Bioidentical Hormones for Perimenopause
Up until recently, conventional medicine has had little to offer women suffering from symptoms of hormonal change. Until a woman was deemed officially in menopause and could be prescribed synthetic hormone therapy, she was often told her symptoms were all in her head. Even today, women struggling with hormonal imbalance are frequently sent home with a prescription for antidepressants, rather than being offered real solutions for a very real condition. In integrative medical circles, there has long been recognition that a transitional period exists before menopause that is different for each woman, when fluctuating hormones can cause her serious distress. Thankfully, conventional medicine has caught up, and we now have an official name for this passage in medical textbooks, which is perimenopause. By definition, this is the transitional period of time that precedes menopause, as in “pre-menopause,” that is often symptomatic of hormonal imbalances and fluctuations in a woman’s body.
Perimenopause is usually the two to five years before menopause, but sometimes women have symptoms for 10–15 years before stopping their periods. When menopausal symptoms arise at a young age, it is commonly called early menopause. Menopause symptoms can range from mild hot spells at night to constant dripping sweats all day and night. Some women spot for a few months; others bleed heavily for years. These symptoms are caused by hormonal imbalances and changes, not necessarily estrogen loss. They are also related to diet, lifestyle, and genetic factors. Many perimenopausal women seek forms of treatment that do not work and create an even greater hormone imbalance.
What Are The Symptoms Of Perimenopause?
Symptoms of perimenopause can begin as early as 10 to15 years before menses completely stop. Women in their mid to late 30’s, 40’s, and early 50’s may transition in and out of a perimenopausal state many times before they finally enter menopause. If women are currently experiencing such symptoms of hormonal imbalance as irregular periods, heavy bleeding, hot flashes, sleep disruption, headaches, dry eyes, vaginal changes, hair loss, weight gain, loss of libido, or extreme emotional distress, it may come as a relief to know that these are all common signs of perimenopause.
Other common symptoms may include:
- Increased PMS Symptoms
- Cravings for sweets or carbohydrates
- Headaches or Migraines
- Irritability, mood swings, depression, or anxiety
- Fuzzy thinking (difficulty concentrating, memory problems)
- Weight gain, especially around the middle
- Irregular periods
Along with the more obvious changes listed above, many perimenopausal patients find short-term memory impairment or a lack of focus to be very irksome. These cognitive effects of hormonal imbalance are frequently overlooked in mainstream discussions about perimenopause. Yet fuzzy thinking and difficulty with multitasking can definitely be traced to the physical state, as can increased anxiety, fatigue, depression, and drastic mood swings. These symptoms are signals being thrown up by the body, to make women stop in their tracks and take notice. New mothers often remark upon the brain fog that comes over them, affording them only the attention span to focus on their new baby. A similar phenomenon occurs with the hormonal fluctuations leading up to menopause, except that the miasma of hormones is telling women to stop and pay attention to themselves.
Hormonal Imbalance In Perimenopause
During perimenopause, the ratio of estrogen to progesterone in the body is frequently in a state of flux. This can manifest, along with other symptoms, as irregular periods or very heavy and maybe even frightening bleeding. In this culture, many women tend to be operating with an internal hormonal balance tipped toward the estrogen side of the scale. This tilt is often the result of a diet high in refined carbs and low in quality protein, a lack of essential nutrients and fats, and chronic exposure to environmental toxins and artificial hormones, such as endocrine disruptors. Prolonged emotional and physical stress, which is defined as anything that works against the state of balance, will also upset the hormonal applecart. In today’s fast-paced, disconnected, eat-and-run world, it is no surprise to that younger and younger women are coming into clinics with symptoms of hormonal imbalance and perimenopause.
In some cases, women in perimenopause may have low levels of progesterone in comparison to their estrogen levels. In other cases, the progesterone level is fine, but estrogen levels are high. Another pattern that is seen more frequently is where all three of the key sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are low. What’s most important to recognize is that each woman needs to be evaluated as an individual, ideally by a medical practitioner conversant in integrative or alternative medicine. More often than in the past, Dr. Mannochio now finds conventional doctors willing to discuss the reality of perimenopause, but natural, long-lasting solutions are still hard to come by.
How Long Does Perimenopause Last?
Being in perimenopause does not necessarily mean that women will follow an immediate or direct path into menopause. Some women persist for years in this transitional state, whereas others sail through in a matter of months. What seems to influence the severity of symptoms most is the weight of other burdens that a woman’s body has been carrying over the years. Poor nutrition, chronic stress, and a lack of regular exercise are three major amplifiers, because they each play a significant role in the body’s ability to detoxify and maintain homeostasis. Lifestyle choices such as smoking or drinking to excess are likewise compounding factors. Another hidden element of perimenopause is fear. Many women are terrified by the prospect of losing heir biological fertility, just when stress and low testosterone may be zapping their libido.
Bio-identical Hormones and Perimenopause
The symptoms some women may recognize during perimenopause are some of the many ways the body manifests its fluctuating hormonal tides. For some women, the signs and symptoms of perimenopause cause considerable discomfort and disruption in their lives. Bio-identical hormone therapy uses hormones that are identical in molecular structure and function to the hormones produced in the human body, and they have helped many women to naturally regain balance and improve their overall quality of life. The good news is that there are many things women can do to smooth out the hormonal blips of perimenopause, decrease both frequency and severity of symptoms, and set the stage for better-than-ever health as they enter menopausal years.