Do you suffer from hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, anxiety, lack of energy, memory loss, brain “fog” or the many other symptoms that women may experience as their menstrual cycles begin to change?
Menopause is the lack of a menstrual cycle for a duration of one year. The time leading up to that event is called “perimenopause” and may be plagued by all of the above symtpoms. These symptoms occur as our main hormones- estrogen, progesterone and testosterone- begin to decline in their amounts. Progesterone is usually the first hormone to decline and this may begin in our late 30’s. Progesterone is thought to regulate the timing of our menstrual cycles, the quality of our sleep, our mood, and is required to balance the other hormone, estrogen. Estrogen on the other hand, is thought to be responsible for building up the lining within the uterus, maintaining our brain power, helping maintain our body temperature and keeps our tissues healthy and well hydrated. Testosterone is the hormone for energy and metabolism, sex drive ( or libido) and a sense of self confidence. When these hormones are out of balance due to a decline or excess of one vs another, then we will begin to experience symptoms like the ones mentioned above. Sometimes the imbalance does not cause a symptom but may cause an abnormality such as tissue growth such as that which occurs with the breast and uterus if there is too much estrogen and not enough progesterone. In these circumstances, the breast or uterus receives too much stimulation to grow and can develop cancer if not monitored.
So what can we do to help maintain the balance between the hormones? Some people think that the best place to start may be with the diet. First, many of the meats and dairy products that we consume come from animals that have been given hormones to increase their production. These hormones are then ingested and taken into our bodies. It is best to buy organic meats and dairy which will not contain the hormones. Other times we can get excess estrogen from certain plastics such as plastic wrap and plastic containers, cups and water bottles containing bisphenol-A (BPA) and Styrofoam products. Lastly, body weight itself plays a role in our levels of estrogen. If we have excess adipose tissue, a chemical reaction will take place in the adipose tissue and this will create estrogen. Overweight individuals are at risk for both breast and uterine cancer for this reason.
Over the counter supplements may also be beneficial when balancing hormones. Supplements such as vitamin c, Chasteberry, saffron and bladderwrack may be taken to increase low progesterone levels. When trying to decrease higher estrogen levels, one may try di-indolemethane, seaweed, resveratrol, turmeric or melatonin.
We can also reduce our intake of caffeine and alcohol, increase our level of exercise and get proper rest, aiming for 7-8 hours a night.
Lastly, some women will find relief with the use of hormones to supplement or help balance their current hormone levels. Many fears surround the use of hormones and we will be glad to explain why we feel that the right combination and dose may be right for you the individual.
Many women struggle with these problems. If you feel that you are not able to manage your symptoms with the above recommendations, then please feel free to call our office to make an appointment for a consultation. We will likely recommend laboratory studies to help confirm the diagnosis. We will also provide suggestions for therapy.