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Monday, April 23, 2012

Perimenopause



What a fun topic! I have taken to calling perimenopause, simply, The Peri. This is a misunderstood phase in a woman's life, and the symptoms develop gradually, so often a woman does not realize she has arrived to this place. Some symptoms, such as night sweats and hot flashes, are thought to be associated with menopause. Nope, that's "The Peri"! Menopause is defined as the phase when a woman has not had a menstrual period for the past 12 months. Wish I were there right now, seriously. Instead, I am in the stage containing one of the first symptoms of perimenopause--heavy bleeding. This usually starts in the late 30s/early 40s. Perimenopause is marked by hormonal fluctuations, and the heavy bleeding is one of the results. Most of my friends around my age (43) are experiencing this as well. This means that Jennifer Aniston and Julia Roberts are also probably perimenopausal, so we are in beautiful company!

Around age 40 I asked my doctor about the fatigue I was experiencing. Because of a family history of diabetes, I was concerned I might be pre-diabetic. No, blood sugar levels all good! But putting two and two together, it is logical that if one loses large quantities of blood every month, one is going to feel a bit droopy. My doctor suggested a type of surgery in which the lining of the uterus in burned away, and hence no more periods. No thanks!

The Peri is like the flip side of puberty. Along with the heavy blood flow and fatigue, night sweats, and hot flashes, you may experience low sex drive, irritability, mood swings, and insomnia. My PMS is not nearly as severe as when I was young. It's pretty mild now. And I don't have the intense cramping and lower back pain I experienced as a teenager. I was fatigued back then too, usually missing at least one to three days of school each month due to my periods. I credit belly dance for the absence of the pain now. But still, the quality of my life is affected every month, and short of burning the uterus lining (cringe), what can be done?

I take a Gentle Iron supplement, which also contains vitamin B12, folic acid, and vitamin C. I also take a multi-vitamin. I'm a vegetarian, so red meat is not an option, but spinach, beans, dark chocolate (hurray!), dried fruit, and fortified cereals are good sources of iron as well. Black Cohosh is an herb that can help with heavy bleeding and hormonal imbalance. Try a daily smoothie also with fruits and vegetables such as kale, dandelion, spinach, parsley, celery, mangoes, bananas, peaches, and pears. I will update readers on whether the black cohosh and smoothies make a difference once I have implemented them for several weeks. I visit my chiropractor monthly, which I find indispensable for overall wellness, and his treatments have helped regulate my periods. Massage therapy, yoga, reiki, cranial sacral therapy, accupuncture, and other holistic forms of healing can also be effective for balancing hormones and energy and releasing blockages and toxins.

Reducing stress aids hormonal fluctuations, so taking good care of yourself in general is mandatory during this stage of life. Get more exercise, eat healthier, and use stress management tools such as yoga, breathing exercises, prayer and meditation. See my Vitality Challenge for more specifics! An American Indian friend of mine once told me the most amazing thing about her culture. It's called the Moon Lodge. During a woman's menstrual period, she goes into the moon lodge and has no responsibilities. Other women bring her food, care for her children, and do her chores! The Native American culture is matriarchal. Perhaps you could start your own moon lodge group of women willing to help each other out in this way. At the very least, rest as much as possible during your heavy flow days. Have older children and your husband do your chores and the cooking. Make a big pot of hearty soup ahead of time, so you have something healthy you can just warm up for those few hard days. Let kids be as self-sufficient as is reasonable. Take a day or two off your job outside the home each month if you have one. Your doctor may even be able to write an excuse for you so your boss understands that you have a medical condition and are not just being lazy.

When I was in college, an older girl told me to drink water constantly to "flush out" the blood during periods. Seems like good advice to me. You may crave sugar and caffeine, but too much will ultimately deplete you further, so make sure you are getting proper nutrition and plenty of hydration.

The Peri is a natural stage in a woman's life, and we can find balance. We don't want to hear that we are in this stage, coming to the end of our fertility, and therefore, our youth. The combination of physical and emotional factors can be overwhelming, and depression could be one of the symptoms. St. John's Wort is an herb known to be effective for treating mild to moderate depression.

If any of you have other good advice about how to weather The Peri storm of life, please share your experiences! Let's transform this to the time of roses, the summer of our lives...

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