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Pre Menopause – The PMS Years
During their 20’s and 30’s women should experience regular cycles with balanced estrogen and progesterone production. However, increasingly, younger females who are prone to excess stress and exercise, crash diets, and contraceptive use are not ovulating regularly. Anovulatory cycles can lead to symptoms of hormonal imbalances, severe PMS, and more serious health issues, such as polycystic ovaries, endometriosis, and infertility, well before the end of periods.
Peri Menopause – The Rollercoaster Years
In the years approaching menopause, 40-something women begin to experience erratic cycles, as estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate dozens of times a day from wavering ovarian function. A completely new world of symptoms, from hot flashes and mood swings to high anxiety and low libido, take women on a hormonal rollercoaster ride. Now the search for symptom relief begins in earnest.
Menopause / Post Menopause – The End of Periods
As the ovaries take their final bow, ovulation ends and menopause begins. Falling levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone trigger symptoms that women may be unprepared for. With fewer hormones to go around, their role in protecting the health of the breasts, bones, skin, brain, and heart is greatly diminished.
There are approximately 40-50 million menopausal women in the US today with about five thousand more entering menopause every single day. A century ago most did not live past menopause, but today we can look forward to another 25 to 30 years – a third of our lives. As an estimated two million women in menopause seek more natural treatment solutions after a major study found greater risks of heart disease, stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer among HRT users, longevity trends among older women could continue.
Menopause is not a disease but a natural process, resulting from diminishing hormones and the end of ovulation as women age. This is the ovaries final act: lacking eggs and female hormones, they can no longer perform their reproductive role. Menopause plays out over time and in the years prior (peri-menopause), troublesome hot flashes and mood swings, etc. clue us in to the fact that we are entering a new phase of life.
The official start of menopause by the calendar is 12 months in a row without a period, occurring on average around the age of fifty-one. However, it is not uncommon to see symptoms much sooner. Acute and/or prolonged stress, for example, can negatively influence ovarian function and can precipitate premature menopause in vulnerable women as early as their mid to late 30’s. Menopause can also be surgically induced through hysterectomy, radiation, or chemotherapy.
The ovaries are the main producers of the female sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone throughout a woman’s fertile years, with a helping gland, the adrenals. The pituitary gland produces Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing hormone (LH) to control egg ripening and ovulation. Measuring levels of these hormones can be useful in determining fertility and/or menopausal status.
As we age, the key players in the hormone symphony begin to play out of tune as their levels change, fundamentally altering their relationship to each other. Estrogen, the essential female hormone that develops our breasts and reproductive organs and safeguards their function; progesterone, the great balancer, co-dependent with estrogen in governing the reproductive cycle, and maintaining pregnancy; and testosterone/DHEA boosters of bone, muscle and libido. Knowing what to expect can help us prevent chronic symptoms and age related imbalances that raise our risks for heart disease and breast cancer as the protective benefits of hormones made in our prime wear off.