43. That damn weight is just so irritating! You just cannot budge it! And you are often just too tired to do anything beyond go to work, take care of the children and your husband, well honestly, does he not understand that you are too tired, too anxious and too depressed to want to make love to him.
As you get closer to 50, 46 or 47,you notice your memory is just not as good as it used to be, you may also loose your bladder every time you sneeze no matter how many Kegel exercises you do to tighten downstairs.
If you suffer from any of the below, don’t worry, they are all just perimenopausal symptoms, there is nothing wrong with you (or so the doctor may say) but to live through some of them, or many of them – is pure hell!
- Hot flashes, hot flushes, night sweats, cold flashes or a clammy feeling – most of these do not start till around the mid 40s for most.
- Irregular heart beat, this can be just like a flutter, or you can feel as if you are having a heart attack!
- Irritability, who called me irritable! There is nothing wrong with me – someone hand me a sharp knife!
- Mood swings with sudden tears, I am not moody, you are just so horrid and inconsiderate……..
- Trouble sleeping through the night.
- Irregular periods, shorter lighter periods, heavier periods, flooding, phantom periods, shorter or longer cycles.
- Loss of libido
- Vaginal dryness
- Crashing fatigue, this can come with an aching body.
- Anxiety or depression, feeling ill at ease, feelings of doom and blackness. Feeling as if you just cannot cope with either small things or big things. Generally a feeling of great unhappiness.
- Aching sore joints – feeling as if you are an old woman. Back aches, legs and arms etc. Increased tension in the muscles
- Difficultly concentrating, mental confusion, disorientated. Foggy brain, with memory lapses, which can be highly embarrassing! Who are you? Oh one of my clients?
- Incontinence, especially when sneezing, laughing or running.
- Breast tenderness
- Gastrointestinal discomfort including gas, indigestion, flatulence, pain, nausea and bloating
- Allergies which used to be intolerances, become full blown allergies
- Weight gain
- Hair loss, everywhere except on the upper lip and what’s this? Hair on my chin?
- Dizziness, vertigo, light headedness and loss of balance, sometimes with Tinnitus (ringing or whooshing or buzzing sound in the ears)
- Change in body odor, as well as a terrible awareness of other people’s body odor (especially your teenage kids and that man in front of you in the supermarket cue).
- Changes in fingernails, they become thinner, as does the skin on your face. A noticeable sag starts to occur around the jawline and neck, stomach, thighs and bottom. The skin on your body and face thins and lines become prominent, as does pigmentation. Cellulite seems to spring up all over in areas where it never existed before, even with a strict exercise routine and diet.
- Sugar cravings, must have sugar, or else……..
- Gum problems, bleeding gums, plus bad taste in mouth, change in breath odor and burning tongue and roof of mouth
Plus, this will be followed by an increased chance of Osteoporosis in later years. You will not necessarily get all of the symptoms, but if you do, not all at the same time, thank goodness!
But having gone through most of these symptoms on and off, whilst trying different natural treatments to balance my hormones, I know at 50, I do not wish anyone else to go through them.
Some women are lucky enough to barely notice they are going through the change, others will have a small range of symptoms, whilst unfortunately most women will suffer many of them.
Fair enough – I cannot stop you from going grey or growing hair on your chin, but there are ways to make the change less trying, ideally, a complete non- event!
First of all – lets look at Menopause/Perimenopause so we actually know what is going on.
Each woman experiences Menopause differently than another. The truth be known, the more relaxed you are, the better the transition. But most women work during this time in their life whilst juggling teenage or small children, and stress is an unpleasant part of life.
I could tell you to manage your stress better – but I am the last person to talk, my last 5 years have been so tumultuous, that for me sleeping 8 hours and walking the dog daily are my two serious luxuries in life. So the hormone balancing tricks I will tell you about, having worked for me, I am sure they will give you the balance you wish for.
But that is for later – lets first look at what is going on with your body.
Firstly, menopause is only 1 day – it is the day you go from being a menstruating woman to a non-menstruating woman. So basically, the day you get your last natural period. Every woman will go through menopause, and when the time is right, you will have it.
Just because you stopped menstruating, does not mean you will stop all the hormonal symptoms, they may continue till you are close on 60 years old.
The simple reality is that hormones decline with age. In so saying, hormones are essential to life. They are the connectors to the brain, muscle, sex organs and virtually every part of the body. They are so important to us that without them you would die.
But they are terribly sensitive, a mixed message, a broken connection or an unclear communication from one hormone to another can cause a imbalance, upsetting everything. And you find yourself walking around behaving erratically!
Estrogen levels will drop by 30% before you turn 50, with significant fluctuations occurring during your 40s and often well into your early 50s. Most of the drop occurs in the first 5 years of Perimenopause.
Estrogen is the feminine hormone. It is what gives us our curves, shapes our breasts, hips, and thighs as well as affecting our sex organs.
It maintains our blood sugar levels, protects against osteoporosis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, colon cancer, Parkinson’s, incontinence, and tooth loss.
Estrogen receptors are also in the brain, where they help brain cells make connections allowing our minds to stay sharp, memory clear, and maintain emotional balance.
