Perimenopause, Estrogen Dominance, and PMS: Supplements for Relief
(excerpts from my book Forties on Fire: Available on Amazon)
Perimenopause, Estrogen Dominance, and PMS: Supplements for Relief: As women enter their 40s, they are usually unaware that PMS can rear its ugly head stronger than ever. We hear all about hot flashes and night sweats that will eventually happen as estrogen leaves our body in our later years. However, we don’t hear much about perimenopause. Many of us are entirely unaware that our mid-30s and 40s can be a hard and transitional time as well. Many of us begin to struggle with mood swings, decreased sex drive, weight gain, irritability, fatigue, sore breasts, acne, especially around our cycle. We may begin to feel like an angry hormonal teenager again. It can get pretty ugly if we don’t have the tools to support ourselves through this time. I believe hitting our mid-30s to early 40s can be similar to hitting puberty once again. We don’t talk about it.
There is typically a fall in progesterone, creating a dominance of estrogen that takes place around our early to mid-’40s. Our menstrual cycles can begin to change, as well. Our cycle can become longer or shorter. The phase before ovulation can shift, making our cycles less like clockwork.
Many factors can contribute to an imbalance in our hormones.
There are environmental estrogens (xenoestrogens that can disrupt our hormones, creating a significant estrogen dominant effect. Typically before estrogen begins to drop, we experience estrogen dominance. Contributing factors include diet, stress (physical and emotional), environmental toxins, chemicals in personal care products, overtraining, repressing our sexual needs, lack of sleep, lack of play, and lack of sunshine to name a few. I believe perimenopause is not getting enough attention, and I also think there are ways to make this slow transition into menopause much more peaceful, and less turbulent.
Estrogen is a necessary hormone for many functions in the body, including glucose upregulation, immune health, and fertility, to name a few. However, what tends to happen is we have too much of a good thing. High levels of estrogen (or estrogen dominance) during perimenopause, is contributing to many health struggles for women, including PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), mood disorders, infertility, breast cancer, and other cancers. Estrogen dominance also plays a role in autoimmunity, which, for many women, tends to rear its ugly head after childbirth. We also have specific autoimmune-related genes, that often get switched on during pregnancy.
Some of the symptoms of estrogen dominance include:
- Mood swings and irritability
- Breast tenderness
- Fibrocystic breast tissue
- Hair loss or thinning
- Low libido
- Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
- Shorter periods or irregular menstrual cycles
- Brain fog
Several factors are contributing to estrogen dominance, such as:
- Poor food quality and processed food consumption
- Hair and skin products and cosmetics containing estrogen-mimicking xenoestrogens (endocrine disruptors), as well as cleaning products and fertilizers.
- Many prescription medications can also affect our endocrine system, contributing to estrogen dominance
- We even begin to produce less progesterone as we age, contributing to an estrogen dominant state.
- Lack of self nurturing-sunlight, grounding, movement, play, sex, and nutrition
During perimenopause, progesterone drops
There are also benefits to increasing our progesterone during early perimenopause, as progesterone typically drops before estrogen does. Progesterone is the feel-good “chill” hormone. Progesterone stabilizes the lining of the uterus, helping us to conceive and maintain pregnancy. However, as progesterone begins to decline during perimenopause, so does our fertility. Progesterone benefits are far-reaching beyond fertility.
- Helps with estrogen-related brain fog, and works synergistically with estrogen to produce the “feel good” neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.
- Is considered to have a neuroprotective effect on the brain
- Provides cardiovascular benefits
- Protects against osteoporosis
- Protects against some forms of hormone-sensitive cancers, such as breast and ovarian
Estrogen Dominance: As progesterone declines, PMS severity may increase.
Rather than solely focusing on decreasing excessive estrogens, we can also place some focus on naturally increasing our progesterone levels.
We can increase our progesterone through:
- Stress management (high-stress levels affect progesterone)
- Getting adequate sleep at night
- Eating healthy fats (healthy fats help us to make healthy hormones)
- Using a bioidentical progesterone cream with the guidance of a healthcare professional. Bioidentical progesterone contains progesterone molecularly similar to the progesterone our body produces.
- Herbal adaptogens such as ashwagandha, Rhodiola, as well as B vitamins can help decrease cortisol levels. High cortisol impacts our delicate hypothalamic-pituitary axis.
- Getting adequate minerals such as magnesium and zinc, both of which are imperative for hundreds of enzymatic processes in the body.
Although all women will eventually reach the end of their fertility life cycle, the journey does not have to be perilous.
Here are a few key supplements that I have found helpful for Estrogen Dominance Symptoms:
Ashwagandha is an ayurvedic herbal adaptogen, which means it helps reduce cortisol (aka the stress hormone), therefore lowering stress levels. In my opinion (based on both research and personal experiences), ashwagandha works better than most other herbal adaptogens. I recommend taking it at night, as it can help with sleep as well.
*Please note: ashwagandha is a nightshade, and therefore not recommended for people who are avoiding nightshades, such as people with certain autoimmune conditions who find they react to nightshades. A great alternative is Rhodiola, another herbal adaptogen that can help with stress.
DIM helps to metabolize “bad estrogens”-and clears them out of your system. These bad estrogens contribute to PMS, fibroids, water retention, and other PMS related symptoms. DIM does not block estrogen, but instead, it prevents the enzymes from converting testosterone to estrogen, and it helps to metabolize bad estrogen. DIM is especially beneficial to those prone to breast cancer.
Estrogen Dominance and Vitex
Vitex helps to regulate the endocrine system through targeting the hypothalamus-pituitary axis. Vitex is the number one herb used in Europe for PMS related symptoms such as mood swings, depression, and irritability. It does so by reducing the synthesis of follicle-stimulating hormones and estrogen, keeping everything more balanced.
Reishi, aka “the mushroom of eternal life” is an herbal adaptogen, which also possesses hepatoprotective (liver) benefits, therefore detoxing the liver. It is impressive for insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Reishi is one of my favorite supplements. It’s high in antioxidants as well. I love that it is a food-based supplement and very helpful for those struggling with autoimmunity, as it boosts immune health and fights against cancer.
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Magnesium deficiency is a global epidemic. Magnesium chloride oil is by far my favorite product for managing PMS symptoms (I saved the best for last). Many women in our modern society are deficient in magnesium due to low dietary intake, depleted magnesium in our soil, modern stressors (stress depletes magnesium), carbonated beverages and coffee consumption, and a highly processed food, poor nutrient diet. Craving chocolate around PMS time? Chocolate is high in magnesium and our requirements for magnesium increase as we approach menstruation. In fact, serum magnesium levels tend to be lower as we approach menstruation. Magnesium lowers anxiety and prevents insomnia, and also acts as a diuretic to help with swollen breasts and abdomen.
For many of us struggling with digestive health issues, taking a supplement does not guarantee we are getting the nutrients from it. Topically, we can increase our magnesium levels, and start to feel better fast! When I approach my monthly cycle, my sleep becomes more disrupted. I use magnesium lotion on my breasts, lower abdomen, and inner thighs right before bed. It helps me with breast tenderness, cramping, and sleep latency. As my period approaches, and abdominal cramping become stronger, I find magnesium chloride bath soaks help tremendously with all over body aches and cramping. I feel it is one of the most essential minerals for our health and wellbeing, and most of us are deficient.
As we age, we face many new challenges. Our ‘second puberty’ known as perimenopause can feel like a turbulent time, but it doesn’t have to be! Be sure to get adequate sleep, sunlight, play, movement, and good nutrition each day. Learn more in my book Forties on Fire!