This is one for the ladies and any men who are interested in learning about what may be happening for their loved ones when hormonal changes start to occur in their late thirties, forties and fifties. In clinic, there has been a wave of clients having hormone related symptoms recently that has prompted me to re-educate myself on all things hormones, perimenopause and menopause. There is so much more information available today than there was even 10 years ago.
If anyone is keen on educating themselves I can highly recommend "The Hormone Repair Manual" by Lara Briden, Naturopath. It's written as if she's speaking to her clients so there is very little jargon, it's clearly laid out and the explanations are great! I've read the book through once and am now going through it again with a fine tooth comb to gather the information up into usable protocols for clinic. It's also available as an audiobook and Lara has a podcast - The Lara Briden Podcast.
Here are a few quick and (I think) interesting points from the book:
Perimenopause is the 2-12 years when hormonal changes are happening but beforeperiods stop, the average is 7 years.
Menopause starts 12 months after the final period.
In the first stage of perimenopause periods are still regular but with some changes.
There is no blood test that can show you're in perimenopause (see symptom checklist below).
Perimenopause is akin to a second puberty but in reverse - the progesterone and oestrogen gradually decline.
The longer we can have natural cycles with ovulation the more protection we have against heart disease, breast cancer and osteoporosis.
We make way more progesterone than we do oestrogen when having menstrual cycles - approximately 100 times more!
Synthetic progestins/progestogens in hormonal contraceptives are NOT the same as naturally produced or body identical progesterone and have many opposite effects. For example natural progesterone is generally good for mood and sleep whereas progestins can cause anxiety and depression.
Blood tests cannot show us whether we are in perimenopause. Diagnosis is made from symptoms and context. If you over 35 years, have regular menstrual cycles plus 3 or more of the following symptoms you are likely in perimenopause:
New-onset heavy and/or longer flow
Shorter menstrual cycles (25 days or less)
New sore, swollen or lumpy breasts
New mid-sleep waking
Increased menstrual cramps
Onset of night sweats esp. premenstrually
New or markedly increased migraines
New or increased premenstrual mood swings
Weight gain without changes in exercise or eating
(Chapter 4, p81)
The book goes on to discuss treatment options for perimenopause and menopause symptoms - both supplements and prescribed hormone therapy and it gives examples of how to discuss this with your doctor.
Ok...warning...diving deep for a moment...
I think it's so important that we understand our menstrual cycles and what's actually going on in the body when they are ticking along nicely as well as when there are symptoms of dysfunction. Getting in touch with our cycles feels like a reclaiming of our power as women. In Chinese Medicine the Yin (feminine) energy is linked with the moon. In traditional cultures the menstrual cycle is linked with the lunar cycle where ovulation happens at the full moon and menstruation with the new moon. It's a powerful connection that I feel many of us have lost. To bring the connection back we need education, reframing of beliefs around menstruation, acknowledgement that the body is constantly changing through the cycle, and a fostering of ownership that hormones are a vital and health promoting part of the female body.
Ok jumping down off that high horse now!
On the note of education - Lara does have another book for girls and women in their teens, 20s and 30s called "Period Repair Manual". Getting into a healthy, regular cycle early can have a huge impact on the experience of perimenopause and menopause.
Happy hormone balancing!
P.P.S. Online bookings are available for current clients.