Understanding Your Hormonal Phases

During her years of menses a woman will experience hormonal phases which correlate directly with her menstrual cycle.

Over her lifetime, she will experience not only this normal ebb and flow of monthly hormonal changes, but, as her ovarian function begins to wane and her body produces fewer hormones, she will transition into other hormonal phases as well, each one with its own unique set of emotional and physical symptoms.

Many women transition through these phases with little to no problems at all, while others have great difficulty. Understanding these different hormonal phases and how they affect your body will help you gain some measure of control during these transitions, easing the symptoms.

Phase 1:  Normal Hormones – The Steady State

In the normal hormone phase, your hormones are functioning in a relatively stable and predictable manner.  Regular menstrual cycles are occurring and estrogen and progesterone levels are normal. Though there may be a slight difference in how you feel day to day, there is no drastic increase in symptoms just prior to your period.

Some women complain of anxiety and depression during this phase and believe they are suffering from PMS.  However, there is no cyclic pattern to emotional symptoms during this phase, so it is more likely that stress or nutritional issues are the underlying problem.  Understanding your emotional type and the specific challenges for your type, along with addressing stress or nutritional issues often helps to alleviate many of these problems.

Phase 2: PMS – The Cyclical Crazy Zone

Most women begin to experience a decline in their hormones beginning in their mid to late thirties. As progesterone levels drop, anovulatory cycles may occur – cycles without ovulation – though regular periods still occur.  Also during this phase, many women complain of a wide range of symptoms which begin prior to the onset of their period.

Rage, irritability, anxiety, depression, uncontrollable crying, and a sense of losing control are common complaints. However, once a period starts, the symptoms disappear and she feels fine.  Research has shown there is a direct correlation between the symptoms of PMS and the decline of progesterone in a woman’s body.  Other studies suggest that serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters in your brain responsible for mood regulation, plays a key role in PMS symptoms as well.

But, how do you know if you are experiencing PMS or if you are in another hormonal phase such as perimenopause? The key is your emotional symptoms.  If you are suffering from PMS your symptoms will escalate prior to the onset of menstruation.  Once your period begins the symptoms disappear and you feel normal again.

Bio-identical progesterone is effective in treating the symptoms during the PMS hormonal phase.  By raising the progesterone levels in your body, a calming effect is created, reducing the symptoms of anxiety, irritability and rage.  Progesterone also offsets any high estrogen levels in your body, bringing other symptoms such as heavy bleeding and clotting under control as well.

Nutritional support also helps during this phase as well.  Supplements such as 5-HTP, B6 complex, and magnesium raise the levels of serotonin in the brain, stabilizing moods and promoting relaxation.

It is important to remember when distinguishing between PMS and perimenopause that symptoms disappear during the PMS phase once your period begins. If you are in perimenopause, however, the symptoms continue.

Phase 3: Perimenopause – The Irrational Erratic Zone

Perimenopause is the hormonal phase that takes place before actual menopause. It lasts anywhere from five to ten years and is the phase where women experience the most intense emotional distress and physical symptoms.

In fact, the symptoms are so intense and wildly unpredictable in perimenopause that many women feel they are going insane. Intense mood swings, depression, anxiety, rage, irritability, hot flashes and night sweats are common symptoms. What’s worse, the symptoms do not disappear when menstruation begins. Instead, they tend to linger.

Changes in the length of cycles also begin to occur during this phase. Periods may be closer together or farther apart.  They may be heavy with clotting and cramping or they may be spotty and scant.

Estrogen levels are also erratic and may spike to compensate for progesterone levels that continue to drop.  Headaches, heart palpitations, vertigo and dizziness are not uncommon as estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate.

Like the PMS phase, bio-identical progesterone and nutritional supplements are quite helpful for women in perimenopause. Lifestyle changes, exercise, taking steps to relieve stress, and even acupuncture can provide relief from some of the more intense symptoms.

Actively charting symptoms throughout the month also helps.  Many women find that noting the shifts and changes which occur, not only gives them insight into what is happening, but helps them feel more in control as well.

Phase 4: Menopause – The Flat Zone

Menopause literally means the “pause” or cessation of your menstrual cycles, and occurs on average around the age of fifty-two.  Once a woman reaches actual menopause she has not had a menstrual cycle for twelve consecutive months, though some women may have an occasional period even after menopause.

After the years of unpredictable, hormonal chaos during perimenopause, one would think that most women would welcome menopause – and certainly, many do. But, menopause also brings a hormonal phase for some women where they feel flat and lifeless.

The zest and exuberance for life is no longer there.  Apathy and listlessness take their place instead. “I don’t care anymore,” they may say.  “I don’t care, and I don’t care that I don’t care!”

Symptomatically, menopause and perimenopause look very similar and are not always easy to differentiate.  Women in menopause may also experience mood swings, night sweats, hot flashes, and insomnia.  However, it is the consistency of the symptoms combined with no monthly cycle that distinguishes menopause from perimenopause.

Treatment for menopause requires a combination of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone hormone therapy in order to feel better.  Your body is no longer producing progesterone and estrogen levels are very low. For many women, bio-identical estrogen is fundamental. Not only can it alleviate hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings, but it helps restore the sense of well being often lost during menopause.

It is important to work closely with your health care professional when taking estrogen.  Though it is a very beneficial and necessary hormone, it can cause problems if not taken properly.  Of course, with all hormone replacement therapy, it is important to monitory how you feel and make adjustments when necessary.



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