ARE YOU IN YOUR FORTIES AND EXPERIENCING HOT FLASHES, SLEEP PROBLEMS, MOOD SWINGS, AND CRAZY HEAVY PERIODS?
It could be perimenopause… the decade or so leading up to menopause.
Perimenopause and menopause are not the same things. Often the two terms are used interchangeably, but there is a distinct difference:
- Perimenopause is the two to twelve years (yes, it can last twelve years) before menopause and is when you are most likely to experience symptoms. Perimenopause often starts in your forties but can start in your late thirties.
- Menopause is the phase that begins one year after your last period and when symptoms will settle down. The average age of menopause is 52.
During perimenopause, your estrogen fluctuates dramatically. There are times when your estrogen is higher than ever before, and times when it drops. These fluctuations are at the root of most uncomfortable symptoms.
In menopause, the estrogen roller coaster settles down and you will have far less estrogen and progesterone than before. Many women feel the transition into menopause can be tough, but menopause itself can be a welcome relief.
The most common symptoms experienced during perimenopause are irregular periods, anxiety, heavy bleeding, hot flashes, sleep disruption, headaches, palpitations, weight gain, and brain fog.
There are numerous supportive strategies that can help us move through this transition. Many herbs have generations of safe traditional use by women and more recent scientific research. Combined with lifestyle and nutritional changes, herbs can be the foundation to address this natural change.
When I work with women in my private practice, we look at their unique constitution and symptoms to create a custom protocol that helps support this transitional time. You can click here to read more about working with me.
Here are some of my favorite strategies to help decrease inflammation, manage stress, support hormones and sleep… all of which can help decrease perimenopausal symptoms.
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Turmeric has been shown to lighten periods, decrease menstrual cramping, and support our liver (which can help with hormone balance). Research shows that turmeric is a powerful weapon against depression and anxiety. In fact, one randomized controlled trial study found that 1,000 mg of curcumin alone was as effective as 20 mg Prozac. We also know that curcumin (the active constituent in turmeric) blocks several different inflammatory pathways (including blocking the inflammatory COX-2 enzyme- similar to drugs like Celebrex) so while it helps with inflammatory pain and menstrual cramps, there may also be a link between depression and inflammation. One of my favorite ways to enjoy turmeric is in Golden Milk- a warm drink that mixes turmeric with other spices. You can download my favorite Golden Milk recipe here. Avoid high doses of turmeric if you are on blood-thinning medications or before surgery.
- Ashwagandha (Withania somniferum)
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which means it helps us “adapt” to stress. It helps to improve sleep and decrease anxiety while supporting the body’s resistance to stress. It has also been shown to improve sexual function of healthy women in this pilot study. Ashwagandha is often used as a powder and can be added to the Golden Milk recipe above or taken separately in tincture or capsule form. Some people with nightshade sensitivity may not tolerate ashwagandha, but this tends to be a small percentage of people.
- Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa)
This has a long history of use for menopausal symptoms and is the most researched herb for menopause. Studies have found it to be effective in reducing some menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats, menopausal depression, and mood swings. It has been approved by the German Commission E for menopausal symptoms, but it doesn’t work for all women. It is not a fast-acting herb and should be taken for at least 3-4 months to see results.
- Sage (Salvia officinalis)
This is one of my favorite herbs for reducing hot flashes and night sweats. Combined with other herbs and lifestyle changes, this simple kitchen herb can make a noticeable difference in a women’s symptoms. This small clinical trial found it effective in the reduction of hot flashes and excessive sweating. Try a few cups of sage tea throughout the day (you can drink it warm or iced) or consider herbal formulas that include sage.
Lifestyle Tips to Support Herbal Therapies:
Reduce Alcohol: you may not want to hear this, but most women feel better with no (or limited) alcohol during perimenopause. Alcohol impairs the healthy metabolism of estrogen, which contributes to estrogen fluctuations. It also lowers progesterone and interferes with progesterone’s calming effect in the brain. Golden Milk (recipe here) can be a nice substitute for your evening cocktail or glass of wine!
Meditation: I am a huge fan of meditation and its ability to help us manage stress. Stress makes everything harder. Finding ways to calm our minds can have a big impact on our health and wellbeing. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction has been shown to result in a significant reduction in hot flashes and night sweats. Try a free app like Insight Timer or Headspace to get started. You don’t have to be a marathon meditator; even 5 minutes per day can be helpful.
The most important thing to realize about perimenopause is that it is defined by a fluctuation in hormones, which means each woman will experience it differently and in different ways. Supporting your overall hormone balance, inflammation, stress, and sleep will help you transition through this phase of life with less uncomfortable symptoms. If you want more help with this, please contact me! You can learn more about working with me here.
This is not intended as medical advice. If you have a chronic health condition or taking medication, it is important to consult your health professional before taking a course of herbal medicine. Do not take herbal medicines when pregnant or breastfeeding unless under professional supervision.