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Hormones, Perimenopause, Menopause

These three words are often used among women. So often we hear how important it is to balance our hormones. But what does that really mean? And how do we balance something that changes day to day or moment by moment? 
 
I didn’t really understand the process of menopause until I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Cancer. As I was going through my treatments, my body welcomed me into perimenopause. Wow! For a girl who was usually cold, I would break into a sweat just by getting up. And to top things off, it was a humid July.
 
I remember growing up and hearing my mom and aunts talk about menopause, and the older aunts warning the younger ones what was to come. From hot flashes, chills, to being super emotional, and so forth. Surprisingly, no one was looking forward to it. 
 
Menopause is usually talked about as this mysterious process that we, as women, just HAVE to go through. No one knows how long it will take...how bad it will be...or when it will start.

Therefore, we are destined to a life of layers, as we boomeranged from hot flashes to being chilled in the same moment. All the while, dealing with our emotions as they swing in all directions. It's no wonder why we turn to food for comfort. 
 
So, what if the very foods we turn too is making it worse? What if there were foods we could use to help us with this balancing act called...menopause? That is what I wanted to find out. 
 
But what exactly is menopause? The best way to understand how to help our bodies stay hormonally balanced is by understanding what is happening. 
 
Perimenopause: is the body’s natural transition to menopause. This can last for years and start as early as your 30’s. However, it’s more common to happen in your 40’s. When you enter perimenopause, your estrogen levels will go up and down, which results in changes with your menstrual cycle.
 
Menopause: is when the body has not had a menstrual cycle for 12 consecutive months. 
 
Endocrine System/ Hormones: is the system that releases hormones from the glands to help stabilize your internal responses, for example, like your metabolism, energy, and stress. Hormones respond and tell our glands what we need more or less of to help the body become balanced. The most known glands consist of thyroid, adrenal, kidney, pancreas, ovaries, and pituitary.
 
But how can we tell if we’re experiencing menopausal symptoms?
You may have the following:
  • irregular periods/ vaginal dryness
  • hot flashes/ chills
  • trouble sleeping/ fatigue
  • mood swings like irritability/ anxiety/ depression
  • weight gain
 
Plus, these things may actually make our symptoms worse.
  • poor diet that leads to obesity
  • dairy
  • alcohol
  • stress
  • insomnia
 
But can’t I just take a pill and feel better?
Absolutely! Here are some common treatments recommended to deal with perimenopause:
Hormone Therapy: this is to help balance your estrogen levels. This can come in the form of a pill, cream, or even a skin patch. 
Antidepressants: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors antidepressants can be prescribed to help reduce the intensity of your hot flashes or to help with depression or anxiety. (this is what was prescribed to me)
Vaginal Estrogen: this is to help with the vagina’s dryness during this time. It usually comes in a cream, ring, or a tablet which releases a little bit of estrogen.
Gabapentin: usually for those who have been diagnosed for seizures, this pill can also help with minimizing hot flashes and for migraines. 
 
BUT HERE"S THE DOWN SIDE...when you stop taking these, it has been known to make your symptoms even worse. I know this is true from experience! That’s why I always recommend to first do it as natural as possible. You may have to add conventional medicine later, but at least you're supporting your body to the fullest degree.
 
Here are 6 foods to avoid that will help make your transition easier.
  1. Processed Foods/ Fast Foods: these “food” like substances is filled with extra ingredients like sugar, fat, wheat, soy, and artificial flavors and colors. Not only do they offer little to no nutritional value, but it can possibly increase your weight.
  2. Spicy Food: the capsaicin in hot peppers not only heat up your mouth, but they'll also heat you up, making your whole body sweat. 
  3. Limit Alcohol: this can lead to extra weight and empty calories, along with disrupting your endocrine system. 
  4. Sugar/ Sugary Drinks: the sucrose can drastically affect our weight and our metabolism.
  5. Saturated Fats: is a huge contributor to increased weight and higher LDL levels.
  6. Caffeine: (one of the things I love) increases the blood flow that can increase the frequency of your hot flashes.
 
And here are 8 foods to begin including to help balance your hormones. Wahoo!
  1. Sea Vegetables: this is a great source of iodine which helps support your thyroid in producing hormones.
  2. Soy: this helps to balance your estrogen levels. Just make sure you are getting non-GMO/ organic soy. You can grab soy milk, edamame, tofu, tempeh, or miso.
  3. Flaxseed: is an amazing source of omega 3’s, which help balance your hormones as you go through perimenopause.
  4. Brazil Nuts: a great source of magnesium, which helps reduce oxidative stress in the body.
  5. Broccoli Sprouts: not only is this a tasty cruciferous vegetable, but it is power packed because it is sprouted. Eating sprouted food makes what we eat more nutrient dense. Because of the sulforaphane in broccoli, this is another great ingredient to help reduce oxidative stress. 
  6. Turmeric: a vivid spice that loves to stain anything it touches, it's also wonderful at reducing inflammation in the body because of its curcumin properties. This is so helpful as our bodies are constantly in a state of flux.
  7. Dandelion Tea: who knew this weed could be so healing to the body. The phytochemicals in dandelions have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These two things are amazing in supporting our overall health.
  8. Whole Grains: like quinoa or brown rice, it helps stabilize your insulin levels and reduce inflammation.
I hope this list helps you begin to minimize your menopausal symptoms. Unfortunately, for us women, there's no getting around perimenopause no matter what we do. 

However, we can be mindful to eat foods that support our hormones (or endocrine system), along with reducing our inflammation and waistline. By eating whole nutrient dense foods, we can support our bodies natural process of change.
 
Can we guarantee that perimenopause will be easy? Unfortunately, no. 
Can we predict how long it will take us to finally pass to menopause? Uh...no. 

But we can make it easier on our bodies. Not only will we become more hormonally balanced, but we will also have energy, great skin, and sleep better too! 

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