October 31, 2009

#8 A Good Night's Sleep

Insomnia is an issue for many women during perimenopause. Insomnia caused by hot flashes will resolve with hot flash treatment (see solution #9). Anxiety is another source of insomnia. Sleep disturbances are magnified by the fact that, like teenagers, we suddenly require greater amounts of sleep due to the transitions taking place in our bodies.

Here are some tips for a better night’s sleep:
  • Don’t go to bed on a full stomach. A healthy snack before bedtime can be helpful. The snack should be high in protein and low in carbohydrates – fresh fruit, cheese, lean meat, cottage cheese.
  • Antioxidants, Magnesium and Calcium supplements once or twice a day can also support refreshing sleep. Too little magnesium is common, and can cause you to wake up repeatedly during the night.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Sleep in the dark, cover mirrors in your bedroom, remove the TV.
  • Develop and adhere to a going to bed ritual. Sleep the same time on weekends as weekdays. Change into your jammies and complete bedtime hygiene ½ hour before bedtime to signal your body it’s time to wind down.
  • Be your own editor: don’t read, watch or discuss anything disturbing just before bedtime.
  • Get the ‘gerbil wheel’ out of your head! When you have trouble turning your brain off from the worries of the day, things said, things undone or the to do list for tomorrow – start with a few deep breaths and a prayer. Another way to tame the brain is to write down everything that is bothering you. You’ll have a fresh perspective to tackle the list in the morning.
  • If you’re still having trouble sleeping, get out of bed and take a natural sleep aid, like valerian root to help re-establish good sleep patterns.

Now I lay me down to sleep . . . good night!

October 29, 2009

#7 Natural Supplements

The use of natural food supplements (a.k.a vitamins) is a massive topic with hundreds of books and articles offering help for frazzled hormones – but sorting through it all can frazzle your nerves! Many women assume that if they eat a nutritious diet, they have no need for supplements. The fact is that most of us do not eat the recommended 5 – 9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, and it’s difficult to eat a variety of fresh foods year round. Also, our food simply isn’t as nutritious as it used to be due to soil depletion, chemical fertilizers, early harvesting and over-processing. The rising rate of diet related diseases indicates that we are a malnourished nation. There are some common recommendations I’ll cover to help keep you healthy and hopefully happy on the hormonal rollercoaster.

Here are common complaints stemming from lack of nutrition:

· No pep
· Aches and Pains
· Headaches
· Difficulty sleeping
· Constipation
· Infections
· Splitting fingernails
· Dull thin hair
· Backaches
· Leg cramps
· Depression
· Desire for sweets
· Bruise easily
· Nervousness
· Illnesses: colds, flu, allergies
· Diseases: cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes

Sounds like the laundry list for peri-menopause!

Choosing an effective supplement program can be overwhelming. You must choose your supplements carefully, because many ‘drug store variety’ supplements are ineffective. If you’ve tried vitamins before without results, consider the quality of the products you purchase. Basically, there are 3 types of supplements available:
  1. Synthetic – made from petroleum, man-made compounds, no enzymes, poor absorption, questionable additives (color, preservatives). These are your typical drug store variety vitamin.
  2. Natural – isolates some nutrients, but only needs to be 15% natural to be labeled ‘Natural’ according to FDA requirement. Heat processing often destroys enzymes, and they may include harsh binders and fillers. Some include artificial colors or flavors that are known toxins – check the label carefully.
  3. Whole Food – made from the highest quality raw ingredients, enzymes are preserved through careful processing, no harmful ingredients, include synergistic ingredients. Look for double-blind, placebo controlled, clinical studies on the actual product (not marketing studies or studies on the ‘ingredients found in Brand X’). This is the best way to know the product you are purchasing is proven to work.

Here is a basic supplement plan to ease perimenopausal symptoms and support optimal health:

  • Multi-vitamin: A good multivitamin is foundational for a good supplement program. Look for a multi with all 23 essential vitamins and minerals. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of nutrients was established to prevent deficiency related diseases, like scurvy and rickets. The RDA may be less than what your body needs for optimal health.

