You’re a young, healthy and active woman, but you’ve started getting symptoms typical of menopause. Confusingly, you’re still having your monthly periods and your gynae says your hormone levels are just starting to drop, but are still “normal” for a woman of your age. And with your 40th birthday still way ahead, surely you’re too young to be going through “that time of life”? But the symptoms are hard to ignore, including hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, irritable moods, foggy brain, gaining weight and aches and pains.
NATURAL PART OF LIFE
Typically, menopause is a natural part of life that we expect between the ages of 47 and 53. So, when it happens to a woman in her 20s, 30s or early 40s, it can catch her off guard.
Simply put, menopause is the stop (pause) of your periods (menses). This happens because your ovaries run out of eggs; are no longer responding to your body’s hormonal signals; or have been damaged or surgically removed. Your ovaries are also making less estrogen and progesterone, the hormones that regulate menstruation. Menopausal symptoms and their severity vary greatly among women and may come on suddenly or gradually. Typically, it’s diagnosed if you’ve stopped your periods, termed amenorrhea, for 12 consecutive months.
According to statistics, there are approximately 47 million menopausal women in the US. Of those, more than half a million have experienced premature menopause.
While “the change” happens to all women, for some it happens too soon. If you’re below the age of 40, it’s generally considered early menopause. It starts with perimenopause, when your hormone levels are beginning to go out-of-kilter and you may start skipping periods. Perimenopause can last 2-8 years before your menstrual cycle ends.
While your menopause may be genetically triggered, most women go through menopause at the same age their mothers did. Early-onset menopause could have been caused by surgery, such as a hysterectomy, or medical procedures, such as cancer treatments. Sometimes the causes are less apparent. Premature ovarian failure (POF) is marked by low hormone levels and no periods, occurring before the age of 40. You’ll still have your ovaries, but they contain immature eggs that aren’t responding to signals to ovulate. Women with POF can ovulate from time to time and 8-10% fall pregnant, as they still have follicles to produce eggs. The problem is a “disconnect” between hormones and ovarian function, or an autoimmune problem.
Autoimmune disorders, such as Hashimoto’s disease, type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, prompt your body’s immune system to attack itself. It senses part of itself as an invader and sends out antibodies to destroy the perceived threat. In POF, your own antibodies attack your reproductive system.
Some cases of hereditary premature menopause happen because of a chromosomal defect, called fragile X syndrome. This occurs when one of the two X chromosomes a women carries is defective, which initiates early menopause. Also, should your mother have had a viral infection while you were still in her uterus, it can affect your ovarian development.
Chemicals in plastics are similarly linked to early menopause, says a new study. High levels of perfluoro-carbons (PFCs), found in everyday products from food containers to clothing and paints, play havoc with a woman’s endocrine system, which decreases her level of estrogen and increases her odds of experiencing menopause before her “time”.
Other ailments, which are treatable, can cause symptoms that overlap with those of menopause, such as thyroid disease, elevated levels of prolactin, the hormone responsible for breast milk production and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Also, amenorrhea could be provoked by excessive weight gain or loss, birth control pills or extreme exercise.
Unfortunately, no matter the reason, studies have found that early menopause has a link to many health problems. Researchers have discovered that there’s a strong relationship between the age of menopause commencement and the age at which dementia is diagnosed. It’s also been found that women who experience early menopause are twice as likely to have a stroke. Other dangers include osteoporosis, known as the “brittle bone” disease, high cholesterol and heart disease.
In most cases, early menopause cannot be prevented, but the symptoms and consequences can be delayed or lessened. Here are vitamins, minerals and herbs that can assist you during this transition:
- Vitamin A and B: Help fight the increased risk of urinary tract and vaginal infections brought on by low estrogen levels. Also, the B family of vitamins keep your energy levels up and maintain your adrenal glands which generate estrone, the form of estrogen still produced by your body after menopause.
- Vitamin C: During menopause, you’re prone to infections. This vitamin reduces hot flashes, keeps vaginal tissues moist and destroys unchecked bacterial growth in the intestinal tract. It also decreases the levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol.
- Vitamin E: Has been shown to reduce breast cysts that are common in perimenopausal women. Also a powerful antioxidant that may prevent cancer and heart disease.
- Vitamin D, calcium and magnesium: A must for fighting osteoporosis.
- Organic soya, flaxseed and red clover: All rich in phytoestrogens, which are hormone-like chemicals found in plants, leading some researchers to look into whether they could be an alternative to synthetically produced estrogen replacement therapy. Recent studies show that these can help reduce symptoms and lower LDL cholesterol. In addition, they lower the risk of osteoporosis as they prevent calcium being leached from your bones. Flaxseed is high in omega-3 fatty acids which have numerous benefits, such as brain health and fighting heart disease.
- Evening primrose oil: Prevents bloating, water retention, breast tenderness, cramps and vaginal dryness.
- St. John’s wort: Widely touted as a natural tranquiliser to relieve irritability, depression and fatigue.
- Bioidentical hormones: The use of plant extracts that have been chemically modified to be structurally indistinguishable from our body’s natural hormones.
Being told you’re in early menopause for whatever reason doesn’t mean you’re automatically older. It also doesn’t mean you’re less of a woman or less desirable. Understanding what it is, though, and how to naturally counteract the symptoms and risks, will help you get through it much easier.
HORMONE PREDICTS MENOPAUSE
A study has found that a specific hormone, called the anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH), could be a predictor of menopause. AMH is produced by cells in the ovaries and controls the development of ovarian follicles which contain a woman’s egg. This test could determine when you may start menopause, particularly important if you want to plan a family.
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