The Perimenopausal Years

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You are not feeling quite like yourself – teary or irritable, with poor sleep and hot flashes. All you have been offered is hormonal replacement therapy when there is in fact a lot more that meets the eye when it comes to the perimenopausal years.

The peri-menopausal years represent a great time of physiological and mental-emotional transition. It can take several years for the body to find its new state-of-balance and this period of flux can create uncomfortable symptoms such hot flashes, insomnia, anxiety, skin and vaginal dryness, weight gain as well as irregular periods. These unexpected changes in the body can be distressing and often come at a time where mothers also see their grown children leaving home, making it difficult to cope with both physiological changes and changes in the home. The cessation of regular menstrual periods for one year is what marks the beginning of menopause. Once periods have stopped for a few years, most women find their balance again, both on a physiological and emotional level.

The intensity of peri-menopausal symptoms is linked to our adrenal health.  Indeed, our ovaries typically produce most of our estrogens, but the adrenal glands also produce small amounts of estrogens and other sex-hormone precursors. Around menopause, as the ovaries slowly become dormant, it is the adrenals (and our body fat) which take over the residual estrogen product of the body. If our adrenal glands function optimally, symptoms of peri-menopause are typically milder. Unfortunately, the modern-day world is very taxing on the adrenal glands and many women go into peri-menopause with fatigued adrenals. These are unable to provide the hormonal stability necessary for normal physiological changes in the ovary, leading to the typical symptoms of menopause – which are interestingly mostly experience by women in Western countries. Research has shown that women in Japan, for example, experience much easier peri-menopausal years – perhaps due to their diet and adrenal health in general.

Naturopathic medicine can help women going through these challenging years by supporting the body through an adequate diet and medicinal herbs which are known to favour hormonal balance. Natural sleeping aids such as valerian, L-theanine or 5-HTP can also be helpful in cases of insomnia and anxiety. As the adrenals become taxed, they require more nutritional support as well – such that mineral supplementation can be an interesting option as well. Naturopathic interventions are gentle but very effective for most cases of peri-menopausal symptoms. Only very stubborn cases will then require synthetic hormonal replacement therapy, of which the health risks have become so obvious to the medical world in the last few years (increases in cardiovascular issues and certain types of cancers).

As a woman enters menopause, her risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis increases. It can therefore be interesting to examine one’s diet and make it as heart-friendly as possible while working to prevent bone loss through exercise and an adequate diet. Digestive issues need to be addressed as well, as poor mineral absorption and assimilation is also a contributor to improper bone health.