This amazing guest post was written by Holly Bertone, PMP, and CEO of Pink Fortitude! You can check out their website here!
Have you gone from a loving, wonderful woman to feeling completely out of control? Do you get angry for no reason and have mood swings of epic proportion? Has the brain fog taken over? Do you wake up covered in sweat in the middle of the night? Welcome to menopause, my friend!
We’ve called it “the change” for years, and back in the day, it was shameful to be discussed. Now, the topic is as hot as the flashes.
I was not ready for, nor expecting all the changes. Breast cancer was the perfect trifecta. It took away my hair, part of my breast, and my fertility. I was in full-blown menopause at the age of 39, and have been for the past seven years.
I wasn’t sad to say farewell to Aunt Flo coming to visit every month. The cramps, the bloating, the crankiness – gone. But now, rather than a relatively predictable monthly cycle of physical symptoms and emotions, it was all over the place. My hormones went completely rogue.
I’ve heard the jokes about menopausal women sticking their heads in the freezer due to the hot flashes. Yes, I did it. Too many times to count. The cramps and bloating were replaced with weight gain and permanent bloating. I had a stomach for the first time ever. I’m in menopause and look like I’m five months pregnant.
The monthly emotional shifts turned into downright unpredictability. I took a permanent vacation to Crazy Town. I’m normally even-tempered, but I now had zero control over my emotional state. It was like I was out of my body watching the actions of someone who I didn’t want to be and had no way of fixing it.
And the brain fog? Oh don’t even get me started! I used to be sharp and remembered everything! Now my brain is mush. I lose my thoughts mid-sentence. I have zero focus and it’s difficult to concentrate.
The good news, my friend, is that you are not alone. There are many things you can do to help find that place of homeostasis during menopause.
Banish the Brain Fog
Approximately two-thirds of women complain about brain fog and memory problems during menopause. Studies add to the growing body of research suggesting that cognitive decline and memory problems associated with menopause may be linked to fluctuating levels of hormones in the brain. (Source)
A study at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York found that women in their first post-menopausal year performed significantly worse on tests of verbal learning and memory, motor function, and attention and working memory than women who had not yet reached menopause.
Scientists with the University of Rochester study also found that the women’s reports of memory difficulties were associated with a lessened ability to keep and focus attention on a challenging task. That might include doing the taxes, maintaining sharp attention on the road during a long drive, completing a difficult report at work despite boredom, or getting through a particularly challenging book.
According to Pauline Maki, Director of Women’s Mental Health Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago, “In the months after a woman has her last period, hormonal changes are most abrupt. As a woman approaches menopause, the ovaries gradually produce less estrogen, which is crucial for thinking and remembering.”
Functional brain imaging studies confirm the memory problems and their link to hormonal changes. Estrogen modulates neural activity during performance of cognitive tasks. Doctors need to run complete diagnostics to ensure the cognition issues are not linked to something else, such as Alzheimer’s Disease.
Balance Your Hormones Naturally
Hormones are important to your overall health and well-being. Hormones are secreted by various glands and organs, with the entire endocrine system working together to control the level of hormones in your body. If one piece of this puzzle is out of balance, it can cause an imbalance across the board, causing possibly even greater health conditions. (Source)
It IS possible to balance your hormones naturally. While there is no “cure-all” for everyone, these are some steps you can take to improve your help and balance this life transition. Best practices for healthy hormones include addressing your emotions, practicing good nutrition, getting plenty of exercise and sleep, plus the use of essential oils and adaptogen herbs.
Address Your Emotions
According to Megan Buer, CECP, of Harmony Restored, “hormones and specifically menopause can greatly affect your mood. Specific negative emotions can trigger a hormone imbalance in the body that correlate to feelings of being overwhelmed, a lack of joy, feeling overlooked, and a pressure to be successful.”
Buer offers some great self-care advice. “Take a quiet minute to notice where your emotions may be coming from. Where can you take a step back, simplify, and release stress? Where can you ignite joy back into your life? Can you take a break this week and go to lunch with a friend? Can you stop what you are doing right now, go outside, and breath some fresh air into your body? Take a five-minute break to clear your mind and think about everything you are grateful for.”
