As we begin to enter the cooler fall season, women experiencing menopausal hot flashes ought to be giving a huge sigh of relief! However, despite the change in weather, menopausal symptoms will likely continue to impact daily life for many women, until the root cause of the hormonal imbalance is addressed. Let’s explore what that means.
A woman is said to have gone through MENOPAUSE when there has been one full year since her last menstrual flow. On average, this occurs around 51 years of age, but can vary considerably. In fact, woman can begin to see changes in their menstrual periods and experience symptoms of menopause as early as 35 years old! This period of time when cycles begin to change and hormonal symptoms start to occur before the official onset of menopause is known as PERIMENOPAUSE (i.e. “around menopause”).
While the list of possible symptoms a woman can experience during this time is quite long, the following are the most common:
Hot flashes/night sweats
Abdominal weight gain/difficult loss
Mood disturbance (irritability, anxiety, depression)
So now that we’ve reviewed what menopause can look like, let’s explore why it can look like this. The dramatic decrease in ESTROGEN during this time is commonly considered the reason woman experience the wide range of symptoms listed above. While it’s true that estrogen decreases significantly during this time, it’s often overlooked that PROGESTERONE also dramatically decreases - and possibly more so! When estrogen is in excess in relation to progesterone it is often described as "Estrogen Dominance" (a term coined by the late John Lee, MD). It is much more common to be estrogen dominant during the premenopausal and perimenopausal periods, but it is important to note that it is still possible to have more estrogen in relation to progesterone even after the transition into menopause. But why is this important to know? Well, it can change the way we would treat your symptoms. For example, instead of trying to increase estrogen levels, we would first work to increase progesterone levels. As you can see, the better understanding we have of your individual hormone profile, the better chance we have of helping to improve your symptoms. A good first step is hormone testing – hormones can be measured through blood, saliva or urine. There are advantages/disadvantages to each type of testing, so talk to your health care professional about the best option for you.
But let’s step back a minute and consider why this hormonal imbalance would happen in the first place. Why would a woman’s body be designed to transition into menopause naturally, but still experience the dramatic change in quality of life that many women experience? While we don’t have all the answers to this big question, it’s conceivable that our environment plays a big role. Throughout our lives we are exposed to innumerable chemicals/toxins through the food we eat, the water we drink, the products we use, and the plastics we are exposed to, etc. - even when we take measures to reduce or eliminate them from our lives. In particular, we are exposed to various types of exogenous hormones (hormones from outside the body) that are known to disrupt hormone function:
Xenoestrogens - human made chemicals that mimic estrogen activities (e.g. BPA)
Phytoestrogens - naturally occurring plant compounds that can mildly mimic estrogen activities in high doses (e.g. isoflavones found in soybeans)
Pharmaceutical hormones (e.g. oral contraceptive pills)
Non-organic meat and dairy products
Chronic exposures to exogenous hormones might be one of the reasons women struggle when they transition into menopause. However, we must also acknowledge the impact that chronic physical and emotional stress, poor diet, and the lack of regular exercise has on our hormonal functioning. In order for hormones to be built and properly metabolized, they require essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, good fats, and fiber. They also require a healthy body weight and optimal adrenal and thyroid gland functioning. As you can see, there are many aspects of the world in which we live that have the ability to disrupt the complex communication system of our hormones at various times in our lives – and menopause is no exception.
Addressing the root cause of a woman’s menopausal symptoms means identifying which hormones are out of balance, but also means identifying the physical, emotional, and spiritual factors contributing to the imbalance.
"A women's experience of menopause is as unique as she is. This is why there is not one single vitamin, herb, or pill that works for everyone. There is no one-size-fits all approach."
The important take-home message here is this: a women’s experience of menopause is as unique as she is. This is why there is not one single vitamin, herb, or pill that works for everyone. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. The goal is to help you figure out what is at the root of your hormonal imbalance and work to fix that. For some women, the fix is a little more complicated than for others. But the good news is that there are many natural options to explore to help women transition into menopause with ease. Here are just a few to consider:
Diet & lifestyle modifications
Addressing specific vitamin/mineral imbalances
Stress reduction techniques
Bio-identical hormone replacement
Naturopathic doctors (NDs) are excellent health detectives! Talk to your ND if you are struggling with the transition into menopause and need help identifying the root of your hormonal imbalance.