Estrogen levels begin fluctuating at 35 due to us ovulating less as we age. Without ovulation, progesterone levels drop significantly often causing an estrogen spike to compensate. This spiking and then dropping again of estrogen causes abrupt emotional highs and lows, hot flashes and night sweats, insomnia, fatigue and low sex drive.
Dr John Lee coined a term in his book ‘What your doctor may not tell you about Menopause’ called ‘Estrogen dominance’. It is when your body has an estrogen high or low, but has no progesterone to balance it out.
Excess estrogen is linked with breast, ovarian and uterine cancer as well as endometriosis. Uterine fibroids grow larger and fibrocystic breasts become denser.
Besides naturally occurring hormone fluctuations, events outside the body can bring about estrogen dominance such as;
Toxic stress occurs when a woman is under excessive stress for long periods of time. It occurs when the adrenal glands send out for back up in the form of cortisol. Cortisol can suppress progesterone allowing for an increase in estrogen.
Diets high in sugar and starches cause increased fat storage through the insulin hormone. Fat cells produce enzymes that increase estrogen in the blood. This causes weight gain, sore breast and heavy periods.
Birth control pills.
Birth control pills contain synthetic estrogen which can cause nausea, weight gain and other negative symptoms in women who have high estrogen levels.
A healthy liver eliminates excessive estrogen and sex hormone binding globulin. Ageing, caffeine, sugar, alcohol and medications impair liver function, decreasing the liver’s ability to eliminate excess estrogen.
A viral infection can effect the thyroid gland causing a imbalance in thyroid hormones negatively influencing progesterone and estrogen production.
Xenohormones are a buzzword on most health conscious peoples lips. Today synthetic chemicals are found in foods such as vegetables, oats, and wheat etc due to the huge amount of chemicals sprayed on our foods whilst they are growing them. Even more are found in packaged foods especially processed foods, due to the leakage from the plastic packaging. Preservatives, additives, sugar replacement and fast foods all are loaded with xenohormones. The pollution in the air you breath when you live in a city environment, especially when you live in the inner city suburbs. These ‘fake’ hormones are able to communicate with your cells in a pattern almost exactly like that of estrogen. They are also able to suppress the immune system. The prefix ‘xeno’ means foreign. So xenohormone means an element from outside the body which behaves as a hormone in its communication with the body. These fake hormones are linked to breast cancer and other illness.
When a woman’s uterus and ovaries are removed, progesterone production virtually stops which can create estrogen dominance and result in depression, fatigue, weight gain and loss of sex drive.
Progesterone will drop by 75% from the age of 35 to 50 and then continue to decline from there on.
It is primarily produced by the ovaries and works with estrogen to prepare the uterus for conception. Although it works with estrogen, it is responsible for preventing an excess of estrogen in the body. When both are balanced, the changeover to menopause is smooth.
Progesterone is the mood hormone, and leading up to a period it is important to maintain high levels. A low level paves the way for estrogen dominance creating PMS symptoms and emotional imbalance. The more infrequently a woman ovulates the less progesterone she produces.
Progesterone’s job is:
- A mood enhancer, therefore working as a natural antidepressant, and natural calmative.
- It keeps skin hair and nails healthy, also prevents hair loss.
- It regulates fluid levels working as a natural diuretic
- It burns fat for energy and provides necessary control for insulin regulation.
- It protects against endometrial cancer, fibrocystic breasts and breast cancer.
- Helps support the thyroid
- May protect against bone loss
- Regulates body temperature
- Controls monthly bleeding by normalizing blood clotting.
When progesterone levels drop women start to experience early symptoms of menopause which include nervousness, depression, blue moods, dry skin, hair and brittle nails, insomnia, weight gain and erratic or heavy periods.
Progesterone creams and supplements are often the first step of action taken by holistic practitioners when treating Perimenopause.
Testosterone declines by 50% from the age of 25 to 50, and another 50% by the age of 80.
This is the forgotten hormone in women. Low testosterone symptoms are fatigue, muscle weakness and atrophy, low libido, and low sexual sensation. This hormone is normally related to men as they produce 50% more than women do, but women still need it and produce it in the adrenal glands and the ovaries.
Women need it for energy, vitality, sex drive and endurance. We also need it for muscle tone and bone strength – therefore protecting us from osteoporosis, and for vaginal elasticity and lubrication.
Most perimenopausal women are low on testosterone, but some have high levels. High levels can be caused due to excessive stress, but is usually related to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). If a woman has facial hair, weight gain, acne and depression it is likely that her testosterone levels are high. If you have had PCOS earlier on in life, you are likely going to have high testosterone levels during perimenopause.
Stress can also reduce testosterone in some women whilst increasing it in others, depending on how they normally deal with stress. Some women move faster and faster, eating less and less whilst loosing huge amounts of weight. Others burn out and curl up in a ball and become sick and puffy and bloated.
Having an understanding of why your body is behaving the way it is, will help you take the first step in dealing with Perimenopause.
For therapists, understanding why their clients are suffering the way they are and why they are not responding to weight loss and facial treatments, will help you think outside the square, if not just helping the client by explaining what is going on with their bodies.
Next blog post, I will go into how we can manage perimenopause, so that the transition is a smooth one!