Peri-menopause is the transition period between normal cycles and menopause.
This can start as early as 35 years old. During this time oestrogen fluctuates like a rollercoaster whilst progesterone declines steadily. As a result of this, women can experience many weird and wonderful symptoms including changes to heaviness and frequency of periods, low libido, fatigue, depression, anxiety, hot flushes, cold flushes, night sweats, weight gain, weight loss, sleep problems, vaginal dryness, the list of symptoms goes on. You are not losing your marbles and you are not alone.
80% of women experience some form of symptom during this time, of those 80%, 20% will experience severe symptoms that affect their quality of life. The vast majority only experience mild symptoms.
Our normal cycle consists of 2 phases – a follicular phase and a luteal phase. The follicular phase begins the first day of your period, when a hormone called Follicular Stimulating Hormone (FSH) is released, this stimulates the development of follicles. As this occurs oestrogen starts to rise, when it reaches a peak it stimulates the release of another hormone called Luteinising Hormone (LH) This hormone then stimulates ovulation (the release of an egg). Then the second phase kicks in, which is known as the luteal phase which begins after ovulation when a ‘crater’ is formed as the egg pushes its way out of the ovary wall. This ‘crater’ starts to produce progesterone. At the end of the luteal phase, both oestrogen and progesterone drop dramatically just before you bleed, which can cause some of the symptoms of PMS. Oestrogen helps to thicken the uterine wall in preparation for the fertilised egg to implant itself, whilst progesterone increases blood vessels to ensure the fertilised egg has all the nourishment it needs whilst waiting for the placenta to develop. If an egg isn’t fertilised, the uterine wall sheds itself and we bleed.
During peri-menopause this cycle is disrupted. Our follicle and egg reserve declines over our lifetime and as we reach menopause, that reserve reduces even more quickly. Oestrogen rises and falls, and progesterone steadily declines this can lead to shorter follicular phases, heavy bleeding, scant bleeding, increased levels of LH and FSH which can cause hot flushes. Low progesterone can cause mood swings, water retention and weight gain.
When oestrogen is high in relation to progesterone that can make us feel terrible. Testosterone (yes that’s the male hormone which we make in small amounts) can also fluctuate. Too high and we get hair on our face, acne and may feel more aggressive than normal. Too low and we can have low libido, low motivation and mood issues.
The best way to know which hormones are out of whack is to test for them, and then there are lots of herbs that we can take to re-balance once we know what we are dealing with.
Nutrition and lifestyle are simple ways to ensure hormone balance. Certain nutrients are key to the making of our reproductive hormones such as vitamin B6 and fat (not the KFC kind). Stress will lead us to make cortisol stress instead of our reproductive hormones (more on that another time). So eating well, moving well, sleeping well and managing our stress are key to that balance.
Peri-menopause is a natural transition and is a great time for use to re-evaluate our lives and make changes that can take us from feeling yuk to feeing yay!