Treating menopause naturally and practically “symptom free” is not only possible, it’s how women experienced menopause for hundreds of years, prior to hot flashes and headaches most women get now. Here are 6 essentials to know about menopause and how to treat menopause naturally.
Peri-menopause and menopause, which span the 40s and 50s, are normal events in a woman’s life when a woman experiences shifts in her hormonal balance.
Menopause is defined as a “lack of period for 12-months or more, in a woman who over age 40.” Peri-menopause entails the years leading up to menopause—a time of hormonal imbalance, when the production of sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone) begin to decline.
The average age of menopause onset is 51 years. However, this isn’t the case for everyone. The menopausal age of a woman’s own mother is often the best predictor and indicator of their own. For some women, this means older, for others, menopause can happen a little younger. Moreover, the perimenopausal (i.e. before menopause) years—-anywhere from age 35 to 55, is typically when many women begin to see their bodies and hormones become “imbalanced.”
Unfortunately, menopause and peri-menopause are often (negatively) associated with a wide array of “unpleasant symptoms” including:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Weight and body fat gain
- Slowed metabolism
- Brain fog
- Waking insomnia
- Mood swings
- Vaginal dryness
- Decreased libido.
Menopause Paradigm Shift
However, menopause and peri-menopause does NOT have to mean any of these symptoms—(at least to the intensity and degree that approximately 75 to 90-percent of women experience them). Menopause can actually feel like a “liberating” experience of never having to buy tampons again, while feeling proud and aging gracefully into the next stage of womanhood– especially if you know these 6 Things Every Woman Should Know About Hormone Imbalances & Menopause.
6 Things Every Woman Should Know About Hormone Imbalances & Menopause
1. (Some) Hormonal Imbalance is Normal
During the menopausal years, the production of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone naturally decrease—a normal hormonal imbalance that comes as a right of passage with age.
Concurrently during these years, a woman’s metabolic rate and bone density naturally decreases and body fat naturally increases (other normal biological“imbalances” that are actually not directly due to menopause itself).
While most women blame body fat, weight gain and other frustrations they have with their bodies on menopause, many health experts and research studies agree that a majority of the “menopause symptoms” are actually more likely related to normal, natural shifts in metabolism that come with age, and other lifestyle factors.
The bottom line:
“Menopause symptoms” and “hormone imbalances” point back to imbalances in OTHER areas of your health and lifestyle, instead of menopause itself—many of these within your control, including:
- Your nutrition
- Emotional and mental health
- Quality sleep 7-9 hours each night
- Toxin exposure (beauty products, plastics, cleaning supplies)
- Caffeine and sugar consumption
2. Stress is the #1 Driver Menopause
During the peri-menopausal and menopausal years, the production of sex hormones shifts from the ovaries to the adrenal glands (the same glands also responsible for producing and balancing cortisol, your stress hormone).
Cortisol is necessary for helping us combat stress when we need it most (like a tough workout or getting us through the day after 5 hours of sleep one night). However, when our lifestyles demand too much cortisol daily to fight off stress ON TOP of the elevated cortisol from our hormone shifts, then, Houston, we have a problem.
In short, the more stressful our lives and our bodies, the MORE stressed out our hormones (and the MORE menopause symptoms).Stress goes far beyond mental stress too.
Common daily stressors that work against hormonal imbalance include:
- Dieting and under-eating
- Sedentary lifestyles OR overtraining
- Lack of fresh air and nature
- Lack of social connections
- Poor quality foods
- Environmental toxins (plastics, beauty and cleaning products)
- Lack of water
- High coffee/caffeine or sugar/sweetener consumption
- Low fat, low protein or too-low-carb diets
The bottom line:
Stress is the number one driver of hormonal imbalances and the intensity of menopausal symptoms women experience in their 40’s and 50s.
3. The Gut is the Gateway to (Hormonal) Health
The gut is the gateway to (hormonal) health.
Think about it: Every single cell in a woman’s body is nourished, fed and supported by what goes into the gut. In addition, the gut is an epicenter of hormone production (in fact, the gut is now being termed an “endocrine organ”). If we have a weak foundation in our gut (i.e. “leaky” gut, bacterial overgrowth, low stomach acid, parasites, etc.), then the rest of our body takes a hit–cortisol and hormone levels included.
Even if you do eat “healthy,” if you have an underlying gut imbalance or you are not supporting the health of your gut as a whole, then your body is simply not going to absorb and digest the foods you eat (for hormone health).
Unfortunately, much of conventional medicine is built upon the replacement model (simply replacing hormones or treating hormone imbalances with hormone replacement drugs and therapies) BEFORE looking into the reasons why hormones are significantly out of balance in the first place.
For some women, gut testing (SIBO, stool, organic acids, etc,) can be a game changer in understanding why their hormone imbalances may be more “out of control.” For others, simple implementation of a basic digestive support protocol can be “game changing” to minimize or lessen any compounded stress.
The bottom line:
A common reason why women experience menopause symptoms (i.e. unwanted weight gain, headaches, brain fog, blood sugar imbalance, insulin resistance, etc.) goes back to the gut.