Additional nutrients to consider:

  • Vitamin B: a supplement containing all 8 B vitamins promotes energy, heart health, and DNA synthesis. Food sources of vitamin B include whole grains, leafy green vegetables and fish.
  • Vitamin D: numerous clinical studies point to the importance of vitamin D. Vitamin D is crucial for healthy bones, immunity, heart, brain, weight management and more. Most Americans are deficient in this vital nutrient. Many experts are recommending 1,000 – 2,000 IU/day. Food sources include salmon, eggs and fortified dairy and soy products. Your multi-vitamin and calcium supplements should contain vitamin D.
  • Vitamins C and E: these important antioxidants support cell health throughout the body.
  • Minerals: zinc, magnesium, calcium and iron are minerals that support women’s health, but most women are deficient. Zinc (15 – 50 milligrams/day): helps to lower estrogen and increase progesterone levels, build strong bones, and keep your immune system strong to ward off viruses. Zinc can also improve memory and attention span. Magnesium (200 – 1,000 milligrams/day): 80 % of Americans do not get enough magnesium resulting in nervousness, anxiety, irritability, muscle cramps, memory loss, depression and many other perimenopausal symptoms. Magnesium is also critical to calcium absorption for bone health.

As I mentioned, choosing natural supplements can be overwhelming, but, choosing carefully and committing to a long term supplement program can make a huge impact on your long term health. A recent clinical study conducted by University of California Berkeley determined the impact of multiple supplements on long term health. The Landmark Study showed that long-term multiple supplement users had markedly better health than single supplement users and non-supplement users. Check out the study to see the benefits of long term, high quality supplement use: The Landmark Study. Not only will your long term health benefit, but you can minimize or alleviate many unpleasant menopausal symptoms naturally.

  • I have found the simplest way to commit to a program with multiple supplements is with a daily vita-strip containing all the nutrients I need, including omega-3s and probiotics. The increase in energy and clarity was dramatic when I began taking a convenient vita-strip daily. I find it simpler to take a once daily strip of all nutrients combines, and it is also more economical than purchasing each nutrient separately.

Important Note: Consult with your physician before starting a supplement program, especially if you are currently taking prescription medication. Do not take mega-doses of any vitamin, mineral or herb unless you are under a doctor’s care. For additional details on nutritional supplements for perimenopause, I recommend The Wisdom of Menopause by Christiane Northrop, M.D.

October 26, 2009

#6 Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Many recent studies confirm that supplementing with Omega-3 fatty acids reduce symptoms of depression and frequency of hot flashes. Research also shows that women with a high intake of Omega-3s have a 50% less chance of developing breast cancer – DHA is a natural anti-inflammatory that stops cellular transformation and kills off tumor cells.

A deficiency in of omega-3s, which is quite common, can result in fatigue, dry skin, cracked nails, thin and breakable hair, constipation, immune system malfunction, aching joints, depression, arthritis, and hormone imbalances.

There are 7 naturally occurring omega-3 fatty acids. Two important omega-3s for women in perimenopause are EPA (benefits heart and joints) and DHA (critical for brain function). Fatty fish is the best food source of DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids. Another omega-3 fatty acid is ALA. ALA has not been shown to help with depression or hot flashes, but does have heart healthy effects (as well as allergies, autoimmune issues, and eczema). ALA is found in canola oil, flax seed/oil and soy.

Omega-3 supplements provide a safe, consistent and convenient consumption of this important nutrient. Look for a fish oil supplement that contains all 7 fatty acids and has been distilled to concentrate the natural benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, while removing harmful compounds such as mercury and lead that are found in many types of fish.

The health benefits of Omega-3s are bountiful and clinically proven. Make sure your diet contains this powerful nutrient to keep your brain and heart healthy and strong, and the hot flashes to a dull roar!

October 19, 2009

#5 Help for 'Brain Fog' and Stress Management

As if raising teens wasn’t stressful enough, try doing it when you are sleep deprived and in a hormonally induced brain fog! There are many things that contribute to brain fog in perimenopause, and low estrogen and fluctuating hormones are big contributors.

