Your body is seemingly revolting against you. Gaining weight, no matter how much you “diet” or exercise. Hot flashing, sleepless nights, depression, anxiety, mood shifts from hell, brain fog off the charts, migraines, bloating… all you know is you did not sign up for any of this. It’s difficult to make sense of all the crazy symptoms happening at once and even more complicated by all the mixed messages you get from medical doctors, friends, and the black hole of the internet.
Here’s a comforting fact… more than half the population of the world will go through menopause. So, you’re not alone.
A little background…
At 38 years old I was a confirmed workaholic. (as if I’m not one now, haha!) Running two businesses, donating time to a local non-profit, taking care of a husband/business partner and a 10 year old child. With all that activity I still had the burning desire to get pregnant at least one more time. And it happened. I missed a period and was beyond excited. All tests were positive and we were excited…
But something just seemed a little off.
A few months into my pregnancy I went shopping with my mom one weekend. She wanted to buy me a slew of new maternity outfits, but I held off and said, “no, not yet”. Two weeks later I doubled over in pain on the bathroom floor. I won’t go into the gory details…. It was brutal.
But I kept trying… and all the while I truly felt like I was dying. The bloating, migraines, utter fatigue, aches and pains, insomnia, low libido, hair thinning all lasting for years. I kept pushing through life thinking “it’s going to get better, I’m only 40.”
At least until I turned 44 and all periods had stopped. I was sure I had cancer. I understood nothing about my body at that time. My husband and I were so worried… so he went with me to my gynecologist. When I asked her if it was cancer, she kinda laughed a bit and said, “no honey… you’re in menopause”! I remember distinctly sitting straight up looking at her between my legs and said, “WHAT is THAT?”
That led me onto the journey of becoming a Traditional Naturopath and not only fixing my own body but helping others.
So… back to YOU… and all your wild symptoms.
Let’s define a few terms first… There are 4 main stages of life a woman goes through.
Premenopaus starts when an adolescent girl enters her reproductive years (around age 11-13) and ends with the first signs of menopause when she reaches age 45-52. The prefix “PRE-“ means “any time before.
Literally means “around menopause.” It’s also referred to as the “menopausal transition.”
This is the time when a woman’s body begins to shift from regular ovulation cycles and a monthly menstrual period to menopausal symptoms that may include: hot flashes, night sweats, infertility, vaginal dryness, fatigue, brain fog, digestive issues, and extremely irregular cycles. Women typically begin to experience this stage in their early to mid-40s. Some women (like I did) go through this in their late 30’s!
Early or “Premature” Menopause
In the U.S., the average age for “natural” menopause is 52 years old. However, due to illness, smoking, medical procedures or genetics, some women may go through menopause early. Early menopause refers to onset before age 40. There are several known causes of early menopause, including:
- Genetics: If your mother or grandmother went through menopause early, you may have an increased chance of the same.
- Chromosome Defects: Two functioning chromosomes appear to be necessary for normal ovarian function. In a rare genetic condition called Turner Syndrome, the loss of the complete or near-complete second X chromosome occurs. This causes the ovaries to not function properly and typically leads to early menopause.
- Smoking: Smoking has anti-estrogen effects and promotes early menopause.
- Being too thin: Estrogen is stored in your fat tissues, so if you’re overly thin, you have fewer estrogen stores. Women who have a very low Body Mass Index (BMI) may be at risk of early menopause.
- Excessive exercise or lack of exercise: Some research suggests that either may promote early menopause.
- Excessive sun exposure or a lack of sun exposure: Again, some research suggests either may contribute to early menopause.
- Autoimmune diseases: Inflammation caused by autoimmune diseases can affect the ovaries. Early menopause can be a symptom of rheumatoid arthritis or thyroid disease.
- Epilepsy: Women with this seizure disorder that stems from the brain are more likely to experience early menopause. One study published in the journal EPILEPSIA found that women with epilepsy had an increased risk of developing premature ovarian failure.
- Procedures: A hysterectomy (removal of all or portion of the uterus) and/or an oophorectomy (removal of ovaries) will lead to early menopause.
- Treatments: Chemotherapy, hormone therapies, radiation and cancer treatments can contribute to early menopause.
While premature menopause is usually the result of one or more of the causes above, it can also occur naturally in some cases. Premature menopause symptoms are typically the same as natural menopause symptoms.
This is the conclusion of the natural transition in a woman’s reproductive life. It’s the point where progesterone and estrogen production decrease permanently to low levels. The ovaries stop producing eggs, and a woman is no longer able to become pregnant, naturally. Menopause is officially marked by the total cessation of the menstrual cycle for 12 months or more. In other words, not having a period for at least 12 months in a row.