4. Your Liver Needs Love (During Menopause)
The liver is your detoxifying organ responsible for controlling the flushing and balancing of hormones in your body.
The metabolism of estrogen itself takes place primarily in the liver through Phase I (hydroxylation) and Phase II (methylation and glucuronidation) pathways. These allow the estrogen to be detoxified and removed from the body.
However, if estrogen is UNABLE to be detoxified (due to a sluggish digestion, gut imbalances or liver dysfunction), excess estrogen accumulates in the body can cause many of the unpleasant symptoms of menopause (weight gain, mood swing, temperature changes, etc.).
How does your liver “get unhealthy?”
There is typically no single one reason. Some common stressors that take a toll on your liver and body’s ability to detoxify include:
- Longterm medication use (birthcontrol, prescription meds, NSAIDS)
- High alcohol consumption
- Low-fat diets
- Packaged and processed foods
- Mold exposure
- Non-organic food sources, conventional meats, fish with heavy-metals and conventional dairy
- Exposure to environmental toxins (plastics, cleaning and hygiene products)
- Poor quality, contaminated water
The bottom line:
Love your liver during menopause to balance hormone imbalances.
Liver Health Boosters
- Eat leafy greens, healthy fats and cholesterol (especially pastured egg yolks, coconut oil and ghee/grassfed butter), fresh herbs, plenty of fruits and vegetables;
- Drink Dandelion tea
- Sip 1 cup bone broth daily
- Replace toxic plastics with stainless steel and glass
- Overhaul your cleaning and beauty supplies with eco-friendly versions
- Drink clean filtered water (not tap)
- Decrease alcohol intake to 1 to 2 glasses/week
- Limit coffee to 1 cup organic coffee/daily
- Eat organic organ meats 1-2 times per week
- Consider some liver-boosting supplements (Fermented Cod Liver Oil and/or Liver Capsules, Ox Bile with meals)
- Drink warm lemon water with a pinch of sea salt every morning
5. Balance Blood Sugar to Feel Balanced All Around
Increased abdominal fat and weight gain, experienced by nearly 90-percent of women during menopause, are directly connected to blood sugar “imbalances” or “insulin resistance.”
Your blood sugar levels are responsible for giving you stable energy and a feeling of overall body balance throughout the day. Roller-coaster like blood sugar levels (i.e. high or low), on the other hand, bring about many of the same symptoms associated with menopause (Mood swings, headaches, shakiness before meals, sugar or caffeine cravings, fatigue, weight gain and body fat retention).
Insulin is a hormone that is responsible for controlling your blood sugar balance—acting like a director for how your body uses the food you eat. Insulin ensures that the “just right” amount of glucose (i.e. sugar) and energy (i.e. food you eat) is in your blood at any one time. However, if you we have TOO MUCH insulin circulating in the body at once (insulin resistance), fat storage and menopause-like “symptoms” of blood sugar imbalances happen (headaches, mood swings, hungry, sugar cravings, low energy dips).
“How does insulin resistance occur in the first place?
Answer: Imbalanced nutrition, poor gut health and elevated cortisol (stress) levels.
You don’t necessarily need to eat Hershey’s candy bars or donuts every day for breakfast to experience insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can happen from:
- Imbalanced meals (especially not enough enough proteins and healthy fats)
- Restrict carbs (too much) and not eating enough fat to support low carb intake
- Underlying gut imbalances—preventing your body from absorbing and using your energy and nutrients
- Cortisol imbalances (cortisol feeds off sugar and demands your body needs more of it to survive)
The bottom line:
Insulin resistance and blood sugar imbalances are common during the menopausal years primarily because your body is more sensitive (overall) to the impacts of stress.
6. Be Wary of Hormone Replacement Therapy
Many women experiencing the “negative” side effects of menopause are often told to “just use hormone replacements (HRT) to improve symptoms.”
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT, bioidentical hormones or synthetic hormones) can significantly reduce peri-menopausal symptoms by reducing the extremes sometimes experienced with the decline of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone production.
However, HRT can also make symptoms worse in the long run, especially if the other causes of “hormone imbalance” (i.e. stress and adrenals, gut health, liver and blood sugar) are NOT addressed in the first place.
When you take exogenous hormones (supplemental HRT hormones from outside of your body), the levels of those hormones go up in the bloodstream. In response, your pituitary gland reduces your own internal (natural) production of that hormone.
Now, this may not be much of a problem when you’re actually taking that hormone (since the hormone is coming into your body from outside), but another problem begins to develop behind the scenes: Hormone resistance.
When we have chronically higher levels of hormones in our blood (from HRT), the receptors for our hormones throughout our body get down-regulated.
Thus, the HRT hormones in our blood begin to have a lesser and lesser effect (over time) because our hormone receptors aren’t sensitive to that hormone anymore. Long-term side effects of HRT or “too much” synthetic hormone in our blood are associated with heart disease, stroke, blood clots, breast cancer, and further adrenal (stress) imbalances.
The bottom line:
Lastly, address the roots of hormone imbalance first (gut, stress, liver health), not the symptoms.