Last week I had the pleasure of chatting to Rachel Sherriff, founder of Oxted Acupuncture for our 'Get a Handle on Your Hormones' Facebook live. We covered SO MUCH that I had to write this blog on some of the top questions we answered together.
If you missed it, the full Facebook live is available to watch back here.
What's the difference between perimenopause and menopause?
The menopause is when you have not had a period for a whole year. Whereas, the perimenopause is when you experience some of the same hormonal symptoms as the menopause before you actually start the menopause. This can go on for years before you enter the menopause. Some of these symptoms include:
Low mood or anxiety
How can I tell if I have a hormone imbalance?
The most common hormone imbalance we see in women is between oestrogen and progesterone, says Rachel. There is a kind of seesaw effect between oestrogen and progesterone because as one goes up, the other will go down.
Hormone Myth Debunked: One myth Rachel says she often hears is that menopausal symptoms are a result of a lack of oestrogen but in fact, it’s often oestrogen dominance (too much oestrogen and not enough progesterone) causing the problems.
Many signs of hormone imbalance are similar to that of the menopause but can also include:
Bad, excessive PMS
Really heavy, painful periods
Is it normal to have painful periods or severe menopausal symptoms?
Rachel says women are primed to accept a variety of menopausal and menstrual cycle symptoms that are not actually normal, and are in fact very treatable.
She says the 4 things you should look out for and seek help if you notice them, are:
Too much pain. If you are in significant pain consistently, it’s your body telling you something isn’t right.
Excessive flow e.g flooding. You may have a very heavy flow every now and again but if you are constantly worried about leaking, this is something that should and can be treated.
Excessive PMT/PMS. If your symptoms go on for several days before your period, it may be a sign that something’s not in balance.
Negative impact on your life. If hormonal symptoms are having a big impact on your life e.g. interfering with sleep, this is not okay and is something you should seek help for.
I’ve been having hot flushes in the night and I think I am perimenopausal, what can I do?
Look for other symptoms: Rachel says that with the arrival of any hormonal symptom like a hot flush, you should always look out for any other signs and symptoms.
Get your hormones checked at the GP: Rachel recommends getting your hormones checked at GP where they would perform a blood test to get to the bottom of whats going on with your hormones.
Try progesterone cream: Often hormonal symptoms are a result of oestrogen dominance. If so, you could use a progesterone cream for this. The cream can be ordered online and is applied topically as Rachel says this is the best way to absorb progesterone.
Assess your lifestyle: It’s also a good idea to take a step back to assess what part of your lifestyle may be having an effect. Maybe your symptoms have been worse during lockdown? Have you been sleeping worse? Eating worse? All these things can have an effect.
What does stress have to do with my hormones?
When you’re stressed, your body goes into fight or flight mode where blood is taken away from body systems like the hormone system to deal with the ‘dangerous situation’. Lack of blood supply means the hormone system will not be functioning optimally and may cause issues with fertility and menopause etc.
Rachel explains that high levels of stress = more cortisol, and the hormone, progesterone, is actually made from cortisol. So when stress is high, the body steals what it needs from progesterone to make more cortisol, which can lower our progesterone levels. This can have a negative effect on you because progesterone is key for things like our menstrual cycles and the menopause.
Coping with stress: It’s important to try to recognise stress so you can address it early, Rachel says. Women are primed that we should always be doing something, we should always be busy. But you must remember that it’s okay to take some time for yourself - you don’t need to do the ironing every spare minute you get!
There are lots of things that you can do to release stress but really it’s all about enjoyment. I know at the moment with lockdown we can’t do all the things we normally do for fun like go out for dinner but try to find enjoyment in the things we CAN do.
Read my blog on breaking the stress-weight gain cycle here.
What are the best things to help my hormone health?
I always take a holistic approach with my patients, Rachel says. Whatever your symptoms, I always find it useful to look at your sleep, exercise, and diet. If you don’t have balance with those 3 things, it's unlikely you’ll have balance in your hormones.
Nourish yourself: with diet, it's important to stay in tune with your body and read the signals
it gives you. Your body is very clever and will tell you what types of foods you need during different times of the month. My advice is to always think less processed, more natural! When you are craving something sweet, it doesn’t have to mean sweets, cakes, biscuits etc - it may mean starchy foods like grains and sweet potatoes that are high in fibre, which is what your body is really craving.
Improve your sleep: the link between sleep and hormones is often missed but the release of hormones is actually linked to night and day. Have you ever had your period come late after travelling on a long haul flight? That's because your body has got confused with the time change, and so it pumps out wrong hormone quantities at the wrong time.
Your hormones can be affected by blue light too, so put electronics away at night and try to stick to a regular sleep pattern. A regular wake up time is in more important than regular bedtime, according to Rachel. If you have trouble sleeping that is anxiety-induced, maybe try valerian root or some acupuncture? Rachel recommends you try a few different things and find what's good for you (For 10 steps to better quality sleep, read here.)
Keep active: exercise helps flush out excess hormones like liver through sweat, and it also helps with liver and bowel function which are both important for getting rid of excess hormones.
FREE Download Alert: Download our 28-Day cycle guide to understand your food, mood and hormones during each time of the month here.