Perimenopause: Riding the Hormonal Roller Coaster

“I just don't feel like myself anymore.” This is a statement I hear quite often from the women who come into my office.

The details often sound something this:

“I'm irritable and short-tempered with my family”

“I have no energy or motivation.”

“I'm gaining weight even though I exercise and eat a healthy diet.”

“I love my husband, but I have no desire to have sex anymore.”

And by far the most common: “I can't get a good night's sleep!”

Welcome to the wonderful and erratic world of peri-menopause. If you are somewhere in your 40’s and any of these symptoms sound familiar, then please know that what you are experiencing is really normal and not at all your fault. Your hormones are literally going haywire.

Peri- or pre-menopause is a phase that can last several years longer than actual menopause. Also called the “Climacteric” or “Menopause Transition,” it usually lasts about four years and occurs between the ages of 40-51. It ends one year after a woman’s last period, when she is officially in menopause.

The symptoms can be very mild, such as slight changes to the menstrual cycle, or much more severe, including heavy periods and debilitating mood swings.

Many women are caught by surprise when these changes start to occur. They think they are too young to be having hormonal issues. In fact, in Marin County where I live, it is not uncommon to have a toddler and be in peri-menopause at the same time. Because we tend to be older when we have our children these days, we often go straight from breastfeeding to hot flashes with hardly time to breathe in between.

Women who seek help from their conventional health practitioners are often prescribed an anti-depressant or the birth control pill to get them through this phase until true menopause. Some women will not even mention their symptoms to their doctors because they believe they have to tough it out or that there is nothing that can safely help.

This is so far from the truth! A thorough evaluation of the thyroid, adrenal and reproductive hormones can be very helpful in determining what kind of herbal, nutritional or bio-identical hormone support is needed to bring back the vitality a woman feels she has lost. Acupuncture is also very effective during this time.

My recommendation is that women seek help earlier in this transition rather than later, but of course it is never too late. The first step is just acknowledging that something does not feel right and that it might actually be hormonal in nature. And then ask for help. It’s really okay.

There is always something to be done to help us feel like ourselves again.