During a lifetime most women will curse their periods, suffer with PMS and other related troubles, but many may not stop to think what a monthly menstrual cycle actually means: in essence, each month, a woman loses an egg. The sobering fact is that there is not an infinite supply of eggs and that each woman is unique in the amount of eggs she produces in a lifetime. Some women go on to produce eggs into their fifties, while the majority stop around 52. For some, the last eggs are produced before age 45 - and this is known as premature menopause.
So how can you tell if you are going through this change?
Firstly, it's important to remember that before menopause there is a stage of pre menopause that produces the same symptoms of early menopause. For this reason, your doctor can perform two tests to check your hormone levels. The first is a blood test to see if a form of oestrogen (called estradiol) is low. If this is the can mean that your ovaries are beginning to fail. The other test is more accurate and more important: FSH (or follicle stimulating hormone) and when your ovaries start slowing down production of oestrogen, FSH increases (with levels rising to above 40 miu/ml signalling premature menopause).
If your mother or sister went through the change of life early, or if you have been trying to fall pregnant for over a year, you should speak to your doctor about these tests or look into natural ways of balancing and regulating hormones.
There are also signs that your hormones may be unbalanced and that you may be experiencing an early change of life.
• Missed or irregular periods
• Hot flashes or sensation of warmth spreading across the upper body
• Periods that are heavier or lighter than usual
Along with the signs of decreased oestrogen above, you may also experience:
• Vaginal dryness
• Bladder incontinence or irritability
• Mood swings - irritability or mild depression
• Dry mouth, skin or eyes
• Loss of sex drive
A study in 2012 found that chemicals in common items such as cosmetic make-up, plastics and household cleaners (called phthalates) could cause women to go through menopause earlier than usual. Dr Grindler, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Washington University's School of Medicine and an author of the study, said that "these chemicals have the potential to affect ovarian function and reproduction".
The study looked at 5,700 women and the levels of phthalates in their blood and urine. Those with the highest levels of phthalates were experiencing menopause significantly earlier than the other women. Dr Grindler also stated that some women may be reaching menopause in their mid-30s due to exposure to the chemicals in make-up and eating packaged foods.
In another recent study, phthalates were linked to reproductive abnormalities in mice (Reprod Toxicol. 2012 Dec;34(4):614-21. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2012.09.006. Epub 2012 Oct 3. Non-monotonic dose effects of in utero exposure to di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) on testicular and serum testosterone and anogenital distance in male mouse fetuses. Do RP, Stahlhut RW, Ponzi D, Vom Saal FS, Taylor JA.
What can be done to counteract the harm and help prevent hormone imbalances?
The good news is that a lot that can be done to support normal hormone production in the female body and help keep hormones balanced without harm. For example, a natural alternative to HRT therapy is Don Quai, a natural hormone regulator.
• Endo-Ex can help with painful symptoms of endometriosis
• Femalite assists with symptoms of PMS
• MellowPause helps address menopause symptoms that have already started (great one for getting rid of hot flushes)
• Don Quai regulates healthy hormone levels for women.
What else can help?
The best source of keeping hormones healthy, is diet and exercise.
Here are 5 useful hormone healthy tips:
1. Avoid vegetable oil, peanut oil, canola oil, soybean oil, margarine and all chemically altered fats. Choose natural fats like coconut oil, olive oil and eat lots of high Omega-3 fish.
2. Avoid coffee and switch to herbal teas. Caffeine can wreak havoc on hormones.
3. Avoid toxins - this includes food that has been altered by pesticides! Eat organic!
4. Bad sleep patterns lead to disrupted hormonal signals in the body. Sleep well and sleep soundly.
5. Exercise lightly and use light weights. Mild exercise and weight resistance trigger a cascade of beneficial hormone reactions.