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Early Menopause – Learn all the basics

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Get all the basics about early menopause ( perimenopause) in one handy guide.  What are the causes, symptoms, and natural supplements you can take if you have early menopause? When does it occur and how long will it last?    Get more about related topics:

  • Hot Flashes and Pro’s and Con’s of Bioidentical and Synthetic hormone replacement therapy: Dean shares her advice and medical knowledge about hot flashes. What are they? Why do they occur? How do you stop them? Plus, the pro’s and con’s with bioidentical and Synthetic Hormone Replacement therapy
  • Menopause: Get all the basics about menopause in one handy guide. What are the causes, short-term and long-term symptoms, and a natural approach to regulating your hormones?  
  • Hormone Imbalance: Get all the basics about hormones. What are they? How hormones get out of balance? An overview of estrogen and progesterone and what happens when your hormones are out of balance.

Source: All excerpts from this blog except where noted are condensed and edited from – Dean, C. (2005). Hormone balance: A woman’s guide to restoring health and vitality. Avon, MA: Adams Media.

What is Early Menopause (Perimenopause)?

It seems that any menstrual irregularity from the ages of thirty to fifty could fit into the new definition of perimenopause. The most recent edition of Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary calls perimenopause “the time just before and after menopause” and also notes that “there are noticeable drops in estrogen levels for three to five years prior to menopause.”

Dorland’s is using the term “peri” to mean “around the time of,” or more simply premenopause, which is the term that most doctors have been using for decades for the time before menopause.

What causes Perimenopause symptoms?

There are many different factors at play that can determine the quality of perimenopause, and there is no one single cause for it. The most important factors tend to be diet, stress, and xenoestrogens. When estrogen and progesterone dance to the tune of stress and chemical disruption, they can fluctuate wildly and then gradually decline as we age. Aging brings its own “blessings”—wisdom and memories—but also the possibility of weight gain and declining organ function—thyroid and adrenals, especially. In perimenopause, unfortunately, all these problems add up.

Don’t forget the ongoing stress of relationships at home and at work. Positive or negative stress can have a strong effect on the body. A friend of mine who got married in her forties said her periods completely shut down for four months after her wedding. They did come back again, but she had a taste of perimenopause entirely due to stress. Job stress is another important factor, whether it’s good stress or bad. Both deplete the adrenal glands of important stress hormones

Symptoms of Perimenopause

The most common scenario for perimenopause, which is usually noted in retrospect, is to have flooding periods for several months before skipping a few. This pattern can repeat itself many times over several years. Worsening PMS seems to be the other symptom of perimenopause that gets women’s attention. High estrogen levels plus stress hormones and not enough progesterone conspire to make women feel like they have PMS all month.

Jerilynn Prior, M.D., is a professor of endocrinology and metabolism at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C. She also heads up a one-of-a-kind research institute called the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research. Dr. Prior reminds us that out of the list of symptoms I’ve listed below, “Not one of these symptoms is specific to the ‘perimenopausal.’ Instead, the list is a compilation of symptoms attributed variously to menopause, menstrual cycle changes, pregnancy—and just being a woman.” She goes on to decry the fact that having perimenopause as an emerging health condition gives doctors the notion that if you miss one period, are over thirty-five, and have a few of the above symptoms you are entitled to a prescription for hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Whether it is due to too much estrogen or not enough progesterone, or a combination of both, or for other reasons, several authors have listed the following as the most common symptoms of perimenopause:

  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Heavy periods
  • Light periods
  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Vaginal thinning

Other symptoms that may by related to hormonal fluctuations but are not as common are:

  • Acne on the face
  • Anxiety
  • Bloating
  • Breast tenderness
  • Changes in processing information
  • Decrease in arousal and orgasms
  • Decreased libido
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Hair growth on the face
  • Hair loss on the head
  • Headaches
  • Heart palpitations
  • Irritability
  • Joint pains
  • Memory loss
  • Migraines
  • Mood swings
  • Nausea
  • Skin changes
  • Sleeping problems
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Urinating more frequently
  • Weight gain

Medical Treatment for Perimenopause

Unfortunately, when perimenopause is defined as a medical condition with falling estrogen, hormone replacement treatment is one solution. Because of the negative effects of estrogen and hormone replacement therapy, doctors are being advised not to prescribe these therapies except to women having severe menopausal symptoms. However, there is no such prohibition on the use of the birth control pill (BCP) in perimenopause. In fact, that seems to be the medical treatment of choice. By the way, BCPs are simply another form of synthetic hormone replacement. According to Dr. Christiane Northrup, “They are widely used during perimenopause to mask symptoms.”

