by Dr. Deanna Walker, ND
No matter what age you are, your hormones are affecting your quality of life. Why you might ask? Well your hormone balance influences how you look, how you feel and how you think. It is important to determine if your hormones are affecting you. The best way to start is to be informed on what symptoms are normal and abnormal depending on what phase of life you are in.
The Reproductive Years
In this phase, the most common concerns relate to PMS (Pre-menstrual Syndrome) and the menstrual flow itself. The most common PMS symptoms experienced include mood changes (depression, anxiety, irritability, emotional fluctuations), swelling, bloating, weight changes, breast tenderness, acne, and migraines. Regarding the flow, women can experience irregular cycles- too long or too short, spotting mid cycle, before or after their flow, a heavy flow, and painful cramps. It is important to know that these symptoms are abnormal and are a sign that an imbalance exists. In a perfectly balanced system, your period some come and go without notice- other than the flow itself. Why? Most symptoms stem from an imbalance of estrogen in relation to progesterone. Think of them as a couple- one complementing the action of the other. Estrogen is a stimulatory hormone- it causes things to proliferate and grow. Progesterone is our calming hormone and suppresses the proliferative effects of estrogen. Thus, when estrogen is in excess relative to progesterone (this phenomenon is called “estrogen dominance”) the following symptoms are likely to occur: anxiety, irritability, weight gain, breast tenderness, acne, migraines, and heavy periods. Progesterone also maintains the uterine lining thus when progesterone is deficient you can get spotting at various times during your cycle and can cause short cycles. There are many other scenarios but I have highlighted the most common.
This word literally means “around menopause” and can start as early as 39 years of age. The average age of onset is 45 years and usually lasts about 5 years. The most common symptoms experienced in this phase are irregular periods, long heavy periods, low sex drive, weight gain, hot flashes, fatigue, foggy thinking and memory problems. Why? The most common cause of these symptoms is due to HIGH estrogen. Yes, you read that right- not low estrogen, HIGH estrogen. Both estrogen and progesterone decline as we age but progesterone declines to a much greater degree than estrogen, causing estrogen dominance. In addition to what has already been described, when estrogen is dominant it increases a protein (sex hormone-binding globulin) in our blood that binds hormones to allow them to travel through the bloodstream but renders them inactive. This reduces the amount of free testosterone and free thyroid hormones. The end result is less libido and a tendency to weight gain, fatigue, and memory issues. These effects are typically subclinical- an imbalance will not show up on blood work even though you are experiencing symptoms. Hot flashes typically occur due to fluctuations in your hormones. As your ovaries are failing you can get a burst of hormone production that contributes to vascular changes- bringing more blood and heat to the surface of your skin.
You have officially hit menopause if you have been without a period for 1 complete year. This typically occurs between 45-55 years of age and on average occurs at 51 yoa. After this point, you are in Postmenopause. The most common symptoms experienced in this phase are dryness symptoms (vaginal dryness, dry skin, dry hair), low sex drive, hot flashes, weight gain, foggy thinking, and memory problems. You will notice a lot of similarities between this and the perimenopause phase with the exception of the dryness symptoms. Why? This is due to the reduction of primarily estrogen and testosterone. Estrogen normally stimulates and lubricates tissue and when it declines, skin in any area typically thins and becomes drier. Testosterone is essential in women for our libido, stamina, and desire. Painful intercourse (from thin, dry vaginal tissue) and low libido contribute to the low sex drive. Estrogen has a direct impact on brain function. The hippocampus and prefrontal cortex are responsible for learning, memory, and other higher-order tasks. These areas are rich in estrogen receptors. Thus it is not unusual for women to notice a cognitive change when their estrogen declines.
How can we help?
Knowledge is power. Let us be the detective to figure out what is going on. We will do a thorough investigation of your case, including targeted questionings and thorough hormone testing if needed. Urine testing is the best way to determine hormonal imbalances. Treatment options include dietary and lifestyle changes, herbal or nutritional supplementation, and if necessary bio-identical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). To learn more about BHRT, click here.
To learn more about how you can support your hormones and feel your best, book a complimentary discovery call with Dr. Deanna, ND here.