A lot of women will arrive at perimenopause and menopause feeling totally lost and confused about what may be happening. Unfortunately, perimenopause is the life transition that is rarely talked about, this is why we are here.
Perimenopause is the time when ovulation can become less robust and reliable, and consequently, our hormones can have unusual fluctuations. The symptoms can be subtle at first and may echo other conditions, so it may take some time to realise that these symptoms are due to perimenopausal shifts. These hormonal changes can also be tidal, wreaking havoc both mentally and physically, the reason why many menopausal specialists refer to this period as “puberty in reverse”.
Some of the early symptoms of perimenopause
The hormonal fluctuations during this time are not simply a picture of elevated or depressed hormones, but instead, this transition is driven by a hormonal matrix across various hormonal organs. The symptoms women experience are often due to the confused cross talk between our hormonal glands and other body systems. This may be the reason why there is now more than 80 recognised menopausal symptoms. Some of the most common early signs of perimenopause include;
Poor mood, commonly anxiety
Body and joint pain
Heavy bleeding and erratic cycles
It is also important to remember menopause is not just a litany of misery that we must buckle in and endure! Ladies, there is much we can do to optimise our health at this time.
The Menopausal Transition
The menopausal transition offers a unique time to be pro-active and preventative with regards to women's health. Symptoms can provide both a gateway to future health risks, as well as a personalised road map to optimal longer-term health. One example of this, is the growing body of literature that suggests women who experience frequent or persistent hot flushes are more likely to have increased risk of future heart disease and cognitive decline.
Women should be thoroughly investigated at this time. We often see many previously stable clinical markers such as cholesterol, blood sugar, insulin, thyroid, cortisol, and inflammatory markers, wobble with changing hormones. Integrated clinicians will view these blood markers as a proxy for inflammation – which is now well recognised as both a cause of many of the symptoms of menopause as well as being behind the physiological mechanisms of most chronic diseases. Furthermore, it is important to take a closer look at the secondary hormonal glands like the thyroid and adrenals as they are being recruited during this transitional time. These glands may struggle with their increased working role, requiring closer attention and TLC.
The Thyroid + Menopause
Our thyroid is the engine of the body, which may decide, in its wisdom, to slow our metabolism to conserve energy due to the interpretation of fluctuating and unpredictable hormones as a potential stress to the body. When the thyroid is struggling, whether it be pathological or subclinical, women can feel very fatigued, especially on waking, will lose hair, experience dry skin, their bowels can be sluggish, will struggle to lose weight, and can have a lower mood and poor sleep.
The Adrenals + Menopause
There is also an intricate connection between adrenal health and menopause, with many of the symptoms of adrenal depletion mirroring menopausal symptoms. It is the job of the adrenal glands to produce crucial hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol to deal with stress from every possible source – work, personal life, or health. Cortisol is really the boss lady here and is responsible for blood sugar regulation, the fight, flight, freeze stress response, dampening inflammation, modulating the immune system and may be one of the reasons why autoimmune diseases are commonly diagnosed during mid-life.
It is also important to understand and appreciate the increased role of the adrenal glands during the menopausal transition. The adrenal glands need to increase function of key hormones to augment sex hormone production as the ovaries go quiet. However, if the adrenals are exposed to repeated stressful triggers and cannot function at their full capacity, they will struggle to generate the full complement of hormones, leaving women feeling exhausted, with lower mood and suffering the spectrum of menopausal symptoms.
How Can Naturopathy Help this Transition?
Naturopathic philosophy and treatment options for mid-life women focus on supporting thyroid and adrenal health, alongside traditional sex hormones such as oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Addressing the potential influences of inflammatory mechanisms is also key to both symptom management and chronic health risk prevention. What can you do at home?
Enjoy foods that are high in antioxidants - antioxidants can help to combat free radical damage and mitigate inflammation . Antioxidant rich foods include; colourful fruit and veggies, green tea, ginger, berries, olive oil, nuts, and seeds.
Consume phytoestrogenic foods like broccoli, pomegranates, beetroot, flax seeds, flax oil, nuts, seeds and sprouts - these foods may mitigate symptoms caused by low oestrogen.
Embrace your herbal teas like Tulsi and Licorice - these teas can help with energy production and provide support for the adrenal glands. Ginkgo and Bacopa tea are also helpful for cognitive function and reducing brain fog.
See you local Naturopathic practitioner and get the right supplements for you! Some supplements with robust evidence for menopausal symptoms include; fish oils, magnesium and vitamin E for hot flushes, poor sleep and inflammatory issues. Choline and B12 may help with cognition and brain fog. Amino acids, magnesium and b vitamins can improve energy and metabolism. Additionally, there are many herbal treatments that can help with energy, adrenal function, hot flushes, low mood and poor sleep.
Menopause can indeed be a very challenging time for many women. The key is embracing the tides and becoming intimate with your symptoms. This transition can provide a bridge to our future health and improved body literacy!
Please reach out to the clinicians at Darling Health if you need further understanding or support navigating this time. We are here to help.