There’s no escaping it. Sooner or later we ladies get mugged by our hormones. If you happen to have teenage children, or more specifically a teenage daughter at this particular stage of your life……then good luck! As one friends’ daughter said to her, “You didn’t time this very well, did you??” Quite frankly it seems hugely unfair that woman having gone through child birth and raising children, then get to go through a reverse form of puberty that is even worse than the first one! Even more unfair I suppose if you haven’t even had children!
But all is not lost. There is actually much you can do to relieve symptoms as well as some of the ageing effects of declining oestrogen levels. The starting point, as ever, is lifestyle. Exercise is hugely important as it is for very single aspect of health. The healthier your lifestyle the better equipped you will be to weather the hormonal onslaught. (Remember though that everyone is different. Even the very healthy can have a rough time of it and there are some women who sail through the entire process unscathed). Certain supplements will be of great help too. Sage as mentioned by Shabir below is excellent (for the month of December a special deal at Victoria health) and Maca is truly remarkable (however do use sparingly and not for too long as it’s rather rough on your gut).
The other great helper are bio identical hormones. That’s quite a big subject though so I will cover in a different article.
Here Shabir, pharmacist at Victoria health, explains what exactly is going on which let’s be honest, is quite helpful:
When a woman gets to a certain age, her menstrual cycle is brought to an end when menopause kicks in. A whole year free from a period is good confirmation that menopause has arrived and marks the end of fertility as well as the end of the functionality of the ovaries. Oestrogen levels at this point decline massively, however the onset of menopause does not occur abruptly, but the female sex hormone production declines over a period of time, which is often referred to as the perimenopause or pre-menopause. It is important to understand how long the transition lasts between perimenopause and menopause, but each woman will have a unique and variable experience.
What is perimenopause?
Put simply, perimenopause is the time before menopause when the ovaries begin to stop producing both oestrogen and progesterone. It is generally accepted that this occurs roughly eight years prior to menopause, which is normally between the ages of 45 and 55. As a result, many women going through the perimenopause experience a whole array of symptoms attributed to the declining female hormones and the relative imbalance between these hormones. The symptoms of low progesterone are different to those of low oestrogen and the relative amounts of these two hormones will determine the symptoms experienced. Progesterone levels normally decline well before oestrogen does resulting in what is termed ‘oestrogen dominance’ with its own array of symptoms. The impact of these low female hormones is very widespread affecting virtually all other body systems. It is for this reason that the symptoms of perimenopause, which are identical to those experienced during menopause, can be very widespread and include hot flashes, stress, fatigue, mental fog, hair thinning and hair loss, unwanted hair growth, gradual loss of elasticity of skin, vaginal dryness, lack of sex drive, sleep disturbances and even recurring urinary tract infections. Unfortunately, the decline in both hormones is slow and erratic leaving many women with feelings of confusion and despair.
To summarise, common and unusual signs of perimenopause include:
Erratic periods and change in monthly flow: A change in the monthly cycle is the most common indicator of perimenopause. The duration of your period may also change and your monthly flow can change from light to heavy or even the other way round.
Hot flushes and sweats: Another common sign of perimenopause; hot flushing is experienced as a wave of heat often originating in the chest and neck moving upward into the face and scalp. Unlike menopause where these hot flushes are usually regular and numerous, hot flushes during the perimenopause are usually infrequent and rather abrupt.
Stress and anxiety: As mentioned above, virtually every single hormonal gland is affected, the most common being the adrenals, which are responsible for stress management and energy enhancement. Female hormonal imbalance leads to an over-production of cortisol which blocks the uptake of the nerve calming and mood elevating hormone, serotonin. If these symptoms arise without undue known stressors, then you may be going through the perimenopause.
Sleep disturbances: An over-production of cortisol by the adrenals as a result of female hormonal imbalances leads to a reduction in serotonin uptake by the brain. Serotonin is converted into melatonin, the sleep hormone, at night time thus serotonin deficiency invariably leads to problems associated both with sleep induction, quality of sleep and the duration of sleep.
