Your body is an intricate machine of hormones, enzyme action, nutrients, emotions and thoughts. Menopause is a natural event where all of these are impacted – drastically. So drastically that you may think you’re going crazy or that you’re getting Alzheimer’s disease!
Menopause is a two-stage process, with both stages being unique to each person. Perimenopause generally occurs between the ages of 35 – 50 and lasts 4-5 years.
This article will focus on perimenopause as the symptoms can be vague and similar to PMS, making it more difficult to recognize as perimenopause.
Primary Symptoms of Perimenopause:
- Hot flashes or flushes. I am certain many that have never experienced a hot flash, think it is an exaggeration. Nay, nay my friends. A hot flash can start in your very core, with feelings of nausea, mounting anxiety and radiating heat and/or sweating that will make you want to shed every piece of clothing you have on, regardless of where you are and who is watching. They can decrease after a couple years but some women have indicated they have lasted for YEARS.
- Inability to concentrate or sudden ADD. You start the day with a list because you are normally an organized person. For some reason, you start in the middle of the list and get off on a tangent tackling other things that crop up as you are working on your list. All of a sudden it’s the end of the day and you didn’t get one thing completely done on the list. You started everything but didn’t finish anything. Sound familiar?
- Irregular and/or extremely heavy periods. Due to changing hormones, nearly everyone in perimenopause will experience some irregularity in their cycle. For those of you that always had irregular menstrual cycles, you may not even realize this is going on! Reduced progesterone promotes a heavier uterine lining, which creates heavier periods. This is completely normal during perimenopause and doesn’t necessarily mean you have endometriosis.
- Night sweats and/or sleep problems. Night sweats are by far the most common reason for sleep problems during perimenopause. As we age, we typically produce less of the hormones that promote a deep, restful sleep anyway. The combination of night sweats, stress and less melatonin can mess with your sleep in a huge way. Of course, anxiety due to the physical symptoms doesn’t help either!
- Irritability and Moodiness. These are classic PMS symptoms that you may have experienced. The difference may be that in perimenopause, a situation that would irritate you previously will now throw you into an all-consuming rage that comes as quickly as it goes. You might look in the mirror and think you see some possessed person looking back at you. Worse, your family and friends think the same way!
- Vaginal dryness. Irritation and itching are common, appearing in later perimenopause as your estrogen levels begin to fall. Thinning vaginal tissue and dryness will make sexual intercourse more difficult. One important thing to remember is that even though intercourse may be difficult, the very act will promote an increase in blood circulation in the area to help rebuild tissue there. The saying “use it or lose it” applies here! Don’t forget there are natural lubrication products available.
If you experience one or several of these primary symptoms, you might realize that yes, “the change, it is a coming”. Here is short video clip from Menopause the Musical which makes light of the “change” and validates how you may be feeling. If you need some light-hearted humor, check it out.
It is key to not think of menopause as a disease but rather as a natural state of transition. Menopause is an opportunity to let go and recognize that this time of your life is more about taking care of, and celebrating, the mature you in the next phase of life.
How do we Change the Change?
As with most stages of life, we are given an introduction to a new phase before it arrives. Perimenopause is your opportunity to really think about living your life healthier to make menopause a smoother transition. Yeah, I know, most of us don’t think about it that way, but what if we did? I think women might find that menopause could be smoother by proactively responding to the changes they start to experience in perimenopause. That is the goal of this post – offer natural solutions that can make your transition as smooth as possible.
Since menopause is a transition, as the body changes, what may have prevented hot flashes for a year may all of a sudden not work. Thank goodness there are many natural solutions that might be the key for you.
How do you know what to try? The answer may lie in how comprehensive your insurance is, as this affects how much hormone testing you can do. Hormone testing can certainly be beneficial and worth considering. Seek out a functional medicine practitioner in your area who specializes in endocrinology and/or hormone therapy. It is expensive, though, and it is really only a snapshot of your hormones on that day.
One thing everyone can, and should, do is clean up their diet and eat nutritiously. You don’t need a doctor to tell you this, especially since physicians have little or no training in nutrition.
Hormones are made from nutrients and enzyme action. Without the nutrients, the proper hormones cannot be made. Very simple. It gets more complex when you consider that you only get nutritional value out of what you DIGEST. It doesn’t really matter what you eat, if your digestive system is not functioning properly.
Since you’re perimenopausal, chances are high that you are in that 40+ age group, when your body’s production of enzymes has started to decline, ultimately affecting your digestion and hormone production. This is true for men and women as they age; it has nothing to do with menopause.
Could supplementing with enzymes really be the answer? Perhaps, perhaps not, but it is definitely an easy place to start that will benefit you in more ways than just menopause symptoms. Transformation Enzyme has a wide variety of enzyme supplements to complement targeted areas of health.
Oh, and by the way, if you’re on a statin drug to lower your cholesterol, that’s not helping matters. Cholesterol is necessary for many bodily functions, including hormone production. Your liver will make cholesterol out of whatever materials are available – so chances are it will be the bad kind, not the good kind of cholesterol.
So you vow to clean up your diet and eat lots of fruits and vegetables. You decide to add enzymes to your meals so your digestion improves and you get all the nutritional value out of your food. What’s next, what’s the magic pill?
Solutions based on Symptoms
If there were only a magic pill! There are certainly some things that tend to work for many people. There are also more obscure things that are not so common that may not work for the masses but work for some. Your individual chemistry will dictate what works for you.
