In 2011 my body’s alarm sounded in near precision at 3am nightly. I would be suddenly awakened dripping and dewy with an urgent sense of anxiety.
My predawn encounters were my first real experience with anxiety. My thoughts roamed through every corner of my mind searching for the evidence behind my anxious feelings.
I could find reasons but seriously, in the light of day, these situations in my life did not feel like the terror I was experiencing in the darkness.
I religiously used every tool at my disposal to rescue my sweet slumber.
In hindsight, I was experiencing the first signs of menopause, better known as peri-menopause.
There were other signs that something was a drift with my hormones.
- Hair thinning and loss around my right temple.
- Resistant weight gain although my diet had not change.
- Intense mood swings.
- Heavy, clotting menstrual bleeding.
- Painful sex.
- Food cravings alternating between sweet and salty.
- Bloating and difficulty digesting meals.
At that time, I didn’t know that my symptoms indicated a multi-dimensional and multi-system health challenge. I also learned that I needed to educate myself and become my own health advocate.
When midlife strikes, we want to dive right into fixing the hormones. At least I did.
The dirty little secret is that those early morning wake up calls, really are “wake up calls” to something deeper in a woman’s soul.
The more extreme the symptoms, the deeper the dive the soul is seeking.
I don’t think I just speak for myself when I say, we really want a quick fix.
Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix and the truth is menopause transition takes years not days, weeks or months.
Hormones are communication messengers that are produced in endocrine and sex glands, neural pathways and other tissues in the body like muscle and fat. One hormone never behaves in isolation, rather what impacts one, impacts the whole.
Take my set of symptoms. Physiologically, it wasn’t just my sex hormones that were wreaking havoc. For all of us, healthy hormone production starts in the gut.
Yes, the gut is the foundation of healthy hormones. If you have digestive challenges, hormone production will be compromised.
The Foundation of Healthy Hormones is Simple.
- Healthy Digestion. No bloating, food cravings, GERD, regular belching or difficulty digesting food.
- Healthy Poop. No constipation or diahrrea. Poops 1-3 times per day. Poop looks like soft, brown nicely shaped logs. Healthy poop indicates that your body is eliminating toxins and trash in the body.
- Healthy Sleep. The body restores itself while you sleep. We need about eight hours of uninterrupted sleep to allow the body its proper organ regeneration and reset.
- Healthy Blood Sugar Levels. Insulin is a hormone that carries and cleans up glucose in the body. High levels of glucose in the blood stream negatively impacts other hormones.
- Healthy Adrenals. Your adrenal glands modulate stress hormones, the primary one being cortisol. If your stress hormones are imbalanced, there will be an eventual domino effect with the other hormones.
You may remember from my post, The Pause, that my gynecologist wanted to prescribe an anti-depressant when I approached her with my set of symptoms. According to her and what I’ve since observed from other women’s experiences, anti-depressants are the main protocol in the USA for women entering the transition to menopause stage.
Ladies, you do not need to dull your feelings to get through menopause.
They are your allies. They will come and go. The intense ones won’t last forever. All feelings pass. Take deep breaths and allow them to metabolize.
Your feelings, signs and symptoms are evidence that there’s a physiological shift you need to address.
How do you address the dynamic shifts in hormones that have a dramatic impact on the quality of your life by altering your mood, sleep and digestion?
So, let’s talk about the female sex hormone, estrogen, while respecting one hormone does not act in isolation.
Estrogen is the umbrella hormone that represents the female sex hormone and has three expressions.
Estradiol E 2
Estrogen is a steroid hormone primarily produced in the ovaries. It’s responsible for female characteristics and regulates the menstrual cycle.
Estrogen is also produced by the adrenal glands, muscle and fat cells. Estrogen is released into the blood stream where it will travel alone or join together with SHBG (Sex Hormone Binding Globulin) looking for an estrogen cell receptor or parking spot. We have estrogen cell receptors all over our body, but primarily in the breast and uterus. When estrogen parks in a receptor, it turns the receptor on and is now of use. The type of estrogen will determine if the result is a brighter or dimmer response.
The estrogens that do not “park” need to be detoxed out of the body through the digestive system which is why a healthy functioning digestive system is vitally important. If they are just hanging out in your body, they will proclaim dominion and you will end up with “Estrogen Dominance.” See my “p.s.” at the end of this post for a note about detoxing Estrogen Dominance.