Urinary tract infections: Some women going through the perimenopause experience urinary tract infections for the first time and will often experience recurring episodes. This is because the tube that connects to the bladder, the urethra, is oestrogen sensitive. When oestrogen levels are low, the lining of this tube becomes inflamed and infected. Recurring urinary tract infections may be indicative of perimenopause.
Joint and muscle pain: If you are experiencing joint pain for the first time and this is not associated with the wear and tear of joint tissues then this may be yet another sign of perimenopause.
If you have any suspicion that you may be going through the perimenopause then you should take action immediately. Often women are left confused with feelings of despair, searching for remedies that treat the symptoms they are experiencing rather than addressing the causal factor, the lowering of female hormone levels. I am a firm believer of using phytoestrogens for the vast majority of women who experience some of the symptoms mentioned above assuming that they are within the age range mentioned.
The Secret of Phytoestrogens
‘Phytoestrogens’ is a scientific word for naturally occurring plant compounds that are chemically similar to oestrogen and thus mimic oestrogen, often without side effects. They really are miraculous in that they have a balancing effect on the body by binding to oestrogen receptors in cellular activity.
Phytoestrogens were discovered as early as 1926, but it was not until much later that they gained popularity. Farmers noticed that sheep eating red clover, which is rich in phytoestrogens, had higher fertility rates. Extensive research to date has pointed to the multiple activities of phytoestrogens, which include maintaining bone density, maintaining lower cholesterol levels (especially during the menopause), cardiovascular protective properties and even brain health.
Phytoestrogens consist of more than 20 compounds and can be found in more than 300 plants such as herbs, grains and fruits. The three main classes of phytoestrogens include:
- Isoflavones (genistein and daidzein) which are primarily found in soya beans, soya products, chickpeas and other legumes.
- Lignans ( enterolactone and enterodiol) primarily found in flaxseeds, cereal bran and legumes.
- Coumestans (coumestrol) found in alfalfa and clover.
Most food sources contain a combination of isoflavones in varying degrees and including these in the diet would be a good idea, although I believe there is no substitute for a herbal supplement such as Sage Complex by Food Science of Vermont, which contains the right amounts of varied phytoestrogens to achieve hormonal balance.
Most women going through the perimenopause experience some of the concerns mentioned above and yet never seem to fully understand why. They often treat the symptoms rather than the causal factor and hence I often recommend the use of phytoestrogens as part of a holistic approach. In my opinion nearly every woman over the age of 35, with a few exceptions, should consider the use of phytoestrogenic supplementation on an ongoing basis.
This content is not intended to replace conventional medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by a clinical herbalist or other qualified healthcare practitioner.
Last weeks article on colds and flu sparked a lot of queries on twitter about the flu vaccine. People wanted advice on whether they should get it or not. A lot of people said they get it every year and genuinely believed it stopped them getting ill. Would I personally get it? The answer is no. Perhaps if I was a person at high risk I would consider it, but I do know I would do everything in my power to avoid it. Why? Because I believe some of the elements, like the preservatives used, to be highly toxic and damaging to health. This is a controversial subject and many would disagree with me so I asked psycho-neuro-immunology clinician Fleur Borrelli to give us an all round view of the situation.
Vaccination is thought of as one of the most important health advances in the 20th century by most healthcare professionals. Those who do not accept the flu vaccine, which is becoming more and more readily available, are considered to be pariahs because they are refusing what could be a lifesaving intervention and putting everybody else’s health at risk.
Admittedly the symptoms of flu can be really unpleasant and debilitating. But these are due to the fact that our fantastically complex immune system needs to use all the energy reserves in the body to fight the flu virus. It is important that we should feel weak and have to slow down so that the body can allocate energy to where it is needed most to fight the invader. Fever is a necessary part of this heightened immune reaction. Over the millions of years of our evolution, our immune system has become gradually more and more complex to be able to deal with challenges from pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. It is important that every now and then our ability to withstand these challenges is put to the test. Yet doctors are trained to view the human body as an error-prone system that needs to be forced into submission with vaccines, antibiotics and other medical interventions.
