As in all aspects of human life, the female reproductive system is a series of transitions, all of which are natural.
This article looks at the time in women’s lives when the body starts to produce less and less oestrogen, one of the hormones that promotes the development and maintenance of female characteristics of the body.
In Premenopause, oestrogen levels are high to sustain the production of eggs, and progesterone is high to sustain a pregnancy should fertilisation of an egg occur. The production of oestrogen and progesterone fluctuates in a monthly (approximately!) cycle, and when fertilisation does not occur the uterine lining slips away and the cycle begins again.
In Perimenopause, which may start between the ages of 35 – 45, oestrogen decreases as the ovaries run out of eggs, ovulation becomes irregular and periods become irregular. Sometimes there may be 40 days between each one, or maybe 21 days, and progesterone is not produced if ovulation does not occur. Moodiness, or changes in heat tolerance, or achiness may appear more frequently and seemingly out of the blue.
During this period oestrogen levels decline, sometimes in steep drops, and at other times more gradual drops to about 35% of premenopausal levels from age 35 -50, while progesterone drops 75%. It is this larger drop in progesterone in the perimenopause to menopause transition with an increased oestrogen to progesterone ratio that is a major player in the symptoms women experience.
Every woman’s symptoms during this time is different, but they may include hot flushes, vaginal dryness, urinary challenges, difficulty sleeping, a drop in libido and changes in metabolism (this frequently results in weight gain around the middle – fat cells act as another oestrogen-producing organ, and they may be trying to take over from declining ovarian function).
Some women experience forgetfulness, trouble focusing and problems with concentration as well. This transitional stage may last only a year or so, or it may be prolonged over 10 years or even more. It’s worth noting that it is still possible to become pregnant during perimenopause!
Women’s testosterone levels drop too during this time, and this hormone and melatonin can play a role in sex drive, sleep, lean body tissue and metabolic rate.
Generally the last period is experienced in the early 50’s. This signals menopause, and if you are seeing a health professional they will ask you when your last menstrual period (LMP) was. The term “menopause” refers to one year (twelve months) after the LMP, after which time pregnancy is no longer possible. You may enter menopause earlier than normal if you had a hysterectomy or oophorectomy or if you have undergone cancer treatments, are a smoker, or have a family history of early menopause.
Post menopause refers to the time after that, when oestrogen levels have dropped and plateaued to a level approximately 75% of that of the premenopausal stage.
While some women sail through these transitions smoothly, others have a much more difficult time with more severe symptoms over a prolonged period of time.
Some of the major causes of those symptoms may be high amounts of stress, poor diet and lifestyle, chronic toxin exposure, leaky gut and chronic inflammation, sluggish detoxification systems, or thyroid and adrenal problems.
Eating a diet high in inflammatory foods can increase inflammation in the body, for instance too much coffee, sugar & refined carbs can create blood sugar imbalances and fuel further hormonal fluctuation.
By mimicking oestrogen, too much soy can increase vaginal dryness and hot flushes.
Not drinking enough fluids may lead to dehydration, which can lead to heart palpitations, fatigue and dry skin, which are all signs of perimenopause.
If you have a sluggish liver, your body cannot detox properly. The substances that it detoxes are not only things like drugs (pharmaceutical and otherwise), cigarettes & alcohol, but also the breakdown and excretion of the body’s own hormones, which can result in an accumulation of hormones which can further contribute to hormonal imbalance.
Environmental pollutants such as chemicals used in the home, in processed or treated foods, or in personal products can act as endocrine disruptors if not broken down by the liver, so attending to liver health is very important.
If you find that the topics above apply to you, or if you would like to find out more about the “how to’s” with an action plan, dietary advice, choosing the right combination of herbs or supplements for your own particular set of symptoms, please call or email for an appointment with me, Marion Stobie, naturopath and medical herbalist, at Holden Healthcare, 11 Gray Cres, Torbay, ph 09 282 3588.
$200 for an hour and a half naturopathic appointment, $265 for two hours (please bring a food diary and a written record of your perimenopausal or menopausal history and dates).