It may help to start by looking at our own unique and individual menstrual experiences and how these may have differed from those of others.
First differentiation. Despite being led to believe that ‘every’ girl’s menses, ‘should’ have started at roughly the same age. Um, 12. That’s not altogether true, because menstruation can begin anywhere from the age of 8 to 11. But sometimes it’ll start around, 13, 14 or even 15.
So, if the age myth isn’t accurate, it goes without saying that we won’t all have the same menstrual experience, right.
Another differentiation. Not all cycles are of the same length. Yours may be the ‘said’ average 28 days, but it may be slightly shorter or stretch to 32 days. Andyou may bleed for 3, 4 or 5 days or even a week or in some cases two.
A third differentiation. Your blood flow may differ. Sometimes it may seem fairly smooth and bright but at other times, it could be dull, lumpy, pungent or sticky.
Why is this important? Well, because this firstly tells us something about the uniqueness of our own bodies. And secondly, because of this, it may give you an indication of how the tapering off of your periods may look.
Take away: The important thing to know is your own unique menstrual cycle. This will help, not only when it starts to change, but also because it could be happening for another reason that needs investigation.
What’s generally the same. There are some similarities (and for that, it’s back to biology 101 I’m afraid). Once menstruation begins the body changes dramatically. Your ovaries become a perfect fertile ground for hosting the follicles in which your eggs sit growing and maturing, ready for fertilisation. Then once a month, one or sometimes more eggs are released. That’s all good. But if the egg/eggs are not fertilised and embedded in the endometrium, then the womb’s wall of protection is no longer needed. It quite literally comes down, is released and discarded as a mixture of blood and tissue.
Okay. So, as you’d expect, the body has an amazing signalling system to make sure that this all works perfectly and this pattern ‘should’ continue through to menopause. But due to our ‘busy’ lifestyles and environmental factors, it’s here that things can get messy and where for some of us, we experience horrendous symptoms.
The peri stage
For some of you reaching the peri stage will be pretty seamless. But for others (that’s many of us) it will come as a shock because similarly to the change that came with menstruation, the peri, or in-between stage, is a significant new phase for your body.
Peri-meno-pause literally means:
Peri – Around Menses – Month Passus – Cease
Put this together and we’re talking; ‘round about the time that your monthly menstrual cycle will cease’. How long this will last will differ from person to person. In reality, it could fluctuate anything from 12 months to 2-4 years. But for some, it may be much much longer.
And here’s where it gets interesting. Okay so, prior to the peri stage, your body was supported by progesterone and oestrogen, but dominated by one of your 3 oestrogens: Oestradiol, which featured largely in the reproductive stages. Oestriol, which featured largely in pregnancy and Oestrone, which features largely in menopause.
Now as we move into our 40s and the number of our viable eggs declines, our body still needs oestrogen for cell and skin growth, bone mass and even immunity. But at the same time, we find oestrone tapering off and becoming pretty weak. In essence the previous levels of oestrogen which were needed to develop our eggs, is no longer needed. Paradoxically, at the same time, in a last-ditch attempt to fertilise as many eggs as possible, your hormones will be sending out frantic messages. This is not to drive you crazy, but to support the egg incubators and simultaneously increase production of more follicle stimulating hormone and luteinising hormone to release any remaining eggs.
This is where the balance can start to fluctuate or as Dr Carrie Jones says, ‘look rather chaotic’. And yet there’s more. It’s not only getting the right levels of oestrone that’s the issue. What can also be problematic are the imbalances that hormone disruptors (like those in foods, make up and household products which contain substances that can mimic our hormones) can cause.
Why is this important? Well, because you need to take a wider view of what’s happening to you not only internally but also in your wider environment. All of these factors have an impact on your hormones and changes in your cycle.
An (un) natural process
When things differ from the ‘norm’ and we have an oestrogen imbalance, we may see symptoms such as these:
|Oestrogen dominance||Oestrogen deficiency|
|Strong mood swings||Brain fog/confusion|
|Lumpy and/or painful breasts||Overly emotional/tearful|
|Long/heavy blood flow||Hot flushes/night flushes|
|Anxiety||Sweats, aches, pain|
What you can do: To get the balance back, there are three strands we can explore. Firstly, create more healthy oestrogen sources. Secondly, reduce the unhealthy factors that can disrupt oestrogen levels and thirdly, eliminate excess hormones (if that’s an issue).
Supporting yourself with good nutrients
This of course means taking out any of the not so good stuff, which could be anything from the usual suspects; refined sugars, processed foods, foods with endless E numbers and processed/trans fats.
Then include magnesium rich foods like broccoli, spinach, watercress, almonds, grains – brown rice buckwheat, wheat bran and marmite, apricots and dates. Magnesium is needed for muscle contraction, healthy neurotransmitter messaging and may go some way to balancing those ying-yangy mood swings.