On average, menopause occurs around age 52 in the United States but varies from woman to woman. I was done naturally at 44.
Menopause-associated symptoms may never occur or can last for several months or even years, depending on the individual. With the exception of irregular periods, all the following common signs and symptoms can be prevented or effectively treated, naturally:
- Irregular Periods
- Vaginal Dryness
- Loss of Libido
- Hot Flashes
- Urinary Incontinence
- Mood Changes
- Memory and Cognitive Function
- Hair Loss
- Decreased Breast Fullness
- Skin Issues
- Weight Gain
- Bone Loss
- Cardiovascular disease
Ugh. I hate this term… I personally don’t think there is an END to it.. it just IS MENOPAUSE. But to keep my medical friends happy… I’ll call it: POST MENOPAUSE.
These are the years after menopause. From here on, a woman is postmenopausal for the rest of her life. A woman is considered postmenopausal when she has not had a menstrual period for a full year (12 months).
If you’re concerned about the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy, you can confirm you’re postmenopausal with a blood test called the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) test. When a woman’s FSH level (simple blood test I or any doctor can order) is consistently elevated to 30 mIU/mL or higher, and she has not had a menstrual period for a year, it’s generally accepted that she has reached menopause. However, using this test is not routine or needed for the vast majority of women.
The symptoms that began in perimenopause may continue past menopause, and without taking steps to support youthful function, many of them will remain.
Due to the significant decrease in estrogen and progesterone production, and the resulting increase in susceptibility to chronic inflammation, after menopause, women must take extra self-care steps to reduce our increased risk for heart disease and bone loss.
That’s why an anti-inflammatory lifestyle that includes regular, weight-bearing physical activity and an anti-inflammatory diet, along with key supplements that lower inflammation and ensure nutrient needs are fully met, become more important than ever.
HORMONES GOING WILD
Estrogen makes you the woman you are! It plays an important role in the regulation of bone turnover. It gives you hips and breasts and buffers mood. During menopause, the ovaries decrease their production of estrogen and leave the main production up to your adrenal glands and fat cells.
Estrogen deficiency can induce cortical (hard outer shell of the bone) and trabecular (spongy inside) bone loss. This increase in bone resorption can lead to the destruction of bone architecture, bone loss, and microfractures. Estrogen and calcium also have a relationship when it comes to bone health. Estrogen supports intestinal absorption of calcium. So having low estrogen levels can negatively impact the amount of calcium you’re able to absorb.
80% of women experience vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes and night sweats) when they are going through perimenopause or menopause. Now, a lot of people don’t realize that vasomotor symptoms are not just some nuisance that should be medicated away. They can signal disease later in life, including cardiovascular disease, osteoporotic fractures, mood changes, depression, anxiety and cognitive changes. We need to pay attention to these symptoms and consider them in a more serious way.
Progesterone, like estrogen, plays an important role in bone turnover and bone formation. Because osteoporosis is primarily considered a result of estrogen deficiency, less emphasis has been placed on progesterone. But in reality, one of the three estrogens works together with progesterone in every tissue of a woman’s normal physiology. In vitro studies in human osteoblasts indicate that progesterone is likely working through bone formation pathways, meaning it plays an active role in osteoporosis prevention and bone health. While estrogen is still a dominant focus for osteoporosis in menopausal women, progesterone is emerging as a potentially important hormone partner. Think of progesterone as the ice that keeps the fire of estrogen under control!
NOTE: Vitamin C is the only over-the-counter nutraceutical treatment for low progesterone proven to be effective. At doses of 750+ mg/day, vitamin C has been shown to raise progesterone in women with both low progesterone and luteal phase defect (Henmi, 2003, Fertility & Sterility). When you’re premenopausal, your ovaries still may be able to produce progesterone, but they need a nudge. Once you’ve had your final period and a year has passed (the official definition of menopause), solutions like vitex herb and vitamin C are not going to work. Topical progesterone is best.
Testosterone has anabolic (muscle growth and development of muscles) and androgenic (sexual characteristics such as libido, mood, sex drive etc.) effects. These effects are crucial for both men and women (even though men produce significantly more testosterone than women). Human studies show that estrogen is needed for suppressing bone resorption, but both androgen and estrogen are crucial for bone formation.
These inevitable changes in your hormones during menopause can significantly affect your bone health. To combat this bone loss due to hormonal changes, you may need to increase your nutrient intake.
Yes, it can be a rough transition for some but not all.
Yes, it can start early, say age 35 or even younger.
Yes, the transition can last a long time, up to 10 years.
