Natural Ways To Cope With Feminine Changes

You wake up in the middle of the night sweating, even though the thermostat is set at 68 degrees. Or you find that your premenstrual symptoms -- bloating, lethargy, irritability -- are not only getting worse, they seem to have little connection to when you get your period. Blame it on perimenopause!
These are just a few of the puzzling symptoms women experience during what is now being recognized as "perimenopause," the phase of menstrual cycle changes that precedes menopause.

If you're a woman in your late thirties to mid-forties, chances are you've begun to experience one or several physical, mental and emotional symptoms that seem like menopause long before you actually reach it. During this decade-long transition, called perimenopause (which some have described as PMS times ten), hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain and mood swings can become unbearable. At menopause (which technically begins 12 months after the last menses), a woman's estrogen and progesterone levels fall off precipitously.

It is during perimenopause that the body gears up for this change with subtle fluctuations in hormones that cause the menstrual cycle to vary, usually shortening from one period to the next, though any and all changes in the cycle are possible.

What's going on here? In short, age-related hormone fluctuations. The hormonal changes in women's bodies that occur as they wind down from their reproductive years are similar to the changes that occur when they are gearing up for childbearing during puberty.

Think back to the menstrual cycles you experienced as a young teenager, when you occasionally bled so lightly you weren't even sure it was your period. Called anovulatory (non-ovulating) cycles, light periods result when ovarian follicles do not produce an egg; therefore, the body does not produce the hormone progesterone, which contributes to the buildup and elimination of the uterine lining each month.

During a woman's prime reproductive years (twenties and thirties), the cyclic production of estrogen and progesterone is usually regular. But as ovarian function slows with age, the fluctuation of hormones produces anovulatory periods, mood swings and hot flashes.

Still, there's no need to despair. Basic awareness and simple, sustained changes can make a big difference. First of all, recognize that this is not a disease process, but a natural phenomenon. Talk to women your age or older, and compare notes. See what they experience, and find out what helped to make it easier for them.

If you find yourself frequently light-headed, experiencing headaches or fatigue, stabilize your blood sugar by eating at regular intervals. Do not skip meals, especially breakfast. Consider natural supplements. These are said to work wonders for many women, and do not have the side effects or high cost of medications. Add one supplement per month to your diet so you can observe its effects.

By this sort of experimentation you can find out what combination really does or doesn't work for you. Some options include soy. Because the isoflavones in soy have natural estrogenic effects, adding it to your diet can decrease hot flashes, regulate the menstrual cycle, stabilize bone density and reduce cholesterol. Aim for 25 grams of soy protein a day from tofu, soy milk and soy powders.

Consider also:

  • Essential fatty acids (EFAs) -- Including more omega-3s (nuts, seeds and especially flaxseed oil) and omega-6s (vegetable oils) in your diet helps reduce calcium loss and improves its absorption, as well as protects against cancer, heart disease and hormone-related problems (like with the hair, skin and nails).
  • Dong Quao -- This is a natural herb that has been taken by Asian women for hundreds of years. Asian women have very few complaints of menopausal discomfort compared to Western women. Dong Quai is like a female ginseng, considered an overall sexual tonic, and is said to regulate the hormonal and menstrual cycle, relieving the complaints of perimenopause. This herb can make your menstrual flow heavier, so it's best to abstain from it during the week of your period.
  • Black Cohosh -- A Native American herb used to ease painful menstruation, it also contains some phytoestrogens, and is said to be effective against hot flashes. This herb is said to help prevent menstrual cramps, and can lighten the menstrual flow.
  • Vitamin E -- This lowers the risk of heart disease and reduces hot flashes and irritability. It also helps with vaginal dryness. Take 400 to 800 international units (IU) daily.
  • Natural progesterone creams -- These are transdermal skin creams that provide small, steady doses of progesterone to balance fluctuations in estrogen. They are very effective in treating hot flashes and night sweats, and may help with mood swings, vaginal dryness, headaches and regulating the menstrual cycle.

AVOID HOT DRINKS, SALT, ALCOHOL AND SPICY FOODS if you have hot flashes. They aggravate the symptoms, as do smoking, stress, sleep deprivation, a sedentary lifestyle and poor dietary habits. Your eDiets plan is a terrific way to make sure you are following a healthy diet. A wise woman once said to me, "this too will end," and when it does, you'll feel as terrific as you do the week after your period all the time. So hang in there!