Understanding Menopause: Key Imbalances, Symptoms and Natural Tips for Rebalancing
No one likes being out of balance, especially when the hot flashes, foggy thinking, and mood swings of menopause leave us feeling like a rundown, unsexy and unsatisfied version of our former selves.
Menopause is officially defined as 12 months in a row without a period, typically in the early 50’s when cycles cease and the ovaries stop making balanced hormone supplies for good! During this hormonally challenged time, it’s important to realize that the extent to which we suffer from troublesome symptoms has much do with the extent to which our lives (and our hormones) are out of balance!
Picture in your mind if you will, synchronized swimmers all pointing their toes in perfect petal formation at the exact same moment.
Suddenly, one of the swimmers takes off in a different direction (let’s call her progesterone), another dives to the bottom of the pool (call her testosterone), a few others decide to make waves (call them cortisol) while the last but not least of our swimmers (call her estrogen) takes over and dominates the whole routine. All that beautiful synchrony...gone within a flash!
This is when hormone imbalance comes into play!
When our synchronized swimmers: (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, and cortisol) have fallen out of sync, and thus are no longer in the right balance or proportion to each other, we start to experience symptoms of hormone imbalance!
These uninvited but inevitable shifts in hormonal milieu as we age (complicated by chronic stress, inflammatory diets, HRT etc.) can be handled with natural approaches to rebalancing. But until we actually apply the necessary adjustments in diet, stress coping and lifestyle habits, these imbalances can seriously disrupt our energy and enthusiasm for the things we normally love to do!
During my own early menopause, I would describe myself as bloated, impatient, overheated, exhausted, and selfish (even unloving) – in short, a basket case. That was in the “bad old days” before I read Dr. John R. Lee’s life-changing go-to book on the subject: What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause, got my mind blown and then got smart!
Approaching Menopause? Time to Turn Awareness into Action
As Oprah put it plainly in the intro to an episode on women and menopause: “You could be walking around right now with a hormone imbalance and not even know it!”
Make no mistake: cultivating an awareness of the signs and symptoms of a hidden hormone imbalance provides mid life women our first big clue that we're approaching the menopause zone (we will get into these hallmark symptoms in just a moment!).
Next comes testing your hormone levels (ideally ‘bioavailable,’ active levels, which we test in saliva) so that you have hard proof of the hormone imbalances behind your symptoms (you can view our "build your own testing + rebalancing package" HERE.
Hallmark Symptoms of Menopause
Fluctuating hormones at Perimenopause (in our mid-40’s) when ovulation becomes erratic and hormones wax and wane, are usually behind the uncomfortable, often hair-raising symptoms (often several years worth) that all too many women know as the “emotional roller coaster.” This is the obvious sign that hormones are shifting and menopause is on the horizon.
Estrogen Dominance (flabby, crabby, and fed-up) – this mother of all hormone imbalances (when estrogen levels are too high or in excess relative to progesterone) – are all too common during menopause, after a total hysterectomy and/or with exposure to so-called “xenoestrogens” aka endocrine disruptors (found in processed meat and dairy, plastics, and personal care products) that mimic and overstimulate normal hormone rhythms. Estrogen dominance can show up in younger women usually due to multiple stressors, but is most common in mid-life women as ovulation starts to sputter, causing hormone levels to seesaw in the lead up to menopause.
Officially defined as 12 months in a row without a period, menopause is when the ovaries take their final bow and stop making key hormones like progesterone, without which we find ourselves stuck in a state of estrogen dominance, besieged by sagging skin and flab, unpredictable moods, so-so energy, lost libido, lost pizzazz, lost YOU.
“I just don’t feel like myself anymore…” Sound familiar?
P.S. you are not destined to suffer endlessly in menopause and it can actually be a beautiful time in your life with the right tools & support... keep reading to learn more!
Estrogen Deficiency (hot, sweaty, weepy) – Declining estrogen levels at menopause can trigger those hot flashes that pop up while giving an important presentation, night sweats in the middle of the night (disrupting sleep quality), as well as other bedevilments like vaginal dryness, thinning skin, brittle nails & bones, heart palpitations, fragile emotions, muddled mind….
“Why did I come into this room… what was I going to say?”
Imbalances of Testosterone/DHEA (no longer lean, just mean - and definitely not ‘in the mood’), especially as levels drop with age, imbalances of these androgen (male) hormones are a bad combination that can lead to depleted strength and endurance, slower metabolism, declining bone, and muscle mass.
You may notice you feel less strong in your core, more prone to aches and pains, unsteady on your feet, or worn out after a workout. At the same time, your ability to focus and concentrate is not what it used to be and your libido has gone missing along with your stamina, drive, and overall zest for living….