Hot Flashes and/or Night Sweats
- Natural or Bio-identical progesterone seems to be one of the most common helpers – especially for hot flashes. Sublingual progesterone drops (made from wild yam extract) work fairly fast – usually a decrease in symptoms and severity is felt within a day or two. There are also natural progesterone creams made from wild yam (look for those without parabens or other toxins) that work and many women swear by. Bio-identical progesterone cream will require a prescription and hormone testing from a practitioner.
- Black cohosh is helpful for hot flashes, vaginal atrophy, as well as menstrual cramps. Benefits are usually noticed at four weeks and the most resolution of symptoms at six-to-eight weeks. Black cohosh does not contain estrogen in the traditional sense but may have slight estrogenic activity by binding to estrogen receptors.
- Vitex or Chaste Tree for hot flashes. Chaste tree is reported to affect pituitary function, which can alter LH (luteinizing) and FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) secretion. According to this Mayo Clinic article, “LH helps to increase the amount of estrogen produced by the follicle cells.”
- Gamma-oryzanol (ferulic acid) may enhance pituitary function, promoting endorphin release by the hypothalamus. In a study cited by Pizzorno & Murray, “85% of women reported improvement in their symptoms at a 300 mg/day dose of gamma-oryzanol.”
- Red Clover contains phytoestrogens, which attach to estrogen receptor sites. When phytoestrogens occupy the receptor sites, it prevents xenoestrogens from attaching. Xenoestrogens are chemicals which have estrogenic-like activity, such as the hormones found in non-organic animal and dairy products. Phytoestrogens can be helpful for hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal atrophy and dryness.
- Flax Seeds also contain phytoestrogens and work in much the same way as red clover. As an added benefit, they contain Omega-3 and fiber – which will benefit most Americans.
- Maca helps with hot flashes, low sex drive and night sweats as reported in a study published in the International Journal of Biomedical Science.
Night Sweats/Sleep Problems
- Red Clover can be helpful for night sweats. Containing phytoestrogens and lignans, red clover is reported to help the body adapt to hormonal imbalances.
- Detoxification may be helpful as well. Your liver does most of its work between 1am and 3am. If this seems to be the time you wake up with your pajamas soaked in sweat, liver support will probably help. Not only does your liver clear toxins, it also clears excess hormones – those that are coming from your diet.
- Melatonin can help you sleep through the night. Doses of 1mg to 3mg should do the job. Less is better in this case. I wouldn’t normally recommend melatonin on an ongoing basis but when you are so exhausted from not sleeping, it can really help.
- The herb valerian is calming and can really help take the edge of stress and assist with sleep. Valerian can be found as a single herb or in calming/relaxing formulas such as Sound Sleep and Tranquilnite.
Inability to Concentrate
- Ginkgo Biloba can be helpful in helping with concentration and staying focused. It also helps with circulation so for those experiencing cold hands and feet, ginkgo may do double duty for you.
- Adaptogenic herbs may be helpful if you are under a lot of pressure. Consider ashwagandha, rhodiola or holy basil. These herbs help the body to adapt to stress better and may improve focus.
Irregular or Extremely Heavy Periods
- Progesterone may help with irregular and heavy periods. Progesterone levels are lower because ovulation is less consistent and estrogen tends to be dominant in the scenario. By all means seek out a practitioner for ongoing problems.
- Consider supplementing with iron if this continues for a long time.
- Glycyrrhiza glabra or Licorice Root Liquid supports adrenal function and spares cortisol so it helps with balancing hormones. According to Natural Fertility Info, “licorice root contains isoflavones but will not increase estrogen levels unless taken in extremely large (toxic) doses.” It is thought to help increase progesterone levels.
Vaginal Dryness or Atrophy
- Omega 7 is extremely helpful in alleviating irritation and dryness in mucus tissue, including the vagina.
- Vitamin E 800 IU/day orally for at least 4 weeks may help with dryness and hot flashes.
- Fermented Soy foods such as miso and tempeh contain isoflavones and phytosterols which produce a mild estrogenic effect and may increase superficial cells lining the vagina.
- Pycnogenol was shown to benefit multiple symptoms in a study at Pescara University. “Pycnogenol® substantially improved perimenopausal signs and symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, irregular periods, loss of libido and vaginal dryness after eight weeks of treatment, as judged by patients’ scores, showing a decrease from an average of 2.67/4 to 1.45/4.”
- Tigress PM is a newer product that is relatively inexpensive. It does contain Diazolidinyl Urea which has a rating of 6 on EWG.org but it is probably better than an estrogen-based cream.
- Exercise promotes endorphin activity in the hypothalamus. A study in Sweden showed that regular physical exercise decreased the severity and frequency of hot flashes.
- Stress Reduction. Many women report that hot flashes occur more frequently when they are anxious or stressed. Stress reduction can take the form of meditation, yoga, breathing techniques, etc.
It is key to remember that change happens one choice at a time. Think about progress, not perfection.There are quite a few options to consider and try. As far as trying some of the supplement options, it is best to try one thing at a time. Also remember, supplements are not drugs and for the most part, do not work immediately. Ultimately, you may need to use more than one solution. To help you figure out what’s working, it is best to keep a daily journal and record you efforts as well as your symptoms.
Good luck and please comment here to let others know what worked for you!