Menopause. I don’t even like the word.
I have always associated it with getting old. When I say the word in front of my 20-something sons, they block their ears and tune me out (something I am working on changing for my future daughters-in-law). This blog is not only for women, but for the men in their lives that care enough to read it and gain some understanding of it. We should be able to openly talk about it without such a stigma. Menopause is actually a single day in the life of women; the day that marks one year since her last menstrual cycle. The time leading up to this is called perimenopause and anything after this is post menopause. Now that I am in this perimenopausal time, I see things a little differently and plan on celebrating that day- by having a Menopause Party! The time surrounding this day can be difficult for many women. It is a time where her body is struggling to balance hormones and can cause a wide array of symptoms. According to a survey done by Dr. Sara Gottfried on her patients in her OBGYN practice, 64% complained of excess belly fat, 40% hair loss, 50% feel like they run from task to task like a chicken with their head cut off, 80% poor sleep, 50% feel there is not enough time in a day, 48% have headaches, 48% have skin problems such as eczema, thinning and premature aging, 50% felt like they just couldn’t get going at least 3 days of the week, 37% vaginal dryness, and 9% high blood pressure. It doesn’t end there. 91% want more energy, 80% want a better sex drive, 69% wish for a better mood, and 26% want to see the end of hot flashes and night sweats.
Estrogen alone is not the villain.
When we think of the hormones involved we tend to point the finger at estrogen. Estrogen, ladies, is the hormone that makes us nurturing; prepares us to be mothers and raise children. That power it has on us doesn’t just benefit our children, but everyone around us. It is what makes us want to take care of EVERYBODY! So menopause can be a very empowering time for women. As our estrogen levels decline, the need to nurture can be turned inward to ourselves! Crazy but true- this is when a lot of women finally come into their own and start living the life they want. Now THAT is a reason to celebrate!
But estrogen is not the only player involved in this game. Progesterone, cortisol, thyroid hormone, testosterone, insulin, melatonin, and growth hormone also have a seat at the table. The problem is that all our hormones interact with each other and can have a pretty delicate balance. They can individually, or collectively, be the cause of the multitude of symptoms. This makes sifting through the causes a little challenging. I am about to embark on a journey of discovery. I am pretty in tune with my body and how it reacts to things, but I must admit that this has thrown quite a curve ball my way. I have always enjoyed being a woman; I loved being pregnant and playing a role in the miracle of life, I loved nursing my babies and the bond that came with it, I can’t say having a period never got in the way, but I never had any difficulties with them like PMS. So I just figured this menopause thing would be a breeze as well.
Then it hit me, like a ton of bricks!
In three month’s time, I gained 9 lbs- all in places we hate seeing it, waist, hips, and butt! It is like my body changed over night with very little change of my habits. I went from falling asleep in less than 5 minutes and waking up to my alarm clock, to having difficulty falling asleep and waking up and not being able to fall back to sleep. At night I am hot, then cold, then hot again, and during the day I run pretty hot. I work with all women, several who are at this stage as well, and climate control in the office is, well let’s just say my patients have been keeping their jackets on.
We don’t have to accept it as normal.
Even though these are common struggles for many women, we get told things like “it is just part of getting old”, “Welcome to THE CHANGE”. But there are ways to make this process better. Like everything else I am going to approach this like an experiment, just more biohacking for the books. I want to share my journey with you and hopefully we will all come out better at the end. For the next four weeks I will be monitoring my cortisol, my glucose, tweaking my diet, monitoring my BP, my sleep and seeing how some changes are affecting these things.
I have filled out an extensive questionnaire of my symptoms put together by Dr Gottfried, who specializes in balancing hormones. What I discovered from that is, what is likely to be the cause of my symptoms is that my cortisol levels are high, my estrogen levels are low, and that my thyroid may be playing a role as well. I am pretty holistic and prefer not to take medications so my actions will be to make some lifestyle changes.
Stress is all around us
I know this all too well, but I am always amazed at the role stress plays in our health. Cortisol, the stress hormone, communicates with all these other hormones. It is like the conductor of our symphony of hormones. I have had a lot of changes in my life in this past year. I got married, sold my house that I had bought all on my own (my signal to myself that I could be independent), moved two states away creating 2 hours of commuting time, and made some changes at my office. All these things may have contributed to rising cortisol on top of menopause. So I know already that monitoring heart rate variability, which is directly correlated to stress, will be one of my main focuses and finding ways to reduce stress, which I used to be pretty good at but my 2 hour commute has certainly put a dent in.
Part 2 of this blog will be the results after 4 weeks of some targeted changes to aid in my cortisol levels, my lowered estrogen and lowered thyroid function. I can only hope to report some good results. I would really like to get back to a good night’s sleep, after all I need to start planning my Menopause Party!