Important to note is that estrogen can stay the same, change forms, be cancer preventative or cancer promoting.
Too little or too much estrogen causes disruptions that will be experienced as signs and symptoms like irregular menstruation, abnormal bleeding patterns, mood modification, night sweats, hot flashes, fatigue, reproductive challenges.
When there is an irregular cycle throughout the reproductive years or the beginning of peri-menopausal symptoms, there is an imbalance of the production of estrogen or regulation and use of estrogen.
This isn’t something that should be ignored or automatically treated with a pill (birth control is often prescribed for young women or anti-depressants). We need to back it up and learn more about what’s going on inside.
This “back it up” approach is the foundation of the Functional Medicine approach. When we back it up, we are looking for the root cause of the symptoms instead of simply treating the symptom.
Why is estrogen off balance?
Our first stop would be to back it up to the Foundations of Healthy Hormones.
Besides the estrogens that our body produces there are estrogen mimickers outside the body called xenoestrogens (natural or chemical compounds) and phytoestrogens (plant derived). Estrogen mimickers are found in cleaning supplies, plastics, plant based food, animal hormones in meat, pesticides, electronics, make up, skin care products etc. In comparison to other developed countries, the USA has a minimal list of prohibited toxic ingredients in the personal care industry. There are a multitude of “endocrine disrupting” toxins on our skin care and cosmetic shelves. If you’re interested you can read more here.
We can’t escape estrogen mimickers and we certainly don’t want them hanging around in our delicate internal eco-system. We need to take a two prong approach. First by limiting our exposure with lifestyle choices and secondly, by cleaning up our digestive systems and detoxification pathways so that our body can easily eliminate them.
Regardless if the estrogen finds a parking spot, it eventually ends up in the liver where it is detoxed and eliminated. Take note and take care of your liver. It does the lion share of detoxification.
Most conventionally trained physicians are going to begin by treating the symptoms affecting mood and manipulating estrogen from a pharmaceutical perspective.
If we only treat the symptoms, we are not dealing with the root or reasons why there is a hormone imbalance to begin with.
Digging into the physiological root causes gently guides you into the deeper dive of life examination.
We simply cannot look at hormones without looking at lifestyle.
Functionally, we review these areas:
- Family history of disease.
- Triggers: the things that have happened in your life prior to any previous or current set of symptoms.
- Mediators: the things that make your symptoms better or worse.
- Lifestyle tools and strategies of support.
The deepest dive is making peace with the soul’s desires and your current life situation. What’s in sync and out of sync with desire and satisfaction? Do you have dreams unfulfilled or regrets about decisions and choices?
You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.
Women, we do not need to whince at our disatisfactions.
We need to acknowledge them, make peace and fill the space with what we desire.
Otherwise, our field is littered with the dead bodies of disatisfactions and they haunt us during our 3am wake up calls.
We don’t want that now, do we? This is what I’m talking about when I say, there’s more than just the wake up because our hormones are out of balance.
This self examination has the potential to set the stage for the next ten to twenty years of your life. For better, if you do the work. For worse, if ignored.
It’s part terror and part thrill.
Hormone balance requires the simultaneous examination of the physical, mental and emotional bodies.
This is one of the reasons for my Holistic Health Mastermind beginning January 2019.
Midlife work takes courage, commitment and I’m convinced community!
We are stronger in community. Together we can more gently release regrets, make peace with our past and step into dreaming and scheming about our future.
In ancient and traditional cultures women were knit together through daily work and communal living. In our modern culture, we have to be strategic and planful about being in community with one another.
p.s. In the short term, if you are experiencing symptoms like hot flashes or night sweats, sleep disturbance, resistant weight gain, mood swings, brain fog…you may be experiencing something called “estrogen dominance.” It’s a condition where there’s too much of the wrong kind of estrogen, xenoestrogens and phytoestrogens, that the body is not eliminating properly. My Functional Nutrition teacher, Andrea Nakayama, is offering a virtual cleanse called “Estrozen.” The course is complete with hormone education, live Q&As, recipe packet and an active message board for personalization. I’ll be participating from my Kaiut Yoga teacher training in Colorado. Please consider joining me. If you join, I’d love to hear from you. It would be fun to connect during the cleanse. Here’s a link for additional information. The cleanse begins October 8, 2018.