Natural suppliments

Dr. Tori Hudson, professor at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, Portland, Oregon, is one of the foremost women’s health experts in the United States. She says, “Natural therapies are very well suited for the perimenopausal woman. . . . Conventional hormone therapy (HRT or Estrogen Replacement Therapy) is not the only option available.”  There are a host of supplements and herbs that also help balance hormones. A combined approach of supporting the liver, enhancing bowel function, replenishing the adrenal glands, and increasing energy levels makes the following supplements invaluable in a natural approach to heavy periods and fibroids.

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B complex
  • Vitamin C and bioflavinoids
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
  • Iron-rich formulas
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • Red clover
  • Berberis

Progesterone Deficiency

Herbs that support or promote progesterone in perimenopause treating PMS and maintaining hormone balance include:

  • Black cohosh, which relieves PMS depression and insomnia, tonifies or acts like a strengthening or supportive tonic for the uterus, and helps relieve period pain and cramping.
  • Dong quai, a Chinese herb that regulates the menstrual cycle, and purifies and tonifies or strengthens the blood.
  • Evening primrose oil, which contains gamma-linolenic acid, a precursor to prostaglandins that relieves inflammation and regulates estrogen and progesterone. It is useful for breast tenderness, anxiety, and fatigue.
  • Ginger, which is especially useful for the nausea that accompanies severe PMS.
  • Red raspberry leaves, a natural source of iron.
  • John’s wort, useful for treating mild to moderate depression, insomnia, and irritability.
  • Vitex (chasteberry), which balances estrogen and progesterone levels and lessens mood swings, anxiety, irritability, and insomnia.
  • Wild yam root, which is well known as a source of diosgenin, the natural progesterone precursor. It alleviates inflammation and cramps associated with painful periods and PMS.

Other perimenopausal herbs include:

  • Crampbark
  • Dandelion root
  • Motherwort
  • Sarsaparilla root
  • Squaw vine
  • Yarrow

Other things to try:

  • Advil and Motrin medications for menstrual cramps.
  • Diet:The natural approach includes experimenting with dietary restriction the week before the period. Most women benefit by eliminating sugar, alcohol, and meat. Some women may also respond to eliminating dairy or fried foods. For candida albicans emphasize a diet rich in free-range and organic meats, fish, chicken, eggs, seeds and nuts, vegetables, and oils. Again, avoid sugars, carbohydrate-rich foods, and fermented products such as vinegars and preserved meats to starve the yeast. Eat plenty of garlic, onions, and chives, which have antifungal properties. Use coconut oil for its beneficial medium-chain fatty acids that suppress yeast.
  • The best mineral for helping to squelch menstrual pain is magnesium.
  • Avoid Exposure to Chemicals: Paints, household cleaners, perfumes, and scents may cause allergic reactions. Chemical sensitivities are very common in people with yeast overgrowth.
  • Vitamins and Minerals: Taking a good-quality daily multivitamin and mineral supplement helps supply your body with the nutrients it needs to help you regain your health. Good calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D supplements are also essential to optimal health, especially for women.

More Videos on Menopause

Hormone Imbalance: Basics on estrogen and Progesterone


Learn more about Hot Flashes

Hormone Treatment Plans Video

About Dr. Carolyn Dean – Medical doctor, Naturopath, Herbalist, Acupuncturist, Nutritionist, Lecturer, Author

Dr. Carolyn DeanDr. Dean has been in the forefront of health issues for over 30 years. She graduated from Dalhousie Medical School in 1978, holds a medical license in California and is a graduate of  The Ontario College of Naturopathic Medicine – now the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM) in Toronto. She served on the board of Governors of the CCNM for six years. Dr. Dean has authored or coauthored over thirty books, including How To Change Your Life With Magnesium, Future Health Now! Encyclopaedia, Death by Modern Medicine: Seeking Safe Solutions, The Magnesium Miracle, The Yeast Connection and Women’s Health, IBS for DUMMIES, IBS Cookbook for DUMMIES andHormone Balance.  Currently, Dr. Dean lives in Maui with her husband where she visits the beach most days, swims, snorkels and thoroughly enjoys her work and play – most days not knowing which is work and which is play!