Did you know that perimenopause often coincides with other life changes and stressors such as kids going off to college, caring for elderly parents, divorce and illness?
Depression is common among perimenopausal women. Treating symptoms of perimenopause depends on how aggravated the symptoms are and how much it’s messing up routine life.
In my podcast interview with Chris Lamont Part 2, we discuss another 5 common perimenopause symptoms, the importance of identifying their root cause and various herbs that can be used as remedies. Check out Part 1 blog post here.
The following are the common symptoms we discussed:
A very common and complex symptom is migraines, which is caused by blood vessels in the head narrowing due to declining estrogen levels during the perimenopause transition years. Besides hormonal factors, neurotransmitter and serotonin issues can also lead to migraines. As hormones change migraine attacks also change. Although migraine symptoms are difficult to improve, herbs have been traditionally used to prevent migraine attacks irrespective of their cause. Herbs like feverfew, butterbur and ginger can be experimented as a cure. We can also use analgesic herbs, which help reduce pain. There are also some Nervous System tonics, which can help to quiet the Nervous System’s hyperactivity. We can also use all kinds of herbs which can help to improve gut health. These herbs tend to have a reflex effect on Nervous System health and the gut microbiome,(hyperlink to blog post about gut-brain connection) which is responsible for producing an enormous number of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Some research studies connect Serotonin with migraines. Thus, if we can normalise the production of neurotransmitters through building up the gut microbiome it can benefit in migraines. Chris also suggests to avoid dietary migraine triggers. The three things at the top of the list are:
These comfort foods aggravate the migraine situation. Processed foods, artificial sweeteners, colours must be eliminated from the diet if we want to strive for longevity as we age and thrive through those years.
2. Vaginal Thinning and Dryness
The second symptom that we talk about in my podcast is Vaginal thinning and dryness. This can make sexual intercourse very painful in spite of sexual desire. Chris says that this has been given an unfortunate and inappropriate label of female sexual dysfunction. It can also be the cause of an awful lot of stress and has a profound impact on other symptoms of pre menopause, like mood and irritability. Vaginal dryness and thinning can be caused due to hormonal fluctuations and imbalances.
The vaginal wall and its ability to produce lubrication atrophies to a certain degree resulting in other senses like itching, bleeding and sometimes a risk of infection. If the mucous membrane is not functioning properly then vaginal microbiome that is charged largely with preventing infection is also malfunctional. This is why pathogenic bacteria set up and breed there. The main solution for the thinning and drying of the vaginal wall is the use of Phytoestrogenic and hormone balancing herbs. Another class of herbs called aphrodisiac can stimulate libido and sometimes increase blood flow to the genitals to kickstart the vaginal health. According to Chris, the most effective approach is a topical one. We can infuse oil with herbs called vulneraries. These herbs such as comfrey, and calendula and plantain can stimulate epithelial cell production or skin cell production and help to speed up the healing of wounds. When you infuse coconut oil with these herbs, you get lubrication from the coconut oil and the topical way ensures that the herbs directly reach the tissues which need them. The internal and external approach combined produces effective results.
What are some don’ts?
We should avoid processed foods and foods that contain additives. Stick to the outside of the grocery store where all the fresh stuff is available. Chris says that for women, douching should be avoided at all times. Douching rinses away the natural lubrication and washes away the friendly bacteria which keeps the vagina healthy. Also, the douching process itself can introduce bacteria so it should definitely be avoided.
3. Changes in Libido
The third very common symptom is changes in libido and most people are quite anxious about it. We understand that libido is not isolated, even in self-pleasure our feelings about our relationships with others effect our feelings about ourselves as a sexual creature. It’s important to be having open conversations with a supportive partner, which can release the pressure and stress around this issue.
Decline in libido can be due to various reasons.
- Firstly due to a decline in hormone levels. There are anatomical changes that happen like vaginal dryness and atrophy. If your sexual organs are not functioning, the way you’re used to, that can negatively impact your desire to engage in sexual activity.
- Secondly it can be due to psychosocial changes revolving around your thoughts of self-image and self-value. If you don’t feel sexy, you’re not going to feel sexually aroused. There are some things that we can do to change thought patterns around this. Relationship dynamics and a conversation with yourself and partner play an important role.
- Also important is sexual history, lessons that you were taught about sex as a younger person. There are numerous online groups and courses that you can engage in, which encourage making peace with your sexual self.
It’s inspiring to see how communities of women physically and online groups can come together and overcome negative thought patterns. I like to quote an African proverb; “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far go together”. Women’s sexuality is not something that our society has embraced very well until just recently, and it’s still a struggle.
Chris recommends, female sexual tonic herbs that can be very helpful. Some of them are stress related and some are hormone related. A herb called horny goat weed is as apt as the name suggests. We can also use dedicated herbal aphrodisiacs like shatavari, cannabis a well-known libido stimulant, ginseng and damiana. These herbs help to improve libido on a biochemical level in the nervous system. They also help by increasing blood supply to the genitalia. According to Chris, the main solution is dealing with stress that comes along with having an impaired libido.
The transition of menopause is really important for women to deal with on an emotional level particularly where sex is concerned. It is not over. People are enjoying sex well into their very late years nowadays. We can help women along by just having a conversation about it. It is important to address concerns about sex. If we can reduce the symptoms, improve lubrication, strengthen the vaginal wall, and increase libido improving our sex life and having a positive cascading effect on other aspects of our life or at the very least not adding more stress to it.