Practice Good Nutrition
Women should strive to increase their intake of whole fruits and vegetables (five servings should be the MINIMUM) and limit or even eliminate (gasp) sugar, processed food, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, and caffeine. Additional nutrition protocols should include:
- Avoid high fructose corn syrup.
- Pile on the dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collards.
- Purchase organic produce or at least follow the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen.
- Eat primarily whole foods and limit processed foods.
- Drink half your body weight in ounces of water.
- Switch your coffee for tea or green tea.
- Load up on berries which provide antioxidants, and help to reduce oxidative stress and reduce inflammation.
- Avoid saturated and trans fats.
- Increase foods in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, walnuts, and flaxseed.
Get Plenty of Exercise
Be sure to exercise four to five times a week. Experts recommend a combination of cardiovascular activities, strength training, and flexibility. Walking and yoga are always great ways to get started!
Get Enough Sleep
Your hormones work on a schedule. By getting seven to nine hours of sleep every night, you are helping to maintain hormone balance. Cortisol, which is your primary stress hormone, is regulated at midnight. A healthy sleep cycle helps to keep your natural circadian rhythm on its natural schedule.
According to a report published in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism stated that “Stress can lead to changes in the serum level of many hormones including glucocorticoids, catecholamines, growth hormone and prolactin.” Sleep helps to keep these stress hormones balanced and helps your body to recover and regenerate every night.
Enjoy Essential Oils
Too many of us use conventional body care products made with hormone disrupting and harmful chemicals including DEA, parabens, phtlates, and sodium lauryl sulfate. Nowadays, there are so many products on the market that use all-natural ingredients and essential oils.
Essential oils can also be diffused in your home, added to your bath, and even homemade cleaning or beauty products. Hormone balancing essential oils include:
- Clary sage
Use Adaptogen Herbs
Adaptogen herbs are healing plants that help to promote hormone balance, boost your immune system, combat stress, and support your liver. Ashwagandha and holy basil (tulsi) are two in particular that are helpful at balancing and regulating hormones. (Source)
Additional hormone support may include:
- Meditation and/or prayer
- Deep breathing exercises
- Making time to do the things you love
- Reducing stress
- Massage therapy.
Additional Brain Support
Additional ways to support your brain during menopause include adding fats and supplements specifically targeted to help with cognition issues.
Consume Healthy Fats
The right kinds of fats are not your enemy. In fact, certain healthy fats are the key to balanced hormones and possibly even improved cognition and weight loss! Healthy fats to consume are high in short, medium, and long-chain fatty acids such as coconut oil, MCT oil, avocados, grass-fed butter, and wild-caught salmon. (Source)
Say “no” to omega-6 fats such as safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, canola oil, and peanut oil. Swap these for the healthy omega-3 fatty acids such as wild fish, flax seed, chia seeds, and walnuts.
I start every day with healthy fats and protein to balance my mood and wake up my brain for the day. An avocado smoothie or these breakfast biscuits are normally my go-to in the morning. One day, I was really cranky by lunch time and for no reason at all. I realized my breakfast that morning was more carb-centric, so I ate some leftover salmon from dinner the night before. The affect was almost immediate. I could literally feel my mood lighten up instantaneously.
They are called supplements for a reason. They are intended to supplement the nutrition you receive from the food you consume. Always ensure your supplements are sources from quality sources. These are a few to consider for brain health and menopausal hormone balance:
- Evening primrose oil
- Vitamin D
- Ginko biloba
Not everyone wants or needs hormone replacement. Many women going through menopause have a plethora of all-natural options available to help them maintain their quality of life during these changes. Always be sure to talk to your doctor about potential side effects of any prescription medicine you are taking, or any new health protocols.
Buer sums it up best. “Rebalancing hormones and making the most of your menopause transition doesn’t have to be difficult. Creating daily joy, taking up a new hobby, standing up for yourself and speaking your truth, and daily stress release practices are all things you can do to rebalance hormones.”
- Interview with Megan Buer, Harmony Restored
- Henderson, Victor W, MD, MS. “Cognitive Changes After Menopause: Influence of Estrogen.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2637911/#R1
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