However, the ability of our immune system to cope with the bugs that come our way during the darker days very much depends on the lifestyle we lead. Living a ‘toxic’ lifestyle through heavy alcohol consumption, a processed food diet, lack of exercise and smoking can mean that our immune system may be compromised. Certainly the elderly are most in danger during the winter season as their immune systems may not be as robust as someone half their age. Flu may be an occupational hazard of the colder months but it is only when it leads on to more serious illnesses such as pneumonia that the situation becomes more threatening.
Colds and flu may be common place but they are a real pain in the neck…and the nose, throat and head! A cold won’t get you any sympathy (on the contrary people will physically back away from you) but can make you feel completely miserable. Not quite ill enough to be in bed, but hard to work properly or enjoy anything. So can you do anything to reduce the amount of colds you get? Absolutely! A healthy lifestyle means a healthy immune system and coupled with an arsenal of supplements, I believe it’s possible to prevent colds most of the time or to zap them quickly when you do succumb. Here, nutritionist Fleur Borrelli explains that the vitamin most important for prevention is not C but D! Nothing wrong with taking some vitamin C when feeling a bit run down or fighting a cold, as it’s a great anti-oxidant, but the vitamin to take regularly through the winter is D! It’s been discovered in recent years that many people are deficient in D, specially in cold countries, but even in sunny places they are finding deficiencies. I believe it’s because we now all wear so much sunblock. A little bit of moderate sunlight is not only good but vital to our health. Obviously that’s not much of an option in an English winter, so I take 5000 mg of D a day. ( Higher than Fleur recommends but on a recent blood test I was found to be low on my D levels even with this dosage. If you have a blood test coming up why not ask your doctor to add a Vitamin D level check to it?)
NB The best form of vitamin D to take is D3 and should be taken with vitamin K2.
Stress, the sunshine vitamin and the immune system
Have you noticed that since the arrival of autumn all the coughs and colds have come back? This has to have something to do with the change in the weather and the fact that we have had to face the difficult prospect of returning to work, school or college. Both physical and psychological stressors affect your immune health and ability to fight off infections.
One of the factors affecting our health during the darker days is the disruption of biorhythm. Typically, we should be going to bed at sunset and rising at sunrise. It was Benjamin Franklin who was said to have coined the proverb ‘Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.’ We set our working day by the clock rather than when it gets light or dark, which may result in going against our natural evolutionary rhythm. This can have an effect on our levels of stress, depression and even our susceptibility to colds and flu.
So what can be done to help combat this? Certainly the first thing that springs to mind is ensuring that you keep your vitamin D levels topped up. Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because it is a hormone that the body produces in response to sunlight. It is so important to us that every tissue in the body has a vitamin D receptor and up to two thousand genes, a sixth of the human genome, are directly or indirectly regulated by vitamin D. It plays a critical role in our ability to fight off infections, particularly in the northern hemisphere.
Is staying younger really possible? Is it all just a desperate and ultimately futile attempt to hold back the years? Ageing chronologically is inevitable, but being “old” I believe is something we can most definitely do something about. Being older can be very positive. With age comes experience, wisdom, confidence and less agonising (hopefully) over the little stuff, caring less about what others think which is very liberating. Physically we can not only maintain good health but even improve it as we learn to appreciate it’s value more.
Here, Shabir, pharmacist at Victoria Health, gives us some important information to optimise and understand our health as we age.
Ageing is a multi-faceted process with numerous factors that can have an effect on it. The cells of our bodies are programmed to have a finite lifespan. Each time a cell divides, some genetic material is lost so that on average, forty to fifty cell divisions later, the cell is considered to be aged. Nutrition plays a vital role in the science of ageing. Some nutrients accelerate ageing whilst others help to protect against it. The theory of free radical damage and the role of antioxidant nutrients is well understood by most people. It states that the body produces reactive, unstable agents known as free radicals during normal metabolism, exposure to ultraviolet light or environmental toxins. Antioxidants neutralise these free radicals helping to protect the body against damage.
The science of ageing and telomeres is now rapidly growing. Among the leading experts in this field is Dr Elizabeth Blackburn from the University of California who, along with her colleagues, was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine “for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase”.
So what are telomeres and how do they affect ageing?
