Many women fear perimenopause, that time in life when a woman’s reproductive hormones start to downshift.
Indeed, perimenopause has gotten a bad reputation because it can be accompanied by a raft of unpleasant symptoms, including weight gain, mood swings, severe period problems (like heavy or irregular, bloating, and PMS), feeling tired all the time, lackluster skin and hair, thyroid issues, non-existent libido, and infertility.
But here’s what most women don’t know: these symptoms aren’t inevitable. Yes, the hormonal shifts during perimenopause are real, but the symptoms are optional. When you adopt a phase-based self-care routine, you can sidestep the unpleasant symptoms of perimenopause.
And don’t stop reading if you’re in your 20s and perimenopause is the last thing on your mind! If you’re experiencing any type of period problem or hormonal imbalance right now, your symptoms are a harbinger of things to come… and not in a good way. If you feel crummy now and you don’t take steps to balance your hormones, you stand to feel even worse during perimenopause.
What Is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause means “around menopause” and it starts for most women around age 35 and lasts until menopause (your very last bleed). Symptoms can crop up during perimenopause because of the inevitable hormonal shifts that happen as the body starts to move out of its childbearing orientation.
More specifically, perimenopause is characterized by uneven swings in estrogen, progesterone and androgens. These hormones follow a more or less even pattern during your 20s and early 30s, but they start to behave more erratically as you enter your late 30s and 40s and, as you get closer to menopause, they start to trend downward.
Environmental Factors Make Perimenopause Symptoms Worse
Now add in the fact that life in one’s late 30s and early 40s can be full of unique stressors: raising young children and teenagers, working long (often stressful) hours at the peak of one’s career, navigating busy family schedules, and caring for aging parents. This can send the stress hormone cortisol on its own frenzied roller coaster, so now in addition to shifts in reproductive hormones, a woman might be facing the symptoms of high cortisol, like feeling tired-but-wired all the time, never sleeping, intense sugar cravings, and imbalanced blood sugar.
Your level exposure to endocrine disrupting toxins also makes a difference in how well you’ll navigate perimenopause. Today there are more endocrine disruptors in the environment than ever before, and these chemicals can overwhelm the body’s detox system (which is in charge of getting rid of used-up hormones as well as toxins) and wreak a special kind of havoc on the thyroid, which is very sensitive to chemical exposure.
The Two Phases of Perimenopause
Perimenopause happens in two phases: Phase 1 and Phase 2. Today I’m going to focus on how you can ease symptoms and engage in cyclical self-care during Phase 1, but it’s important to understand both phases.
Phase 1 (35 to 45 years old)
This phase is when reproductive hormone production starts to shift and become less consistent. That said, if you’re in good hormonal health and you’re engaging in cyclical self-care (see my advice below) you shouldn’t feel symptoms during this phase. You should be ovulating and menstruating regularly and have good muscle tone, skin quality, energy, and sex drive. In other words, you should still be making enough hormones to feel vital and youthful. If you are experiencing symptoms like difficulty with fertility, vaginal dryness, accelerated skin aging, or dry hair (or all of the above), these are signs that your hormones need some TLC…ASAP!
Phase Two (45 to 55 years old)
During this phase, FSH levels rise to the point where you no longer ovulate. And while that sounds dramatic, this phase will be relatively smooth sailing if you’ve taken care of your hormonal health during Phase 1. However, many women let the symptoms they experience in Phase 1 go unaddressed and that compounds their symptoms in Phase 2.
But as I said earlier, extreme symptoms aren’t inevitable during perimenopuase. You can use targeted strategies in each phase to ease symptoms and feel your best.
Phase 1 Perimenopause: Symptoms & Solutions
I recommend that all women follow the same core food, supplement, and cyclical self-care strategies in Phase 1 to minimize perimenopause symptoms.
Then, if you are still don’t feel your best, you can customize the protocol by taking specific steps to address your unique symptoms.
Here are my three core strategies for every woman in perimenopause, followed by step you can take to address specific, lingering symptoms.
