They all say life begins at 40. So why, you may ask yourself, do you not feel ‘yourself?’ Before you sign yourself off as either going mad or taking those antidepressants the GP prescribed, you may want to get your hormones checked out; you could be experiencing the perimenopause.
What is the perimenopause?
Many of us hold the belief that the symptoms of the menopause occur when you hit the menopause, however, the menopause itself is actually defined as starting a year after your period has stopped. According to hormone expert Dr Marion Gluck , the perimenopause is the time when your hormones start to fluctuate before the true menopause begins. “It can start from age 40 onwards but will normally kick in in the mid forties," she explains (although it can start earlier and on average the menopause kicks in at around 48 to 52).
“The majority of women I see are perimenopausal,” says Marion.This is a time when we are still making hormones but they are not being made like they used to and often they are no longer in balance. “It’s the time when your hormones start to fluctuate on a big scale pre the menopause. There are some months when you ovulate and then there are some when you don’t at all. It’s a time of extremes and as a result, can cause dramatic mood swings and extreme symptoms. It’s a very difficult time for women because they often don’t understand what’s going on.”
What are the symptoms of perimenopause?
“Many women come to me and say 'I just don’t feel right, or I just don’t feel myself,' says Marion. The symptoms can be quite unpleasant. They include:
- very heavy or very light periods
- heart palpitations
- mood swings
- hot flushes
- night sweats
- joint pain
- unexpected anger
- fluid retention
- breast tenderness
- weight gain
- brain fog and memory loss
What can you do?
It's important to take a look at your lifestyle and the way you eat, exercise and your stress levels, as well as looking at vitamin and mineral imbalances. If you have a gut problem it is also advisable to take probiotics regularly. One of our favourite brands is Symprove which is a quality probiotic that delivers multi-strain bacteria live to the intestine. However if you still feel things aren't right it's time to test your hormone levels.
Test your hormone levels
If you think your hormones are out of whack then you need to test them. “Every patient is unique,” says Marion, “With their own unique endocrine system, so there isn’t a magic pill that will suit everybody. What we would aim to do is take blood tests and look at rebalancing your hormones, in levels that are specific to you.” Really what you will be tested for are the levels of Oestrogen and Progesterone.
HRT v bio-identical hormones
The most obvious way to balance hormones during the perimenopause is to take a form of hormone replacement therapy . HRT is made from synthetic hormones and has come under much fire in recent years because studies have shown a link to cancer, especially breast cancer. However, while a report in the British Journal of Cancer in 2016 showed it tripled the chances of breast cancer, other doctors believe that the benefits actually outweigh the risks (benefits of traditional HRT include reduced osteoporosis and the anti-inflammatory effect is said to help prevent dementia).
Increasingly, women are turning away from the synthetic hormones of HRT and towards bio-identical hormones, which are said to carry less of a risk. Bio-identical hormones, Marion explains are made from plant-based (phyto) substances and exactly match our hormonal makeup so our bodies know how to utilise them. You take them as either a cream you rub on your skin which enters the blood stream directly (and doesn’t get broken down in the liver) or as a lozenge. You can also individualise bioidentical hormones explains Marion which you can’t with traditional HRT.
Usually it takes about three weeks of treatment for the patient to begin to feel better.
What if I don’t want to use any form of Hormone Replacement Therapy?
If you’d rather not take hormone replacement therapy then there are some natural alternatives you can try. One suggestion is Agnus Castus which is said to break down excessive hormones and rebalance them. The other widely known remedy is Evening Primrose oil which many people swear helps relieve menopausal and perimenopausal symptoms.
For more information go to Dr Gluck's site here
Have you had symptoms of the perimenopause? Tell us about them below.