Are you in your late 30s or early 40s?
Maybe those years are close, or maybe you can remember what they were like…
I’m 43 — too young for menopause! But that doesn’t mean that the estrogen in my body isn’t changing its tune.
Most medical doctors don’t mention perimenopause, but its symptoms can be more pronounced even than the symptoms associated with menopause!
What Is Perimenopause?
It is the stage of transition before menopause (the time a woman stops menstruating completely).
A couple years ago, I felt better than I ever had before. I’d gained a bit of healthy weight, my sex drive was the best ever, and I felt healthy and vibrant! My doctor noticed all of this and mentioned that my increased estrogen levels were due to 2 things.
First, the personal healing I’d achieved. Second, my age.
Estrogen spikes aren’t all positive, however. They can also cause heavy periods, breast tenderness, abnormal pap smears, and irritability (source and source).
And ironically, perimenopause can bring estrogen crashes as well. The crashes may feel more like the symptoms we associate with menopause: hot flashes, urinary incontinence, headaches, and depression (source).
Another kind of perimenopause — easier to experience, yet less common — has symptoms that include a slow, gradual decline in estrogen, increasingly lighter periods, and only occasional, mild insomnia. Some women also experience a truly premature menopause. This is due either to surgery or health-related issues, such as an autoimmune condition.
What’s Happening Emotionally?
Another surprise? Perimenopause can be the greatest new beginning in a woman’s life.
We all know the triumphs of being young: getting to drive, getting married, having babies… Now, I’ve even witnessed the joy that being a grandmother brings to a woman’s life. My mother’s life has blossomed with her love for my children!
40 isn’t spoken of as often. Yet an opera should be written in its honor — it’s sexy and awesome to be 40!
This is the time in healthy woman’s life when she has the opportunity to be proud of who she is, everything she’s accomplished, and what she can do.
Speaking from personal experience, I am more confident — yet duly humbled, too — at 40. I feel wiser, I love my husband and my kids, and I enjoy the little moments. I can say “I’m sorry”. And I’m excited to hike to the top of most mountains, enjoying the sweat along the way!
All the issues that weren’t resolved during puberty and early adulthood—such as body image, relationships, vocation, fear of aging, and self-esteem issues—now arise once more to be healed and completed (source).
How about you?
I’ve painted a pretty picture, yet it may be more complicated. The decrease in some women’s testosterone levels can also mean a lessened sex drive, a decreased sense of well-being, and less energy or ambition.
Yet, there’s a ray of hope in supplementation!
How To Use Progesterone Safely
In all of this talk about estrogen, I skipped one little detail…
I’ve been supplementing with progesterone cream for years.
Progesterone balances estrogen! Right when our estrogen levels start spiking, progesterone levels start dropping. That’s when we need it the most! While estrogen excites, we need a hormone to calm.
For some women, perimenopause and its accompanying estrogen spikes/crashes mean increased risk for heart disease, breast cancer, memory loss, arthritis, depression, thyroid issues, and bone loss.
The goal, then, is to prevent estrogen spikes and crashes.
Natural progesterone — also called bioidentical progesterone or micronized progesterone — is different than synthetic progesterone, which can cause side effects. Use topically or in pill form. Consult your practitioner for the use best suited to your body and to learn how to use progesterone safely. Leading naturopathic and functional doctors suggest 20 milligrams of progesterone before bed (source and source).
The cream (also available in pre-dosed packets) best absorbs through thin-skinned areas rich in capillaries, such as the face, neck, hands, upper chest, inner things, and inner arms. I use the cream only during the 2nd half of my cycle — the luteal phase.
Finally, why might we need this supplementation? Some speculate that insecticides and other petrochemicals have greatly reduced fertility and healthy hormones (source). Within 10 years of Israel banning insecticides, incidents of breast cancer improved by 50% (source).
By the age of 35, most women are not producing enough progesterone. Stress, poor diets, and inactivity also contribute (source).
Other Ways To Support Your Body’s Changes
Reduce stress, cut out sugar, reduce caffeine and alcohol consumption, get good sleep (yes, 8 hours is ideal), and make time to relax or heal (source). You’ve heard these before, and they’re true! What does your body need? Listen and respond accordingly.
To help your body produce more progesterone, consider increasing your Vitamin C intake to the recommended 750 milligrams daily (source).
Some doctors also recommend Vitex, or chaste tree, instead of progesterone cream. My doctor told me to stay on yam-based progesterone cream because it’s been working for me for years. However, if you’re interested, 500 to 1000 milligrams daily is recommended.
Dosage is highly personal and can be determined with a doctor’s assistance. It is available in capsule or tincture form. Learn about possible dangers and how to use Vitex here. (Source.)
Why has perimenopause been so great for me? I started supplementing with progesterone cream in my mid to late 30s.
What do I have to look forward to now? A better menopause.
Experts say that a smooth perimenopause will likely transition to a less dramatic menopause. So, if you dread hot flashes and night sweats, look into balancing your hormones sooner rather than later!
Also, make sure your doctor prescribes bioidentical progesterone, not synthetic progesterone. (Source and source.)
What have your experiences been with perimenopause? I’d love to hear!
