The topic of aging and sexual health is frequently considered a taboo subject. Oftentimes, people don’t want to consider the fact that they are getting older and confront the changes that accompany that fact. The truth is, the more education we have on the topic of aging, the more power we have to combat the negative symptoms associated with it.
Hormonal fluctuations as we age have a powerful influence on our overall health and wellbeing. In the past, we were taught to believe that the challenges associated with perimenopause and menopause are just a normal part of aging and we should just learn “to deal with it.” That couldn’t be further from the truth! With the help of integrative medicine and healthy lifestyle factors, we can feel our best at any stage in life, including the years leading up to menopause.
The Stages of Menopause
There are three stages of menopause: perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause. Perimenopause is the formal transition into menopause, and it can have a substantial effect on a woman’s overall health and vitality. Many people are familiar with the classic symptoms of menopause but are often unaware that the shift can start to take shape as early as the mid to late 30s. Also, this onset of perimenopause might not always be immediately apparent as hormone function is just beginning to change.
Estrogen and progesterone are two hormones that are significant to reproduction. Prior to perimenopause, production of estrogen and progesterone is increased every month as the uterus prepares itself for a fertilized egg. When a woman enters perimenopause, eggs are not being released as frequently as they used to, and, as a result, estrogen and progesterone production is decreased. Additionally, progesterone levels often decrease before and at a more rapid rate than estrogen, creating a condition known as estrogen dominance. This estrogen-dominant state tends to exacerbate the many difficult symptoms commonly seen during perimenopause. During this time, menstrual cycles may begin to change and become more unpredictable; this could mean that periods become lighter or heavier than usual, and cycles may lengthen or shorten in duration. This is also the reason that women begin to experience the menopause-like manifestations often seen in women entering perimenopause.
Symptoms of perimenopause might include
- Irregular menses
- Hot flashes
- Decreased libido
- Weight gain
- Mood changes
- Vaginal dryness
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Skin changes, including loss of collagen, decreased hydration, and itchiness
- Thinning hair
All too often, these symptoms are brushed off as a normal part of aging, but with the right treatment plan, we don’t have to just deal with it! Optimization of hormone levels allows us to age gracefully and feel our best.
Also, with the appropriate treatments and lifestyle changes, we have the ability to live a vibrant life to the fullest, even into the later stages in life. During perimenopause, the body is out of balance, so restoring balance in the body is the main goal in perimenopause treatment. Topical or oral progesterone may be used cyclically to help restore equilibrium and reduce symptoms.
In addition, lifestyle improvements are almost always necessary in the proper treatment of perimenopause. Our habits and environment have a direct impact on whether our body is inflamed or in good health, and chronic Inflammation can be both a cause and a result of perimenopause symptoms and estrogen dominance in the body. Decreasing this inflammation needs to be a priority! There are several lifestyle factors that can help to accomplish this.
Proper Nutritional Supplementation
Treating chronic inflammatory conditions, gut disorders, and nutritional imbalances goes a long way toward restoring balance in the body. The healthy (or unhealthy) choices we make each day always have a significant influence on how we look and feel, and this is especially true for women who are approaching menopause. It is important to obtain proper nutrition through diet, supplementation, and intravenous therapy. Some key nutrients to relieve symptoms of perimenopause and keep inflammation down include:
- Vitamin D – This fat-soluble vitamin and hormone helps with calcium absorption and bone health. It also reduces inflammation.
- Calcium – Risk of osteoporosis goes up during perimenopause and into menopause. Calcium promotes bone health.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – These nutrients decrease inflammation. They can also help with depression and anxiety that women often experience with perimenopause.
- Glutathione – This powerful antioxidant reduces inflammation and decreases oxidative stress. It also helps with cognition.
- Fiber – Constipation is a barrier to detoxification.Fiber helps to promote cleansing bowel movements and can help with weight gain associated with hormonal changes. Fiber also helps curb cravings and keep you feeling full for longer.
Stress is a major cause of inflammation in the body. By practicing stress-reduction techniques, inflammation associated with decreased hormone function can be decreased. Mind and body medicine includes exercise, meditation, and proper sleep.
Getting plenty of exercise reduces hormone and insulin resistance and improves detoxification. Stress wreaks havoc on our immune systems and in turn increases inflammation in the body. Exercise is one of the most beneficial ways to help dissipate this stress response in the body. Physical exertion helps the body produce endorphins, which lower stress levels and promote relaxation. Also, heavy breathing during exercise can help expel bacteria from the lungs, promoting detoxification. The chosen form of exercise doesn’t need to be intense or long, but it should be consistent. Even walking just 20 minutes per day can lower stress hormones and decrease inflammation in the body. Regardless of the type or duration of exercise chosen, its best form is one that is manageable with your lifestyle. Consistency is key! Exercise also helps to promote a more restful sleep, which can be challenge during perimenopause and menopause.
Lack of sleep increases inflammation and can make you feel more anxious and depressed. It’s important to aim for the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night to stabilize mood and improve brain function. Getting plenty of exercise and maintaining a regular sleep schedule are helpful lifestyle changes that will help achieve this. Also, reducing blue light exposure and avoiding screen time from phones and electronics is necessary for a restful night’s sleep.
Meditation and Mindfulness
Meditation is an often overlooked lifestyle habit, but it shouldn’t be. Meditation offers many health benefits, including stress reduction and promoting relaxation to improve the quality of sleep. It’s important to make time every day for this stress-reducing habit to ease perimenopausal emotional symptoms, such as irritability, anxiety, and depression. Meditation can also include physical meditative exercises such as yoga and Tai Chi.
Integrative medicine means using a whole body approach when treating a patient. As the body ages, it is imperative to not only alleviate symptoms but to also practice prevention to achieve peak health. At OWM Integrative Wellness, all hormone optimization programs include a thorough assessment of the patient’s physical, mental, emotional, and environmental health and how these factors all play an important role in a patient’s future health and healing of the body. Remember, aging is a natural part of life, but you don’t have to just deal with it.