Yes, the switch is rougher if you go through surgical or chemical menopause (such as from chemo or Lupron) with greater intensity of hot flashes, night sweats, sleep and mood issues.
Yes, your wildly fluctuating sex hormones can make you feel like you’re going nuts.
Yes, there are many natural and good-for-you things you can do to ease the shift.
Yes, you are in good company… YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
Nutrient NEEDS Change DRAMATICALLY
What you USE to be able to digest you can’t anymore. What never caused you acid reflux before is now creating untold havoc in your gut. Your belly is growing, your boobs are sagging, and your weight is slowly but surely increasing… sweet Jesus, what is happening???
As our bodies age.. (actually starting after 35; oh, don’t make that face… I saw that!), our metabolisms slow down, appetite increases and belly fat starts to accumulate (seemingly overnight) increasing inflammation and weight gain.
Here’s the deal… your body is slowing down; things are going to necessarily work as fast and efficiently as before. You very likely have NOT been setting yourself up for these changes which makes it worse. Maybe you ignored all the articles about menopause and osteoporosis and thought you had time to deal with it later. Maybe you ignored the gas and acid reflux thinking it will eventually go away. Maybe you ran from doctor to doctor thinking it’s everything BUT diet and exercise and hormone related.
Sigh… so now we have some work to do…
- No two women are the same. What works for Suzy is not necessarily going to work for Joan.
- You will absolutely need to change how you eat
- You will absolutely need to change how you move
- You may need hormone supplementation based on YOUR body’s needs
- You will absolutely need to determine and choose wisely your priorities in life
Hormones are the first point that we want to test correctly. Notice I use the word “CORRECTLY”. That means there are different testing methods for different hormones. Some methods better than others. We want to ensure we get the most correct data from your body and it may not all be from blood draws. We use a combination of saliva hormone testing and serum blood.
The hormones we need to focus on are: Insulin, Cortisol, Thyroid Free T3 – Free T4 – Reverse T3 – TSH, Estradiol, Progesterone, D3, Testosterone, DHEA. Hormones that are involved in feeling satisfied after eating are leptin and insulin. Those that determine hunger are ghrelin and cortisol. (note: testosterone is the most abundant hormone in women! Not estrogens!). Hormones involved in fat burning are our insulin and cortisol. Metabolic hormones regulate your response to food and food regulates metabolic hormones!
Insulin is the big guy. That’s the one that determines how your glucose is used or not used. He’s the bouncer at he club’s front door. If the bouncer doesn’t open the door to usher in the glucose to your cells… the glucose in our blood rises. That in turn causes the cells to get blocked so now the bouncer can’t do its job and fat accumulates.
Add to the stress… did you know that women are twice as likely to suffer from stress, anxiety and depression than men? Women more commonly experience thyroid problems and autoimmunity. Women are more sensitive to carbohydrate restriction and calorie restriction than men are. Compared to men, women are more likely to experience a plummet in blood sugar. Whew….
Let’s take a bit of a closer look at each key hormone…
Estrogen is actually a class name for 3 different estrogens: Estradiol, Estrone, Estriol. All three are responsible for the production of the female body including breasts, uterus, and regulation of the menstrual cycle. It also assists in bone formation and improves collagen content in skin and gives your body energy and supports good moods.
Progesterone prepares the uterus for pregnancy, regulates blood sugar, and builds bones. Progesterone also plays a role in converting fat into energy and helps regulate thyroid hormone production. It’s Mother Nature’s natural anti-anxiety “med”. Progesterone supports bone health in balance with Estradiol.
Testosterone is required in the development of male sex organs. Testosterone also maintains sperm count, muscle strength, and bone mass. It also plays a key role in sexual health in both men and women. Women make more testosterone than estrogen in their body!!!
Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland. It is released in response to stress and is commonly called the “fight or flight hormone”. It increases the metabolism of glucose, regulates blood pressure, helps to reduce inflammation, controls the sleep/wake cycle. It can also help control your mood and motivation.
Triiodothyronine (T3) is a hormone secreted by the thyroid gland and is the active hormone that is involved in many processes of the body including regulation of metabolism. You should always check the FREE T3 levels.
Thyroxine (T4) is another hormone secreted by the thyroid gland and is a precursor to T3. Basically, it’s the inactive thyroid hormone that converts into the active form of T3. We want to look at the FREE T4 levels.
Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) regulates T3 and T4. When released, it stimulates the production of T4.
How does your diet affect your hormones?
Protein builds our cells and helps hormones develop. Without protein, you’re dead. It’s as vital as water.
Our body needs amino acids to build cells and make the proteins that function as hormones. Without protein these cells can break down which can lead to auto-immune problems such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. As you can see from the previous list of hormones and their functions, hormones have major effects on the mind, body, and emotions.