The solutions we’ve already covered – exercise, nutrition and soy – will all help keep our brain functioning well. A good night’s sleep (solution #8) is also key to keeping the memory sharp and nerve endings un-frazzeled.

There are some additional solutions to help keep the brain sharp and the stress to a dull roar.

  • Yoga – yoga can help you relax and focus.

  • Herbal SupplementsSt. John’s Wort, Ginko and B Vitamins have all been shown to lift mood and sharpen memory.

  • Stress Relief Supplements –Theanine is found in green tea and has been linked to lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, and when combined with other amino acids creates an effective stress relief supplement. If you choose a natural stress relief product, make sure it does NOT include Kava (linked to liver damage).

  • Green Tea – theanine, found in green tea, affecte the brain and helps improve mood. It significantly increases the brain’s level of dopamine and serotonin (neurotransmitters linked to a sense of well being). It also releases GABA in the brain which calms over-excitation, eases anxiety and promotes relaxation. Benefits of Green Tea

  • Professional Help - If your stress is severe, seek the help of a professional counselor.

October 15, 2009

#4 Soy - Perimenopause Superfood

Mainstream medical research has confirmed that soy protein, as a regular component of the diet, can lessen both the frequency and intensity of hot flashes, night sweats and other perimenopausal symptoms. Soy helps women with mood swings, PMS symptoms, migraine headaches, irregular periods weight gain, heart health, bone health, and nail/hair/skin health. There is also research indicating a reduction in colon and breast cancer for subjects consuming soy. Soy is high in protein, antioxidants and Omega-3s.

What kind of soy and how much?

It’s important to choose organic, non-GMO soy products (non-genetically modified). You’ll need to consume a minimum of 40 – 60 grams of soy protein/day (2 – 3 small servings) for 4 – 6 weeks. Use must be consistent for 4 - 6 weeks to notice an effect. I've found that starting my day with a soy protein shake is the easiest way to consistently consume soy, and I have definitely benefited from this change in my diet. It's also a quick, easy way to incorporate lean, vegetable protein into my breakfast.

To reap the benefits of soy, you need to be able to digest it. If you are adding soy for the first time, start slowly. If you experience digestive discomfort, consider adding a probiotic, or an enzyme supplement (like Beano). Soy milk, soy nuts, tofu and soy isolates (protein powder) are all great ways to add soy protein to your diet. There are soy supplements available, but check with your doctor before taking large doses of soy. I recommend you give soy a try and see for yourself!

Peanut Butter Protein Fudge (my kids love this treat too!)
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup Shaklee soy protein (any flavor)
1/3 cup honey

If desired, add sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, chocolate chips, craisins or raisins. For extra Omega 3's , you can also add some ground flax seed into the mixture.
Mix together and form into balls. Keep refrigerated.

Here are a few helpful links if you're looking for additional information on Soy.
Frequently Asked Questions about Soy
Additional information on Soy
The Soy Controversy

October 13, 2009

#3 Nutrition - You are what you Eat!

What you put in your body affects how you think and how you feel. Hormonal fluctuations affect your appetite and metabolism. As we age we lose muscle mass, further slowing metabolism. Boosting muscle through weight bearing exercise and adjusting your diet will work together to help your muscle and your weight.

Here are some suggestions to help balance your hormones and prevent weight gain through this changing time.

  • Eat at least 3 meals/day
    Eating regular meals provides your body its nutritional needs throughout the day, and prevents overeating and binging.

  • Eat protein at each meal
    If your body does not get protein from food sources, it will break down protein in the body, like muscle. This leads to a further slowing of your metabolism. It’s important to eat protein at each meal. If you skip protein at breakfast and lunch, then eat additional protein at dinner, your body will store the extra dinner protein as fat.

  • Cut down on refined and high-glycemic-index carbohydrates
    Avoiding sugar, refined flour and processed foods will help stabilize your blood sugar and eliminate cravings. You’ll also feel better. If your diet is currently heavy in refined carbs, it may take your body a few weeks to adjust.

  • Eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables daily
    New guidelines recommend we have 5 – 9 servings of fruits and veggies daily. This healthy food group is low in fat and calories, and loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals.

  • Eat healthy fats each day
    Essential fatty acids are indispensable for human health and development. Olive oil, fish oil and avocados are examples of healthy fat sources.

    Together diet and exercise are the foundation to thriving during perimenopause!

October 6, 2009

#2 Excercise can Save Your Life - Really!

Exercise is key to physical and mental health. If you are dealing with anxiety and stress (who isn’t?!), regular exercise can help. A regular exercise program also reduces the chance of metabolic syndrome during the perimenopause years. Metabolic syndrome increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, weight gain, high cholesterol, and a host of other problems plaguing women in menopause.

When you exercise, your body produces endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that relieve pain and cause a sense of well being. Endorphins make you feel good with you exercise and make changes in the brain that can last for hours. They help relieve the feelings of depression and anxiety woman experience during perimenopause. They also help you relax so you can avoid insomnia that often comes with perimenopause.

Exercise also helps prevent osteoporosis, a disease characterized by weakening of the bones. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation approximately 55% of Americans 55 years or older is affected by osteoporosis. Perimenopause is the time of life when women lose bone density. Exercise, protein, calcium, vitamin D, magnesium and zinc are all necessary for strong, healthy bones.

Find an exercise regime that suits you and you’ll have a better chance of sticking with it. There are 3 types of exercise that most benefit women in perimenopause:

1. Aerobic exercise: releases endorphins to help alleviate anxiety and depression. It will also help combat insomnia, maintain weight and may even help control hot flashes. Examples of aerobic exercise are walking, running, dancing, biking and swimming.

2. Strength Training: provides benefit by increasing lean muscle mass and building bone strength. Lean muscle mass gives your metabolism a boost, and bone strength prevents osteoporosis. Examples are lifting weights, using a strength training machine, resistance bands, and some weight bearing aerobic exercise.

3. Deep breathing Exercises: focused breathing, like yoga, have been shown to reduce hot flashes as much as 50%. Yoga or Tai Chi is a good way to learn about deep abdominal breathing.
You will experience tremendous benefits from exercise, and lay the foundation for a healthier life. If you have a regular exercise routine, I hope this post will encourage you to continue and try new things. If you don’t exercise regularly, start today! Take a 15 minute walk and you’ll be on your way to a healthier life. Just do it!

October 3, 2009

#1 Consult your Medical Professional

An annual physical for screening for cholesterol, cervical changes, and a mammogram are critical for early detection and prevention. The natural solutions found in this blog are not intended to replace the care and advice of a medical professional. If your symptoms are severe and affecting your relationships and health, see your health professional. There may be underlying issues that need to be addressed. Some common physical problems in perimenopause include fibroid tumors, thyroid malfunction, high or low blood sugar, hormonal imbalances and others. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or challenge the prescribed treatment. My experience shows that some medical professionals are quick to prescribe medications without addressing lifestyle issues or natural remedies. I shared my perimenopausal struggles with my nurse practicioner when I was in my late 30s:

* Weight gain * Moodiness * Irregular periods * Breast tenderness * Insomnia
* Poor Concentration * Etc * Yes, I was 'bitchy'!

Her immediate response was to prescribe anti-depressants and birth control pills. Yikes! She never suggested looking at diet, exercise, stress management, counseling or supplements. When I challenged her on this advice, she said the most common prescriptions for people leaving her office were anti-depressants and birth control. I understand that sometimes prescription medication is the best solution, but I think prescriptions should be used as a last resort, not a first resort. These prescriptions both had serious side effects and risks. I was determined to find a better solution. I conquered my symptoms naturally, without prescription drugs.

If you are not satisfied with the care provided by your medical professional, find another. Talk to other women you know and find a healthcare professional that specializes in women’s health you can trust to care for you.