The 3 Core Strategies for a Symptom-Free Perimenopause
Strategy #1: Practice Phase-based eating. The first essential strategy for having a symptom-free perimenopause is to eat specific foods each week of your cycle, changing what you eat in each phase to support optimal hormone balance and metabolism.
This phase-based approach to eating provides the most variety of micronutrients to support overall hormonal balance. It also ensures that you’re getting key foods at critical times to break down the excess levels of estrogen that can cause breakouts and PMS. Not to mention that this approach will improve the quality of your bleed, support fertility, and boost sex drive, energy and mood.
You’ll enjoy a wide variety of cuisines when you start eating cyclically – macrobiotic, raw, ketogenic, Mediterranean, some intermittent fasting and not ever get stuck doing one day in and day out. Phase-based eating is the true differentiator for the FLO protocol. Everything about your diet and lifestyle should be relevant to your female biochemistry, and the FLO protocol ensures that.
Strategy #2: Engage in phase-based exercise. The cyclical nature of your 28-day menstrual cycle provides the perfect architecture for planning how to work out and when to work out.
During each phase of your menstrual cycle your body is primed for different kinds of exercise. At certain times—during the luteal phase and during menstruation, for example—the nutrients and hormones in your body are directed toward building up the lining up of your uterus, so you won’t have all the internal resources you need to workout at full capacity.
During the other phases, however, your body can channel all its resources into a really strong work out.
By engaging in phase-based exercise, you will save yourself from exhaustion, burn-out, and unpleasant perimenopause symptoms. Get my recommendations for what type of movement to engage in and when right here.
Strategy #3: Maximize Your Micronutrients. If you’re eating a whole-food, phase-based diet and you’re exercising in sync with your cycle, do you need to take supplements to have a symptom-free perimenopause?
Supplements are non-negotiable for keeping hormones balanced and stable as you enter Phase 1 perimenopause.
Food should always be your first strategy. To heal your hormones, you have to feed your body a micronutrient-rich diet of hormonally-supportive foods in a cycle-syncing pattern. There’s no single supplement that can make up for bad or inconsistent food choices. But supplementing with specific micronutrients gives the body the extra support it needs during times of hormonal transition.
More specifically, women near or in Phase 1 perimenopause should take:
B-complex. A deficiency in B vitamins can cause low energy and fatigue. B6 is a particularly important vitamin that can help boost progesterone production, which starts to wane during perimenopause. B6 also works with your liver enzymes to remove excess estrogen from the body.
Magnesium. Magnesium supports the production of FSH (follicular stimulating hormone) LH (luteinizing hormone) and TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), the critical hormones that signal other glands in the endocrine system to perform optimally. Low levels of those foundational hormones can be a factor in irregular ovulation and thyroid-function issues.
Liver detoxifier/estrogen metabolizer. Your liver plays a critical role in maintaining hormonal balance and keeping symptoms at bay. In order to detox efficiently, the liver needs a fully stocked supply of micronutrients and antioxidants. If your liver doesn’t have enough essential micronutrients, you’ll be more likely to develop menstrual, fertility, and libido problems in perimenopause.
Probiotics. A healthy microbiome is essential for managing hormonal conditions—and this is especially true as you enter perimenopause. Women age 35 to 45 need optimal gut health in order to absorb the key micronutrients they get in their food and supplement. Good gut health also means a healthy estrobolome, or the community of bugs in the gut that help metabolize excess estrogen.
D3-Omega-3 blend. Some studies suggest that optimal vitamin D levels support fertility and that they may improve metabolic markers in women with PCOS. Sufficient vitamin D might also have a protective effect against endometriosis, according to research. If you have either of these conditions, or if you’re trying to get pregnant in your late 30s or early 40s, optimal vitamin D levels are essential. Omega-3 fatty acids support a nearly countless list of optimal physiological functions, from supporting mood and helping with anxiety to helping stabilizing blood sugar (which is essential for hormone balance).