Protein assists in the release of hormones that control appetite.
The brain determines when and how much you eat. A higher protein diet decreases the appetite by increasing the hormone leptin, while also decreasing the hunger hormone ghrelin. As you lose weight, leptin will become more effective at reducing hunger. Increasing your intake of berries and vegetables will also help with leptin production.
A high protein diet also boosts metabolism. Replacing simple carbs (flour products, crackers, breads, chips, candy, junk foods) with protein will also reduce the hunger promoting hormone ghrelin. Protein helps you burn more calories, so by adding protein, reducing carbs, and being committed to an exercise routine, you can begin to achieve weight loss or see fewer fluctuations in weight.
Protein helps support thyroid function
The thyroid gland has the function of controlling metabolism. When a diet is deficient in protein, slowing of metabolism can occur and may increase the risk for other diseases. Diets low in protein also cause a suppression of the thyroid gland, leading to hypothyroid symptoms such as cold hands and feet, depression, anxiety, fatigue, mental fog, weight gain, and many other symptoms. The hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis is regulated to maintain a normal thyroid production status. One of the most influential environmental factors that determines HPT axis activity is nutrition. With insufficient intake of essential amino acids your thyroid CANNOT work properly. We have had success in helping women get off thyroid hormone medications through proper diet and supplementation alone!
If you suspect that you have a thyroid disorder, it’s important to receive thorough testing to ensure that you receive a correct diagnosis. Working with a doctor or practitioner that specializes in thyroid health can help make the process much easier which in turn helps you start feeling better sooner.
Eating in balance is key
To be clear, not all protein is created equal, and some types of protein must be eaten in moderation. Beef should be limited due to its ability to cause inflammation in the body. Also, conventionally raised beef may raise estrogen levels. (if you do eat beef choose grass fed cleaner cuts) Estrogen dominance (having too much estrogen compared to progesterone) is linked to certain cancers, decreases new bone formation in women, and can lead to fibroids. It’s important to include different types of proteins into our diet. It’s also vital to remember that not all of our focus should be on protein. A balanced diet of protein, vegetables and fruit, nuts & seeds is important in achieving overall health.
We offer you two different paths to take when it comes to food planning. Both incorporate REAL FOOD not “fake foods” – so nothing processed. Both focus on mainly plants (think: lots of veggies!).
One path is real food – plants ONLY removing heavy salt and all oils. Think: beans, tofu, rice, potatoes, plenty of veggies and fruits (mainly berries) and excludes all animal (no dairy, eggs, meat or fish). If you are diabetic already, have heart disease, extremely overweight, then this is the best path for you at least for the first 6 months. Where are you getting your protein on this plan? From tofu, beans, rice and potatoes and veggies. Same exact place the cow gets their protein from!
The next path is real food, mainly plants with lots of protein from organic free range animal sources and excludes all dairy, grains and processed foods. If you have an autoimmune disease, extremely imbalanced hormones, or low cortisol then this is the plan for you.
We can help you to determine which path is best for you in your menopause journey. What we have found with thousands of clients is this: when you mix the two plans you have an awful time balancing hormones and handling weight issues. So you do have to choose one or the other.
You are NEVER BEYOND HOPE!
If I hear one more medical doctor tell their patient that, “you’re over 60 you don’t need hormones anymore!”…. I’m going to scream!!! That doctor must be a man who doesn’t care at all about their own mother or wife. If bet $100 the women in their lives are miserable, have high blood pressure, are on statin drugs to control high cholesterol, psych meds for anxiety / depression, are over weight, taking something to sleep, etc. but you’re right Mr. Doctor… they don’t need their hormones! (me, shaking my head).
You are never too old to balance your hormones. It’s never too late. And you will go through numerous changes as you age. That’s the game. You always have time to win, are never a lost cause.
Balancing hormones is key. Monitoring them is vital. Most people don’t realize that hormones drive metabolism! When your hormones are out of what then so is your body’s ability to run well… As we age we want to do everything we can to avoid getting fat, or increasing our risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Hormones and weight are literally the same subject. You can’t address one without addressing the other.
Hormones tell our bodies what to do. They dictate how we think, feel and look. We need as women the correct amount of protein and fats to fuel those hormones.
I encourage you to read my article on OSTEOPOROSIS specifically for the guidelines on how to reverse bone loss without drugs.
The article on DIETARY GUIDELINES will give you the basics for the two plans I mentioned (and be sure and set up a consult with us to help determine the EXACT guidelines you need to follow for YOUR body). Just call our office at 337-989-0572.
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