As dark clouds roll in, is it any wonder you feel cranky, moody, irritable, anxious, and depressed? The mental load of being superwoman in your 40’s and 50’s is wearing thin and women are exhausted and, overwhelmed. Is it possible to have everything – a full time job, a social life, a family life – AND navigate perimenopause/menopause with ease and grace? I don’t think so.
It’s around the time of midlife that many women feel the impact of life choices playing out with chaotic, dramatic rises and falls of hormones. Enter moodiness, migraines, anxiety, depression, insomnia, cravings. Estrogen and progesterone are potent drivers of mood and like all hormones, have a sweet spot, not too high and not too low.
As Dr Andrew Rostenberg, says “Estrogen has an antidepressant effect, but too much of it can cause a woman to be unable to relax and calm down, and too little can lead to excessive crying and depression.” Progesterone can plummet too, when a woman may not be ovulating, depriving her of the major source of this calming hormone. Stress further steals the raw materials for making progesterone and diverts them to making cortisol the stress hormone. Yikkes!
Lara Briden The Period Revolutionary says this of progesterone…
“Soothes mood and rescues sleep because of its Valium-like effect…interacts directly with GABA receptors in the brain to reduce anxiety, and promotes sleep…is essential treatment for premenstrual and perimenopausal insomnia.” You need good amounts of progesterone in perimenopause to deal with many issues including, heavy bleeding, PMS, and hot flushes.
Genetic vulnerabilities in the way you process and clear neurotransmitters, toxins and hormones, too much coffee, alcohol, stress and a diet high in carbs can easily trigger unbalanced hormones. 95% of serotonin the happy hormone is made in the gut. Digestive issues such as constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gut dysbiosis – an imbalance of beneficial bacteria – interferes with the body’s ability to produce many of the vital mood stabilising neurotransmitter chemicals.
How do you know which hormones are out of balance?
A blood test by your doctor will offer you some insight into your estrogen and progesterone levels if you have regular cycles. Testing at the right time of your cycle will give you the most accurate results. Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) can also be measured by your doctor and increases as the body transitions to menopause. A FSH of higher than 40IU/L on two occasions two months apart, indicates you are moving towards menopause (ref Lara Briden, Period Repair Manual, 2018).
Another good option for testing is a Salivary Hormone Profile called a Dutch Test. It measures the bioavailable hormones and their downstream metabolites as well as measuring the fluctuations in cortisol. A simple online quiz helps build awareness of the signs and symptoms and which hormones/neurotransmitters may be responisbile. It is a cost free option that can be followed up with blood or saliva testing. Dr Sara Gottfried OBY/GYN and author of The Hormone Cure offers a hormone quiz. To check brain neurotransmitters like dopamine, the reward hormone, serotonin, GABA and tryptophan tune into Food Mood expert, Trudy Scott from the Anti-Anxiety solution for her questionnaire.
As a result of testing, supplemental nutrients, amino acids and bio identical hormones like progesterone may be helpful. Diet is the first starting point when you want to address mood issues. Food and mood are like twins. They can be sweet together or they can be terrors. The 5 basics of achieving good mood with food are:
1.Eat enough good quality protein. Eating 0.8gm of protein per kg of body weight divided over 3 meals provides the amino acids to make brain neurotransmitters such as tyrosine to make dopamine and tryptophan to make serotonin. Protein also contains the cofactors for making neurotransmitters – Vitamin B6, B12, choline, magnesium and zinc. The right amount of protein keeps blood sugar low and stable and prevents cravings. Some good options include grass fed meat, sustainable/wild caught seafood, eggs, organic and free range chicken.
Eat red meat! Landmark research by Professor Felice Jacka in Melbourne highlights the benefits of eating red meat:
“When we looked at women consuming less than the recommended amount of red meat in our study, we found that they were twice as likely to have a diagnosed depressive or anxiety disorder as those consuming the recommended amount.”
2. Reduce grains, fruit, and keep carbohydrates to a minimum (less than 30gm per day) and avoid sugar. Eating plenty of non-starchy veg (above ground veg) provides the fibre and nutrients to support your gut bacteria and the metabolism and elimination of excess estrogen. Choose all the brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, rocket, Brussel’s sprouts), asparagus; all types of above ground veg.
3. Make hormones from good quality fats and satisfy your appetite at the same time with avocado, extra virgin olive oil, macadamia nut oil, eggs, ghee, extra virgin coconut products, nuts and seeds and small portions of fatty seafood and meats of uncompromising quality. This provides clean brain and body fuel, anti inflammation and support for the immune system
4.Hydrate the body and brain with filtered water and herbal teas. The brain is 80% water and shrinks when dehydrated causing brain fog and irritability. Add electrolytes to water like a pinch of Himalayan salt to increase absorption by the body.
5. Address food allergies and intolerances such as gluten, dairy, corn, eggs, and soy that can lead to leaky gut and inflammation in the brain.
And finally get out into nature, soak in sunshine, sleep more, rest when you can, have a massage or infrared sauna and shut down devices. Press the pause button and reconnect with yourself and others. Hug, play, love, laugh and boost your oxytocin the bonding hormone which instantly flips the switch on pleasure and mood. Tap into you own limitless capacity to heal.