Perimenopause – could this explain your symptoms?
We have all heard of the term menopause – the time of life when a woman naturally stops ovulating, and as such her periods cease and her oestrogen and progesterone levels drop off. Menopause usually occurs between the ages of 48-55 years and can result in a varying degree of uncomfortable symptoms including hot flashes, vaginal dryness and sleeping problems.
However, many women in their 40s can be surprised to experience menopausal-type afflictions, most commonly hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia, shortened menstrual cycles, and lighter or heavier periods, or a combination of the two. These symptoms can be difficult to manage and greatly interfere with quality of life. They can also understandably cause confusion and concern…Am I going through menopause when I am only 41?!
Most likely this is not the case. Rather it can be the lesser-known transitional period of perimenopause that can last anything from 2-10 years plus and often produces more discomfort than menopause. It usually begins around the age of 45 but can start from anything up to 10 years prior. The symptoms of perimenopause are most commonly caused by wildly fluctuating oestrogen levels, which lead the individual on a roller-coaster ride of emotions and hormonal disturbances. Elevated oestrogen levels result in irritability, fluid retention, painful breasts and heavy menstrual flow, while a plummet to low oestrogen triggers hot flashes, night sweats and depression.
Declining levels of the feel-good, anti-anxiety hormone progesterone further exacerbates these symptoms. The majority of a woman’s progesterone is produced during ovulation, thus progesterone levels naturally decrease during perimenopause as ovulation becomes less frequent. This decline can be buffered somewhat by progesterone secretion from the adrenal glands. However since the adrenal glands are also responsible for producing the stress hormone cortisol, if a woman is highly stressed, then adrenal progesterone production will be dialed down in preference for cortisol production.
Sadly, perimenopause is barely recognised as a condition that needs support, yet women going through this transition are clearly very vulnerable and have much higher rates of anxiety, insomnia and depression. Add to this, one of the most stressful periods of a woman’s life – often busy with careers and family, and you have a recipe for melt down!
How to support the perimenopause
Fortunately at the Holistic Medical Centre there are many natural ways our naturopaths and doctors can help prevent and alleviate the discomfort of perimenopause.
Firstly by using natural supplements we can help prevent oestrogen levels fluctuating too wildly. Some of the supplements we may recommend include:
DIM (diindolylmethane ) is an extract from broccoli that helps detoxify and clear oestrogen levels safely and naturally. We stock a lot of this on our shelves as it works so well!
Iodine makes your body less sensitive to oestrogen and helps to balance oestrogen levels. We often recommend it when breast tenderness or low thyroid function may be an issue. We do not recommend high dosing iodine, however, as high levels can cause thyroid problems.
Herbs such as milk thistle, dandelion root and bupleurum improve clearance of oestrogen via the liver and bowels and can improve uncomfortable symptoms of breast tenderness, fluid retention and anxiety.
The herb chaste tree (Vitex angus castus) can be used to help balance progesterone levels through promoting regular ovulation. It can also make the body more sensitive to progesterone, thus helping to counterbalance the effects of high or low oestrogens.
In more severe cases, natural progesterone can be prescribed by our doctors. It is a safe and effective way to increase progesterone levels and buffer the effects of fluctuating oestrogen levels. We recommend regular monitoring when using natural progesterone.
Magnesium is a great tension reliever, helping with the symptoms of stress and sleep disturbances. It is also helps modulate cortisol production and assists with the manufacture of progesterone thereby helping to support healthy levels of this balancing hormone. We often prescribe taurine alongside magnesium. Taurine is an amino acid that helps promote a full night’s sleep and calm the mind. It is often depleted in women who have elevated oestrogen levels.
Ashwaganda is a wonderful herb to use during the perimenopause, or for any stressful period in your life (and great for your partners too!). Its many actions include: improving mood, reducing anxiety and irritability, enhancing energy and concentration, as well as helping to induce sleep.
We recommend any supplements and herbs are prescribed in the context of a clinical consultation to ensure they are being prescribed to meet your specific health needs.
Alongside herbs and natural supplements, making some simple dietary and lifestyle adjustments can help you to maintain a balanced oestrogen profile.
Diet and lifestyle tips
- Reduce alcohol – aim to have at least 3-4 nights alcohol free per week, and no more than 2 standard drinks. Alcohol is a liver loader and as such hinders your liver’s capacity to detoxify oestrogens.
- Flaxseeds are a rich source of fibre that helps you to bind and eliminate unwanted oestrogens from your gut. They are also a source of phytoestrogens that can help to modulate oestrogen levels in the body.
- Enjoy fermented foods in your daily diet, or take a good quality probiotic to encourage healthy intestinal bacteria. Gut bacteria help to breakdown oestrogens ready for excretion.
- Eat plenty of gorgeous green and brightly coloured vegetables! Veggies support your liver’s ability to clear oestrogen, and also provide valuable fibre to feed your gut bacteria and assist with regularity – helping your body to remove unwanted oestrogens.
- Avoid or minimize dairy. Dairy can increase insulin levels leading to blood sugar fluctuations, weight gain and enhanced oestrogen activity. Dairy also contains cow oestrogens that can further add fuel to the fire.
- Exercise regularly and eat wisely to maintain a healthy body weight to reduce oestrogen build up. A certain type of oestrogen, Oestrone, is produced by our body fat cells and this can exacerbate problems in our 40s.
- Be mindful of exposure to xenoestrogens such as plastics, pesticides, cleaning products and cosmetics containing parabens, fabric softeners and dry cleaning chemicals. Our naturopaths will be able to support you to find healthier alternatives.
If this sounds like you, or someone you know, please don’t suffer this out – there is plenty we can do to support you, and we would like to help! Our naturopaths and holistic doctors are available for appointments and will be able to provide you with a personalized treatment plan to support your needs.