“At this age, my back goes out more than I do! – Phyllis Diller”
Adrenal/Cortisol Imbalances (tired, wired, burned out, bummed out) - Lows or highs of cortisol "stress" hormone (resulting from the stress that keeps piling on, skipping meals or eating on the run, lack of sleep and physical activity) can cause rapid aging and belly fat big time – not to mention allergies, insomnia, and chronic fatigue and depleted immune reserves.
This under-recognized imbalance tends to manifest in mid-life when the adrenal glands have to pick up the slack in ovarian hormone production at menopause. The once and future energizer bunny no longer hops but plops, her sunny mood submerged under a black cloud.
“My get up and go, just got up and went…”
Keep this in mind: menopause is a completely natural shift in a woman's life that brings us into our “wisdom years” - a time we feel more confident speaking our minds (and caring less what people think), and an opportunity to nourish our bodies & souls, maybe even fulfilling passion projects and bucket list trips! Symptoms like hot flashes and mood swings can get in the way of this expansion but fortunately, we have a lot more control over the ups and downs of menopause than we might think!
Here are the 13 Tips to Improve Your Menopause Experience:
1. Determine your own symptoms of hormone imbalance, take our symptoms quiz HERE
2. Test your hormones in saliva to detect hidden imbalances. View our test kit + rebalancing options HERE (we service clients globally!).
Note: You can also add on a phone consultation with one of our hormone health educators during checkout, or purchase an "a la carte consultation" with or without recent hormone test results.
3. Support the adrenals: with optimal C, B-complex, D3, and herbal “adaptogens” such as Dong Quai, Astragalus, Ashwagandha, Maca, Rhodiola, that nourish the adrenal glands ability to adapt to stress. Remember: adrenals are the main source of hormone supplies during this time of life, so supporting them is key to healthy menopause!
4. Avoid xenoestrogens: eat “hormone-free” foods, go GREEN with home, garden, and personal care products; microwave/heat/store foods in ceramic or glass, never plastic; reject synthetic hormone replacement (HRT) and any products with unpronounceable ingredients. Download the "Detox Me" App for simple, research-based hacks on how to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals where you live, work & play.
5. Counteract stress by releasing tension: stretching, deep breathing, yoga, Pilates, Zumba, walking, swimming. Exercise in the open air whenever possible & focus on moving your body in ways you enjoy!
6. Strength train to boost anabolic hormones naturally - the kind that build and maintain muscle, bone, and libido. (Work with a trainer to avoid injury.) Read our recent blog post "optimal exercise for hormone balance" HERE for more strength focused workout advice and resources.
7. Get your vitamin Zzzs: at least 7 to 8 hours a night and if you can’t get it all in, never underestimate the power nap (5 to 15 mins. max)! Aim to get in bed at the same time each evening and wake up at the same time in the morning which will go a long way in supporting deep, restorative sleep.
8. Prioritize ME time: to unwind, enjoy life, and soothe stress hormones. Add an activity that's just for YOU to your calendar every week and make it a commitment as you would a doctors appt or lunch date with a friend! What will it be this week?
9. Act the way you want to feel - research shows it works! (Great read: The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin).
10. Keep your social network alive - peer support works wonders. Whether it's a Facebook support group, a weekly zoom "happy hour" with friends, a morning walk with a mentor or simply a phone call, make time for the people in your life who build you up and leave you feeling recharged (and let go of those who don't).
11. After testing: consider using Bioidentical (plant based) hormones VS synthetic, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). When used appropriately and in accordance with hormone test results, bio identical hormones can help keep cancers at bay, promote deeper sleep and bring sweet relief from the hot flashes endured by a good 80% of menopausal women.Synthetic hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been shown to be hazardous to a woman’s health and longevity.
Read our recent article HERE to better understand the key differences between bioidenticals and synthetic HRT; why we prefer bioidentical hormones and how to use them! Again, this is an option we suggest ONLY after testing has shown a need.
12. Incorporate Vitamin D: studies have linked vitamin D to preventing heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, cancer, and weight gain.
Finally, Remember: like hot flashes, turning 50 and discovering our first chin hair – menopause is normal, natural, inevitable. But when it starts to turn into your very own fractured fairytale and the wicked witch is staring back at you in the mirror – this is NOT normal – and it is most decidedly NOT the menopause you were meant to have.
Take steps to make yours a “good menopause.” How we eat, move our bodies, take stress in stride and expose ourselves (unwittingly or not to toxins that wreak havoc on hormones), can have a major effect on menopause symptoms. It means getting your hormones tested and, following steps to naturally rebalance (see our test kit packages HERE). It’s about finding that work/life balance, and making sacred the time we spend with ourselves and those who matter most to us in all the world.
This is the GOOD Menopause. A time of life when you can find yourself feeling stronger, sexier, back in the swing and better than ever!