Menopause Relief Part Two: Restoring Balance
Why do some women suffer miserably during menopause while others barely notice the transition?
As our cycling years come to an end our ovaries cease producing progesterone and estrogen. Plummeting hormone levels are the cause of the worst symptoms of menopause, like hot flashes, insomnia, headaches and unstable moods.
However, dysfunction in other bodily systems causes hormonal depletion and imbalances that make the transition to lower levels of progesterone and estrogen more sudden, extreme and harsh.
By resolving underlying imbalances, we can guard ourselves from unnecessary suffering and ensure greater health and longevity for the years to come.
Heal your gut. Gut health and hormonal balance are intricately linked. The microbiome regulates how much estrogen is excreted from the body as waste and how much remains in circulation. Gut imbalances can cause estrogen to be too high or too low. Plus, bodywide inflammation begins in the gut. Inflammation suppresses ovarian production of progesterone. Low progesterone leaves us more vulnerable to estrogen dominance, not to mention weight gain, mood swings and depression. Poor gut health is, unfortunately, the standard, rather than the norm, thanks to factors like the overuse of antibiotics, poor diet, exposure to environmental toxins and stress. If you want to achieve and maintain hormonal balance, you’ve got to start with your gut.
Support your adrenals. If you’re tired all day and up all night, it’s time to heal your adrenal glands. The adrenals have a multi-layered influence on menopausal hormones. First, they regulate our energy rhythms and wake-sleep cycles. Upon rising in the morning, the adrenals secrete cortisol to give you a burst of energy. Throughout the rest of the day, cortisol levels steadily fall, reaching a low around the time we go to sleep. Adrenal imbalances disturb the cortisol rhythm leaving us sleepy and lethargic by day and alert and focused at night when we need to rest. Secondly, the adrenal glands produce some of our estrogen and progesterone. During menopause, our ovaries produce less and less of these hormones. Low levels and imbalances underly disruptive symptoms of menopause like hot flashes and irritability. If our adrenals are healthy, they will produce enough of these hormones to keep us steady through the transition. Finally, chronic stress depletes progesterone as it is converted to cortisol to support an ongoing flight or fight response. Restoring circadian rhythms is key to adrenal repair. Help reset your rhythm by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day and exposing yourself to sunlight upon waking. Exercise early in the day and give yourself time to unwind before bed. Stress depletes the adrenals. We can’t always control the sources of stress in our lives, but we alone decide how we respond to it. Use breathing exercises and mindfulness techniques to ground yourself in the present when stress gets the best of you and boost your stress-coping capacity with adaptogenic herbs.
Check your thyroid. Low thyroid function, also known as hypothyroid, shares many of the symptoms of menopause. A recent study also shows that women with hypothyroid have worse symptoms of menopause. To make matters worse, declining hormone levels can inhibit thyroid activity. If you’re feeling lethargic, gaining weight or losing hair, tell your doctor to check your thyroid. Low thyroid is especially common in women. Experts estimate that up to 1 in 10 women is deficient in thyroid hormones, and half of those who are suffering are undiagnosed. Hypothyroid is a serious health threat, which, left untreated puts you at risk for life-threatening depression, heart failure and coma. Don’t ignore your symptoms if you suspect your thyroid is underactive.
Fix your rhythm. Sound sleep is fundamental to balanced hormones. If you’re unable to settle in at night, it’s important to find out why and remove the obstacle so you can get the rest you need. Stress is a common culprit. Not only does it cause imbalances in the daily cortisol rhythm, it also depletes our stores of serotonin. When serotonin levels get low, we struggle to get to sleep and to stay asleep. Support your serotonin with stress-reducing meditation and be sure you’re eating the right things to produce enough.
Balance your blood sugar. If your diet is rich in refined sugars and simple carbohydrates, you are likely to be suffering from a hormonal imbalance. Excess dietary sugars cause elevated insulin levels and, ultimately, insulin resistance. The spikes and crashes in insulin are stressful for the body and cause cortisol levels to become chronically high. Progesterone is increasingly converted to cortisol to keep up with the demand. This makes us especially vulnerable to unstable blood sugar during perimenopause, when our progesterone levels are naturally declining. To make matters worse, excess glucose that cannot be metabolized is stored as fat and fat cells produce estrogen. Thus, unstable blood sugar can contribute to estrogen dominance. To maintain balanced blood sugar eat every 3-4 hours, include a source of protein with every meal, eat plenty of fibre, avoid simple sugars and processed carbs and be sure to incorporate plenty of regular exercise.
Detoxify your life. I can’t emphasize enough how vulnerable we all are to environmental toxins. No matter how careful we are when it comes to our health, there will always be a factor that is beyond our control. That’s because every single day we all come into contact with countless dangerous toxic compounds. Unfortunately, many of these toxins disturb our hormonal balance, including plastics, pesticides, toxic mold, some heavy metals and fragrances and preservatives that are commonly found in self care products. To protect your balance, eliminate toxins as much as you possibly can and support your body’s ability to detoxify. Keeping your drainage pathways open is essential for healthy detoxification.
Reduce your inflammation. Inflammation suppresses hormones and exacerbates symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, headaches and weight gain. Inflammation is often caused by eating foods that are inflammatory. Some foods, like dairy and gluten, are generally inflammatory and should be avoided by most people. Additionally, each of us is susceptible to sensitivities that can cause an inflammatory reaction to an otherwise healthy food. Use an elimination diet to discover which foods are problematic for you.
* * *
If you’re also feeling a bit overwhelmed, I want you to know that that’s perfectly normal.
These are major lifestyle changes we are talking about. They won’t be easy and they won’t happen overnight.
Don’t try to do it all at once. Go at your pace. And remember that the journey to healing is never linear. Be gentle with yourself and never stop believing that you deserve to feel good.
Also, remember to take advantage of the natural remedies for relief of your worst menopausal symptoms in the first part of this series: Menopause Relief Part One: Natural Remedies For Menopause Misery
If you feel encouraged by this information, click the links below to share it with the women in your community who deserve to feel good too.