4. Frequent Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
During perimenopause as the vaginal tissue is thinning and stops producing sufficient amount of lubrication, there is less fluid and as a result less microbiome available to keep women healthy. This microbiome plays a huge role in keeping pathogenic bacteria at bay. When women lose that ability they are more prone to infections. Another reason for bacteria is due to the short urethra and its very close proximity to the anus.
To overcome UTIs, we can introduce probiotics in various ways. Eating fermented foods like pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, yoghurt and tempeh can help. We can also introduce these topically. It might seem bizarre to think about putting yoghurt inside of you, but that’s introducing what you need directly to the area that needs it. Herbal remedies include hormone balancing herbs and Phytoestrogenic herbs to deal with the infections. Another important recommendation is to increase urine production, so diuretic herbs like dandelion leaf, cranberry, stinging nettle, and horsetail act quickly. Chris recommends using dandelion leaves in the juice form, although its bitter in taste and intense in flavour but it is the quickest way that will give a profound impact. By increasing the urine production, we flush out the bacteria and give them less opportunity to set up and reproduce. Demulcents which are soothing like aloe gel for the cooling-slimy-moist feeling can also be used. Chris also recommends molson herb internally or externally specific to the urinary system. Beriberi cornsilk, which is the stringy silk on the cob, has a cooling and soothing effect in reducing the burning inflammation. Astringents are another class of herbs that we can use to tame the inflammation and reduce the discomfort.
5. Risk of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis or brittle bones is most common among midlife women. It increases with age and is unfortunately, the silent thief which robs your skeleton of up to 25% of its bone mass by the time we reach 50. Frequent fractures, loss of height, back pain, even tooth loss, a bent posture etc. are all early indicators of osteoporosis. The drop in estrogen affects the bones’ ability to retain calcium.
We can pre-screen for osteoporosis with bone density tests and regular consultations with healthcare experts. Exercise and herbs can help with osteoporosis; however, osteoporosis is not a symptom of perimenopause, it is in fact a result. Chris argues that once osteoporosis has set in it’s quite difficult to reverse. The good news is that it is quite easy to slow down if not halt altogether. Various types of cells in the body are tasked with maintaining bone density. We up regulate or down regulate bone density as needed.
If we are carrying a lot of weight or suddenly engage in weightlifting regimen at the gym, or go up a lot of stairs we will build bigger bones. Our body is going to pack on minerals and build denser bones. On the contrary, if we suddenly spend a lot of time on the coach or indoors with no physical activity like during COVID-19, or if somebody is bedridden, then the minerals are going to be repurposed and the bones are going to become thinner. Basically – “If you don’t use it, you lose it!”
Estrogen inhibits the activity of the cells which are tasked with breaking down bone density. The osteoblasts build bone density and osteoclasts reduce bone density. Estrogen inhibits the activity of osteoclasts. During perimenopause, when estrogen is low, the cells which break down bone are less inhibited and therefore able to act in a more profound manner. The bones are thinning faster than they can be rebuilt. Contrary to popular knowledge just taking calcium is not sufficient. Chris shares his expertise by saying that we must introduce Phytoestrogenic herbs and minerals through dark leafy greens, nuts, a few different fruits and supplements. Chis also emphasizes the importance of exercise, particularly weight bearing exercise are extremely essential. He gives a good tip that when you go for your daily walk, put a couple of rocks in your pocket, or carry wrist weights or ankle weights. This will put a little bit more pressure on your bones, and encourage them to stay stronger for longer. He also recommends limiting the intake of protein and salt, quit smoking, reduce alcohol and caffeine. He also stresses the importance of increasing stomach acid production, because with more stomach acid and improved gut health we can absorb calcium more efficiently. Chris points out that it is important to do all of this ahead of time to build strong bones. All perimenopausal women must definitely get an exercise regimen, clean up their diet and make sure the gut is functioning optimally.
Let’s Be Hopeful
So to summarise in the last two podcast episodes we talked about several best practices as remedies for perimenopause like herbal treatments, exercise, managing stress, adopting a very nutrient dense whole foods diet, having a sleep routine, getting the liver and digestion function to perfection, optimum gut health and essentially building a positive attitude.
Most perimenopause symptoms are not solo symptoms. They appear all together or some will have more than others. I advise self-care and urge you to be self-informed. With all the herbal remedies discussed with Chris in my podcast there is certainly lots of hope that perimenopause symptoms can be addressed, alleviated and prevented as well. I quote Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine,
“If someone wishes for good health, one must first ask oneself, if he is ready to do away with their reasons for his illness, only then is it possible to help them”.
So all of us women need to put in the work. There is no magic pill that’s going to help alleviate or prevent these symptoms. We need to do the work. Develop the self-awareness and motivation to be able to stick with it. Identify where we are deficient and from a holistic perspective improve as much of your health as possible starting today so that we can continue to thrive as we age.
If you’re a midlife woman struggling with weight gain? insomnia? mood swings? Get off the hormonal roller coaster ride and download your FREE Perimenopause Rescue Guide here.
Check out this Delicious Dandelion Smoothie recipe to help with your midlife transition here.