Whether you are looking forward to the end of your monthly cycles or are less enthusiastic about it, most women know that menopause marks the end of fertility. This major life transition typically happens somewhere in the early 50s and is marked by one year period-free. But we don’t arrive at menopause over-night. Instead, the potentially long and winding road to this significant milestone in a woman’s life can last for years – and it can be a crazy ride!
Predictably unpredictable perimenopause
After approximately 30 years of somewhat regularity since your first menstrual period, symptoms of perimenopause can have you questioning everything you thought you knew about your body. No two months – or sometimes two days – are alike. Sudden fluctuations in estrogen can cause hot flashes or night sweats. Mood swings, sleep troubles, fatigue and easy tears become the new normal.
During this time, your ovaries are doing a cha-cha: Some months, ovaries send out two oocytes. Other months, no eggs are released at all. Menstrual periods might seem like they are minutes apart or be separated by so much time that you think “this must be it” – and then a period arrives out of the blue on a day that you are totally unprepared. For some women, symptoms last only a year. Others may experience perimenopausal symptoms for a decade or more. Fortunately, you can grab the wheel and help to steer your own transition.
A smooth transition involves a focus on promoting healthy estrogen production and reducing harmful estrogens. We can do this in two ways. First, we need to avoid exposure to estrogen-like chemicals found outside of our bodies called xenoestrogens. (Xeno means false.) These hormone disruptors are close enough in molecular structure to estrogen that they can bind to estrogen receptor sites in the body and can cause dangerous health outcomes. Some of the most researched xenoestrogenic chemicals are BPA (bisphenol-A), phthalates (say “thay-lates”) and parabens.
But endocrine disruptors are not the only cause for concern. A woman’s lifetime exposure to natural estrogen has been identified in medical research as a likely cause of estrogen-associated cancers, especially breast and endometrial cancers. Our bodies can thwart this process through natural detoxification processes in the liver. The problem, of course, is that the liver is so busy cleaning up pollution, xenoestrogens, medications, chemicals in food, alcohol and other toxins that it can get over-worked. As someone who might be a partner, mother and grandmother, aunt, daughter, sister, volunteer, friend, entrepreneur or employee – you can likely relate to how your liver might feel about the workload!
Love your liver
Ease the burden on your natural detoxification processes with a few simple diet and lifestyle switches. Limit or avoid caffeine, alcoholic beverages and charred meats, and choose organic foods when possible. Improve your bowel function with a varied diet of fibre-rich fruits and vegetables, as constipation can lead to reabsorption of estrogen after it has been processed by liver.
You absolutely want to include cruciferous vegetables, including bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and turnips. These veggies are rich sources of sulfur-containing compounds known as glucosinolates. After undergoing breakdown in your stomach, glucosinolates produce indole-3-carbinole (I3C) which then transforms into various compounds, including 3,3'-diindolylmethane (DIM). Both I3C and DIM are involved in the metabolism and elimination of many xenobiotics, including drugs and estrogens, and studies suggest that these compounds promote healthy breast, cervical and endometrial tissue. Broccoli sprouts are especially high in sulphoraphane, which is a phytochemical that has been shown to stimulate production of detoxification enzymes that eliminate environmental estrogens.
If liver detoxification is a life-time road trip, you can think of support nutrients as comfort breaks along the ride. Herbs that calm symptoms of perimenopause and menopause include black cohosh for hot flashes and to improve sleep. Chastetree berry (vitex) has been shown to be helpful for mood, excess worry, food cravings and sleep. Sage and Dong quai can also improve hot flashes and perspiration (night sweats). Along with I3C and DIM, these herbs are available in supplement form for easy relief – and a more comfortable ride.
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