Specific Strategies for Lingering Perimenopause Symptoms
Once you’ve put my 3 core strategies in place, you will start to feel better. But you may still need additional support in certain areas. That’s normal. Here are some of the common symptoms unique to perimenopause and additional steps you can take to help ease them:
Irregular, heavy, or painful periods. Try taking Vitex, also called chasteberry. It has been shown to support regular ovulation and healthy progesterone levels. But proceed with caution if you have PCOS. In some women with PCOS, certain reproductive hormones are already high and Vitex may raise those hormones even further, which you don’t want.
PMS/PMDD. Studies also suggest that Vitex, also called Chasteberry, may help improve symptoms of PMS and PMDD. One study even found that Vitex outperformed fluoxetine (generic name for Prozac) for easing symptoms of PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder).
Fertility struggles. By supporting regular ovulation and healthy hormone levels, Vitex can be a great choice for fertility support during perimenopause. Research that looked at a proprietary blend of herbs that included Vitex found that the supplement supported fertility without negative side effects. (Don’t combine Vitex with fertility drugs, however, because that can lead to over stimulation of the ovaries) CoQ10 has also been shown to help improve egg quality.
Depression and irritability. Try taking maca powder, which studies suggest may help improve symptoms of depression. Some animal research also suggests that maca may help with cognitive function and concentration.
Weight gain. Try alpha lipoic acid, which helps support healthy blood sugar and insulin balance and, in turn, healthy weight loss and healthy weight maintenance. The compound may also guard against bone loss. ALA also helps support and nourish the liver and optimal liver function is essential for getting rid of excess estrogen and keeping reproductive hormones balanced. Alpha lipoic acid is one the key ingredients in the my Balance Detox supplement.
Dull skin and hair. A high-quality omega-3 supplement will help nourish dry skin and hair. Also, an obvious tip, but one that often gets overlooked and under-appreciated: stay hydrated! This works wonders for skin and hair.
Low sex drive. Studies suggest that maca may help boost sex drive in menopausal women, and other research found that maca may act as a “toner of hormonal processes” in early post-menopausal women. Additional research has shown that maca may help with low libido as a side effect of taking SSRI antidepressant medications in menopausal women. The adaptogenic herb ashwagandha may also help support sexual function in women.
Stress and anxiety. Taming stress requires a multipronged approach, one that includes lifestyle modifications, exercise, and more. But adaptogenic herbs can be a powerful part of your stress-reduction arsenal. I recommend ashwagandha, which research suggests is a safe and effective way to build up resistance to stress and improve self-reported quality of life. Holy Basil is another great choice for stress and anxiety support, according to research.
Coming Off Birth Control to Conceive. If you’re coming off birth control after many years on the pill, I recommend several important steps for hormone healing and fertility support. But one of the best things you can do is prioritize eating leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. These foods help support estrogen metabolism in the liver and bring your hormones back into balance after years of hormonal birth control.
Thyroid issues. With thyroid concerns, your first best bet is always to consult a trusted healthcare practitioner. You’ll want to run thyroid lab tests and discuss next steps with a licensed professional. But you’ll also want to make it a top priority to avoid endocrine-disrupting chemicals as much as possible. The thyroid is uniquely sensitive to endocrine disruptors. I recommend ALL women take steps to protect themselves from these environmental chemicals, but it is especially critical if your are working to heal your thyroid.
Always remember, that once you have the right information about how your body really works, you can start making health choices that finally start to work for you! You can do this – the science of your body is on your side!
BALANCE by FLO Living Hormone Supplement Kit
Because you’ve asked for hormone-friendly supplement recommendations, I created a solution that I am so thrilled to be able to offer to you on your hormonal balancing journey:
Balance by FLO Living Supplements are a complete package that work together to keep your hormone levels healthy. They include a 2 month (2 cycle) supply of the following formulations so you’re never caught short in any phase of your cycle.
When you take these 5 supplements daily, you’ll be giving your body excellent micronutrients to support healthier hormone levels. Which means that you’ll start to see your worst period symptoms get better… and even disappear after a while.