The simplest explanation of a telomere could be to say that a telomere is like a plastic tip on the end of a shoe-lace. As long as the plastic tip is in good condition, then the fabric of the shoe-lace remains intact. In the case of our chromosomes, which are our genetic material for cell division, the plastic shoe-lace end is the telomere. It is this telomere that protects the genetic material within our chromosomes, and ensures that the cells can divide and replicate perfectly. Imperfect replication leads to premature ageing, cell mutation and cell death. The telomeres also protect the ends of the chromosomes from getting genetic information from other chromosomes which potentially can lead to many diseases.
I came across this article this week on www.canceractive.com and thought it so important that I have decided to repost it here. This reinforces all that I believe is important to have and maintain good health. Although this is aimed at people who have or have had cancer, it is the very same advice that is needed to maintain good health or improve one’s health so as to remain disease free. I believe this to be the blue print for improving the odds on staying healthy. Prevention through being pro-active. We are not victims of our genes. We can fight back.
There are a couple of things that I didn’t know. I thought that the negatives of an aspirin a day were now thought to outway the positives and even though I knew that it’s important to alkalise one’s body (most diets are very acidic), I didn’t know this could be achieved by drinking a teaspoon of Sodium Bicarbonate in warm water a day. However, I already do most of this list and it just reinforces for me how important it is. Please note how exercise keeps coming up as vital to good health and in particular how beneficial yoga is!
The American Cancer Society produced a ‘watershed’ report in June 2012. This report has now been endorsed by the National Cancer Institute in America.
The report concludes that since 2006 there has been an ‘explosion’ in research into complementary therapies (just as we at CANCERactive have told you frequently) and that there is ‘overwhelming’ evidence that certain complementary therapies – like diet, exercise and weight control – can increase survival and prevent a cancer returning, keeping you cancer-free.
Here we list 20 things you really should consider building in to your own anti-cancer programme.
1. Go for a hour in the sunshine every day: Research centres such as Harvard School of Public Health are quite clear: Numerous research studies show Vitamin D prevents cancer. Critically, other research has shown that it can even correct the effects of cancer and improve survival times. Vitamin D is also essential to your immune system and helps to activate it. If you cannot have an hour a day in decent sunshine think about supplementation with up to 5,000 IUs per day.
You don’t have to be old to suffer from joint pain. I was 18 when I started to get lower back pain and in my 20′s when I started to get problems with my knees (ok that one was probably my fault as I was jogging on hard surfaces). However it only gets worse as the years go by. The good thing is that there is a lot you can do to help. Strengthening the muscles round the joint for example and eating certain foods, and using supplements. In my opinion, it is important to keep moving, no matter what.
Here Shabir Daya, pharmacist, gives us sage advice on how to do just that.
Every mechanical object has a weak link, the one area that wears out over time and causes the mechanism to be prone to breakage. An analogy can be made that in the human body, our joints and the surrounding soft tissues are our weakest link. Indeed this breakdown affects millions of people worldwide suffering arthritic symptoms, whether due to age or the toll that sport can take on joint health. Our knees, ankles, elbows and wrists are the most common affected sites of pain. If our joints are the weakest link, then it is vital that we take control to ensure that they are flexible by introducing several strategies outlined below.
Regardless of whether one suffers from arthritis or problematic joints, exercise plays an important role in promoting healthy joints with less pain. It is simply a myth that you can wear down your knees just from average levels of exercise and indeed the reverse is true. Inactivity causes your muscles to become weaker and works against joint flexibility and comfort.
Vigorous low impact exercise is beneficial for your joints as well as for the cardiovascular and circulatory systems within our bodies. Start exercising gently in order not to injure yourself. If typical vigorous exercise is simply not possible, then try walking, yoga or pilates, which have very low impact and are still beneficial for promoting flexibility.
One of the benefits of exercise is that it can also help you to achieve your optimal weight and to maintain this. Did you know that every kilogram (2.2 lbs) of extra body weight puts a pressure equivalent to roughly 4 kilograms on your knees? Research shows that those with optimal weight experience better joint flexibility when compared to those who are overweight.