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Great article on a much needed topic. One caution, please make sure to test levels at the midpoint of your luteal phase. This is when progesterone peaks for the cycle and it gives a great picture of how balanced your estrogen and progesterone are.
Symptoms of low and high hormones can get tricky to figure out so it’s always best to test to make sure.
I’ve been supplementing estrogen since May and it was the best decision I’ve made in awhile. My libido has returned from its waay too long vacation and I have more energy.
I love how you worded this. We need to know how to live strong.
Megan Stevens says
Thanks for your suggestions and comments. I, too, needed to supplement with estrogen for a short period of time, until I regained my health. And then my estrogen levels returned on their own.
This post may be helpful, too. I had a PM about the possibility of using sublingual progesterone instead of cream or chaste berry/Vitex. This post discusses why ingesting progesterone orally is inexact and not recommended except in the case of migraine headaches, in which case it can be helpful: http://clearwoman.com/natural-progesterone/oral-vs-topical-vs-vaginal-vs-rectal/
Kat Wolcott says
hello Megan! i was surfing the web researching “whey” and ran across your most interesting article on the subject of perimenopause. i knew nothing about this time of a woman’s life. Allow me to change that comment. I felt this difference in my life, i just didn’t know there was a name for it and i surely didn’t know other women felt this way. When i have conversations with people, they all want to go back to being “young” again. Not i. I tell them the youngest i would go back to is somewhere between 38 and 40 years old. Starting at that age and the following 5 years were honestly the best years of my life. My youth was full of emotional confusion, paralyzing extreme self consciousness, inhibiting body image delusions (oh no, i’m too fat, too short, i smell, my feet are too big…..) i slowly grew out of that and by 38-40 BAMM i felt like i grew into my own. I felt like i accepted my self and i started to celebrate the woman i was. OH, i had the world by the short hairs hee hee hee. i was the most attractive that i had ever been in my life at that age. i was done with all that self conciousness. i realized i was intelligent and i didn’t hide it. i really felt like i was blossoming. i’m 55 years old now. unfortunately that era of my life is over, i’m sure my body isn’t producing that mixture of hormones anymore. i have fond memories though. You women who are coming up to that age or who are right in the middle of it PLEASE don’t take it for granted. Enjoy everyday of it because i know it is a gift from God.
Megan Stevens says
Hi Kat, thank you for your comments and for sharing your experiences. What you said is so true. Okay, will do, thoroughly enjoying my 40s. 🙂 xo and blessings!
My naturopath doctor has prescribed bio identical progesterone suppositories. I find it to be so much better aND easier for me.
Megan Stevens says
I’m so glad. That may indeed be perfect for your body. The above article I link to gives one warning in regard to this administration: “However, that area of the body is drained by the rectal plexus. The rectal plexus is a network of veins that that drain in part to the portal vein. The portal vein goes straight to the liver. Therefore, some of the progesterone absorbed either by the rectum or vagina goes straight to the liver through the portal vein and is first pass metabolized 90%. Thus, progesterone absorbed by the vagina or rectum is less than the progesterone put onto the arm or leg or trunk. The total body dose taken up by the vagina or rectum is less than if you put natural progesterone on the skin directly.”
Tracey Lackey says
Which link above shows that “the total body dose taken up by the vagina or rectum is less than if you put natural progesterone on the skin directly”?
I have extensive personal experience that this is not the case as well as fairly extensive research regarding infertility and IVF. Nearly every major IVF center prescribes progesterone cream to ONLY be used intravaginally because they have found this is the only way to effectively raise serum values to therapeutic levels.
Also, there are many many anecdotal accounts all over the internet of women who applied progesterone topically to fatty areas and discovered that the progesterone “got stuck” which ending up causing a fair number of problems later on when that fatty area was accessed and the progesterone was released.
Thanks for your help! 🙂
Megan Stevens says
Hi Tracey, here’s a link to the article I mention above, by Dr. John Lee: http://clearwoman.com/natural-progesterone/oral-vs-topical-vs-vaginal-vs-rectal/ Here’s a link to his book, which gives a bit of background on his work: http://amzn.to/2cyoYkK Ultimately, we each have to decide what we believe intellectually and what we know works best for our own bodies. Thank you for sharing your experience, research and concern.
Paula R says
Dr. Mercola also suggests intra vaginal application. He says that applying to outer skin areas eventually cause cortisol spikes and significantly lessens absorption overall. I’m following his advice but have noticed PH being off. So I switch it up now. Some outer skin areas and sometimes inner application.
Chandra Christmas says
How about if you are already in menopause? I need some information on that please.
Megan Stevens says
Hi Chandra, it’s beyond the scope of this article to address menopause. I wish you luck finding a naturally-minded functional or naturopathic physician who can guide you. 🙂
Wardee Harmon says
Take a look at this book, “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause”:
Thank you for posting this on FB today. It was so timely, as a I just started bio-identical progesterone cream three days ago. I had gotten tested, and my progesterone was almost non-existent (even when it should have been at its highest!). I’m only 35, so I was shocked to find these changes happening so soon. I am grateful, though, that we’ve had our children and that we got pregnant easily at the time. I’m also grateful that you mentioned libido. For the past several months, mine has been gone. I was wondering what the heck was wrong with me, but it all makes so much more sense now. Thank you, Megan!