Sometime between a woman’s mid-thirties and her mid-forties, her hormone balance begins to shift.
When this happens, the ability of a woman to release a mature egg may sputter a bit, much as a car that is beginning to run out of gas. About a decade before menopause, women have menstrual cycles with no ovulation called anovulatory cycles.
Good for birth control, I suppose, but not so good for our biological clocks and the rest of our health.
The Bad News
If a woman is not ovulating, she is not producing progesterone, and she may actually begins to experience menopausal symptoms such as water retention, some weight gain, and mood swings. Menstrual cycles can continue without progesterone, of course, so many women do not know what is causing their symptoms.
John Lee. MD, in his excellent book What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause writes, “Women now may have anovulatory periods starting in their early thirties and yet do not experience cessation of periods (menopause) until their fifties. During this time, the ovaries continue to produce estrogen sufficient for regular or irregular shedding, creating what I term “estrogen dominance.”
In checking estrogen levels for these women, doctors will probably find the estrogen levels are still in the normal range, and then even attribute a patient’s complaint to emotional or other causes. Lee says these doctors may pat their patients on the head and send them home with a prescription for synthetic hormones or tranquilizers without ever even checking progesterone levels. Yet Lee firmly believes that adding estrogen and tranquilizers does not solve women’s premenopausal or menopausal problems.
Dr. Lee also believes anovulatory cycles are epidemic among women in industrialized countries with the most important factor of anovulatory cycles being that no progesterone is produced. This leaves estrogen with all its side effects (including PMS) unopposed all month or maybe for many successive months.
Then add the stress of women’s lives today. Stress effects are heightened by the lack of progesterone. Stress predisposes one to anovulatory cycles, thus creating the ultimate vicious cycle.
Now add another unfortunate fact of our chemical lives. Add xenoestrogens–environmental compounds, usually petrochemicals, that generally have very potent estrogen-like activity and can be considered very toxic. Now premenopausal women’s problems are further increased.
A Solution for Women
Dr. Lee suggests a three-fold solution for women to follow:
1. Measurement of progesterone levels before prescribing synthetic estrogens and tranquilizers.
2. Education on the dangers and sources of xenoestrogens–petrochemical pesticides, PCB plastics, and some volatile solvents–then their decreased use.
3. Learning to eat foods that supply a good source of phytoestrogens, which Dr. Lee describes as “the benign, weakly acting estrogenic compounds from plants that will compete at the receptor sites, thus protecting us from the more toxic petrochemical compounds.”