Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Perimenopause--The Fiery Beast

Perimenopause is that time in a woman's life when your fertile days are limited. During this in between stage, women are usually still getting periods, sometimes regularly, sometimes more frequently, sometimes less frequently. Hormonal shifts can cause all sorts of symptoms, which can be explained from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of view.

Through a woman's menstrual life she loses blood every month, sometimes in large amounts. Because of this, most women tend to run a little Blood Deficient. Her body has less than a month to make up for the blood loss and if her diet is low in blood building foods (dark green leafies, beef, beans, eggs, grapes, figs, dates), over time this insufficiency becomes more pronounced. Typical symptoms are:
  • dry skin and hair
  • vision problems (floaters, dry eyes, blurred vision)
  • constipation
  • empty-headedness/whole-head headaches
  • fatigue during or after your period
  •  palpitations
  • anxiety
Generally symptoms of Blood Deficiency involve some sort of dryness, since there is insufficient blood to moisten and nourish the body (hair, skin, muscles, internal organs) appropriately. As a woman moves toward menopause, the symptoms of dryness intensify as she becomes more and more deficient. When there is not enough moisture to cool the body, heat rises.

When people think of typical Menopause (capital M) symptoms they think of hot flashes, night sweats, trouble sleeping, brain fog and mood swings. Of course there are other possible symptoms, but these are the biggies. During perimenopause, you are moving in that direction; there is still enough Blood to have a period, but they may be occurring less often or have a lighter flow. Exceptions to this are when there are fibroids present (Blood Stagnation) which cause the blood flow to be very heavy, almost hemorrhaging for some women. But generally speaking, there is a trend toward drying out and heating up. Some women start to get hot flashes or night sweats in the premenstrual days, or have insomnia for those few days before the bleeding starts. This, of course, is in addition to any normal PMS symptoms she may be having. Like PMS, these symptoms typically subside once the bleeding starts.

It is the shift from Blood Deficiency to Yin Deficiency that marks the end of Menstruation and beginning of Menopause. Yin is the body's cooling substance that balances Yang's fire. When the Blood is that empty, the dryness goes deeper and develops into a Yin Deficiency and this is when the signs of heat...well, heat up. Many common symptoms include:
  • hot flashes (with or without sweating, day or night)
  • night sweats
  • insomnia--usually falling asleep is fine but there is frequent waking, due to heat, sweating, stress/anxiety or for no obvious reason
  • bursts of anger or mood swings
  • feeling generally warmer or every afternoon feeling like you are running a low fever
  • lower tolerance to heat in the environment
  • vaginal dryness and/or general skin and hair dryness
  • anxiety
The good news is that this is not necessarily your destiny. You might experience some, all or none of these symptoms. Many women's periods stop and they never have a single sweat or flash. However, any difficulty you have premenstrually (in terms of amount and severity of symptoms) will mimic any difficulty you may have in the transition to menopause; basically if you have easy periods, chances are high that you will have an easy transition from Perimenopause into Menopause. If you don't, beware the Fiery Beast! Luckily there are many natural options to look to for help and support, including Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine and Diet.

Next time I will be writing about dietary options for taming the symptoms of Perimenopause. If you would like to sign up to receive email notifications of my posts, please click this link to sign up. You can unsubscribe at any time.