By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
… It may be perimenopause.
What many women do not know is that your hormones start shifting as early as your mid-30’s and significantly by the mid-40’s. Even when menopause is still years away, hormonal changes can cause significant symptoms. Don’t let the word perimenopause scare you – we all feel too young for these changes! The other important thing to know is that these changes in your hormones do not mean that menopause is right around the corner – the average age for menopause in North America is 52 years, so we definitely need support for hormonal symptoms that are showing up!
Common perimenopause symptoms can include:
- shorter cycles – where menstruation used to come every 28-30 days, it now comes every 24-27 days or varying cycle lengths
- heavier periods, and in some cases dramatically
- mood swings, especially irritability, sadness, anxiety and rage
- abdominal weight gain, or a shift in the shape of your body
- difficulty sleeping, especially more light sleep and waking in the night with trouble falling back to sleep
- brain fog, difficulty concentrating or poor memory
- heart palpitations
- vaginal dryness
These changes are not in your head, you do not need to suffer. Your hormones are shifting, and there is help.
Areas to address with perimenopause:
- Low progesterone: this is the main hormonal change that for most women begins in the late 30’s. Progesterone levels drop causing more PMS, especially emotional symptoms, and relative estrogen dominance regardless of estrogen level.
- Estrogen storm: the drop in progesterone alone causes estrogen dominant symptoms, and in many cases estrogen levels are very high, and highest in the few years right before menopause. Estrogen storm causes heavy periods, stimulates the growth of fibroids, endometriosis, breast cysts and more, and also causes weight gain and emotional sensitivity.
- Stress hormones: the timing of perimenopause very often corresponds to high pressure times in career, and challenges in balance with work, family and aging parents. Stress levels really are higher at this time, and higher stress hormones will amplify any other hormone imbalances that exist, exasperating your symptoms.
- Thyroid hormones: changes in thyroid function very often happen at times of hormonal transition – puberty, postpartum and around menopause. It is important to thoroughly test thyroid function, as this will also amplify PMS, mood swings and weight changes.
- Mood changes: these are often years where women reevaluate all aspects of their lives: career choices, relationships, and there may also be a strong desire to make big life changes. It is important to get lots of support during this time – all of the questions that come up are important, and they often start to show up when the sheer busyness of the 30’s and early 40’s have passed.
- The basics: – I can’t overemphasize how important good diet and nutrition, consistent exercise and a regular practice of stress reduction are for hormone balance, especially during times of transition. Now, more than ever your body needs the base stability of excellent self-care habits.
If you suspect that your hormone shifts may be perimenopause, there are lots of tools that can be used to restore hormone balance. This always begins with nutrition, exercise and stress reduction, and can also include supplements, herbs or bioidentical hormones if hormones are starting to drop. Many women will also need more support and tools, such as psychotherapy, or mindfulness training to ease their transition.