And zinc which is needed by almost every part of the body, but especially good for the processing of female hormones. And as an antioxidant helps to clear and cleanse our systems. We’ll find it in lentils, peas, nuts, pumpkin seeds, oats, oily fish (especially the small bones) and chicken.
Balance your blood sugar levels
If you rely on carbohydrate rich wheat and starch-based foods, this may in some cases make any menopausal symptoms worse. To stop you reaching for the biscuit tin and to help you avoid the roller coaster of the mood fluctuations. Balance those glucose levels.
To do this firstly remember that breakfast is King. Even if you can’t normally stomach much, start with something really small like some chopped fruit with natural yogurt and seeds. And to level out your glucose levels throughout the day, choose foods which are low on the Glycaemic Index list http://www.glycemicindex.com. This may help the hormonal roller coaster and the incessant brain fog by lessening the rate at which glucose breaks down and enters the blood stream. And eat regularly. Don’t wait until you feel hungry.
Another tip. Keep snacks at hand. Keep a vegetable smoothie or some chopped fruit in the fridge. It’ll help when you get home and you’re really hungry. This way you’ll have something to munch on while you prepare dinner rather than grabbing for a biscuit, or two.
Hormones need fat in order to be processed effectively. Simply, starting off with a sprinkle of chia seeds in a smoothie, some seeds in porridge, a tsp of coconut oil on the tongue or adding some avocado to some eggs may help to see you through to lunch time. And importantly, help you to feel more in control of your day. Also remember to add olive oil liberally to salads.
Include plenty of veg
Yes, I am saying it again. Fibre rich vegetables have the dual effect of reducing the body’s fat storage which can harbour excess hormones. But they also help to bulk out stools and act as a way of expelling latent stored hormones. Foods from the brassica family like, cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower and kale and mustard greens may also have the added benefit of converting excess oestrogen into a form which can be more readily excreted.
Add a dab of protein
Although you won’t need much, protein will fill you up and possibly ease that fatigue/brain fog blur. It also puts a lesser impact on the amount of insulin your pancreas needs to release in order to repackage nutrients into your cells.
Too much insulin in the blood can exacerbate menopausal symptoms interfering with fat storage, stress hormones and even sleep. So, look for good sources of protein like tofu, chickpeas and lentils and oily fish, mackerel, salmon, herring and trout and flaxseeds or even eggs.
Take away: Balance your blood sugar. Have breakfast. Get serious and discard those foods which don’t serve you and introduce more of those that do. And say YES to fat and protein.
Maintain a healthy elimination system
What so often happens, because of our poor elimination and circulatory systems or because of excess hormone disruptors, is that hormones can build up in our tissues. And remember their job is to signal action. So, imagine what happens with an accumulation of these action activators that should have been made redundant, but are instead in your fat cells. It can create havoc because not only have they deviated from their natural course of action but they may in some cases even turn off the signalling of other hormones.
And If you’re struggling with constipation, you may also risk having excess hormones trapped within your faecal matter. This can potentially create more of a toxic load for the whole body. So, having a clean colon is key.
What you can do: Firstly, have plenty of healthy fluids. Eliminate carbonated drinks and replace them with water or herbal teas and diluted natural fruit juices. Secondly, eat vegetables with a high-water content such as cucumbers, celery, salad greens, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and radish.
Particularly if you have constipation, take a gentle fibre blend. Something with linseeds, psyllium and or chia seeds and add an apple a day. These all form a gel like substance which can absorb water and ease the passing of stools. Try this for a week starting slowly and making sure that you’re also drinking plenty of water which is necessary with these.
Drink more water
Yes, aim for 6-8 glasses of water a day if you can. But also remember that some vegetables such as celery, cucumber and lettuce and radish are also particularly water rich.
Take away: Think gentle fibre from vegetable sources and drink plenty of water.
Here’s the dichotomy. Our adrenal glands make cortisol which also helps to activate and then balance our glucose levels in times of stress. But oestrone is also produced in the adrenal glands. Now if the adrenals are weak because of having been overworked and having taken a continual pounding, the body has no option but to look for another source of production for its oestrone. And guess where it looks? Yep, it’s that glut of fat cells around the gut mostly. But the other thing that the body does in order to help us, is that it stores, holds onto and will create even more gut fat!
Stress can also interfere with the ever-limited levels of progesterone which may create a greater imbalance and the symptoms of oestrogen dominance.
What you can do: Eat foods which contain B vitamins to support the nervous system. These can be found in brown rice, wholegrains, eggs, almonds, bananas and oily fish. And as simple as it sounds, go for a walk. Take the time to breathe and get some fresh air. Switch off for as little as 5 minutes.
A wonderful calming tea is turmeric tea, which can either be made by using ¼ tsp of turmeric (or a good quality turmeric teabag) in some warm nut milk with ½ tsp of honey and ½ tsp of coconut oil.
Take away: Supporting your nervous system and reducing your stress levels could make all the difference.
If any of this has resonated with you and you feel that you may need some support or are curious to find out how nutrition may help with your symptoms. Call for a free 15 minute free consultation.