I was 37, had 2 children aged 1 and 3, and was working a full time job in Finance and studying for my Nutrition qualification at The College of Naturopathic Medicine. It was intensely stressful. The night sweats started. I woke up and was drenched, which meant the sheets needed changing every single night. This went on for a year.
They abruptly stopped whilst on holiday, but then so did my periods. It turns out – for good. I haven’t got any family history in this area, my mother had 4 easy pregnancies which led into her 40s, my grandmothers on both sides were also very fertile and no one had reached menopause before the ‘standard’ age of 50. I was convinced this wasn’t what was happening to me.
I also started to experience mood swings. So severe I regularly fantasied about running work colleagues over. So the writing was on the menopausal wall, but I was still convinced that wasn’t the case. I was able to run an Adrenal Stress Test on myself as by then I had a Practitioner account set up. The results showed my stress levels were off the chart, and as a result my sex hormones (oestrogen included) had taken a dive.
A word about the adrenals. There’s been a lot of talk in the press in the last year or so about ‘adrenal fatigue’ which is a slight misnomer. Firstly, its not recognised in the medical circles as such – there is Addison’s disease which is not enough cortisol being produced but nothing, it appears, in-between. Any other ‘adrenal’ symptoms are mostly put down to the individual being a bit ‘tired’ and ‘overworked’. Nevertheless, regardless of whether the term is recognised or not, I have certainly seen (and experienced myself) many people who are feeling burnt out. It can manifest in various ways but the most common ‘symptoms’ experienced are fatigue, feeling ‘wired but tired’, blood sugar dips, gaining weight and feeling depressed.
Having told the GP that my adrenal test results were indicating my cortisol was too high, she replied directly:
We don’t recognise those tests.
That is word for word what she said. A year on and I can reliably say that every consultant I’ve seen mirrors that exact response. It’s no wonder many people feel so hopeless when they’re faced with such a stonewall.
What a lot of women haven’t been told, and what I now give talks on, is that the stress hormone (cortisol) runs along the same pathway as oestrogen and progesterone (the sex hormones). Your body is set up for survival and if you get stressed, your body automatically puts you into ‘fight or flight’ mode and raises your cortisol.
What your body doesn’t realise it that you aren’t, in fact, being chased by a tiger, but instead have a deadline at work, plus the kids to bath, and you are feeling the struggle! Cortisol will be prioritised to the detriment of your sex hormones so oestrogen will fall. This is what I was convinced was happening to me.
I took steps to try and alleviate my ‘stress load’ but life got in the way. I took yoga classes and tried to stay generally calm but I needed to keep working, and my nutrition studies were of paramount importance. Three adrenal tests and 2 years later and I was still very much in the ‘red zone’.
During this time I had also sought the advice of ‘conventional’ medical Dr’s as, despite my own beliefs, I was willing to see what they could come up with. It turned out not much.
I saw an endocrinologist and a gynaecologist followed by the GP and then round again. The GP was bending my arm to put me on HRT and whilst I understand the reasons why (at my age I should be producing oestrogen and this will therefore just be replacing it), my instincts were to know WHY my body is doing this, not just to patch it up which is essentially what this would do. As a Nutritional Therapist who now specialises in Women’s Health, my focus is to find out the reason the body is reacting this way. After all, the body wants to be well and to work in sync, and so putting in external medicines – certainly in my case – was not the answer.
Women must learn to trust their own instincts – if they don’t feel ‘right’ then the body is not working optimally. You may not be out of ‘range’ on the blood/thyroid/hormone tests carried out but that doesn’t mean that something isn’t wrong. This is a familiar scene in my clinic, where a client comes in having been told their tests are ‘normal’ but yet they still feel awful.
I have now had several assessments done and my FSH (follicle stimulating hormone which indicates menopause) is well within range which again poses the question:
Why is my body reacting like this if I am not in early menopause?
A diagnosis of ‘Premature Ovarian Insufficiency’ has, however, been given with the caveat: "Your body just doesn’t realise it yet"!!!
I continue my own journey of finding out the causes and dealing with it through natural means. My symptoms are now non-existent, although my periods have yet to return, but I feel as though I am now on the right track and my body is responding well.
A few things that have worked wonders for me are ensuring I eat plenty of ‘phytoestrogenic’ foods (foods that mimic oestrogen in the body albeit in minute amounts), sprinkling Maca onto granola/into smoothies which can be a great hormone balancer and tastes great! Also ensuring I eat lots of fibre in order to keep my gut healthy and ensure detoxification is carried out well – very important where hormones are concerned. There are, of course, many other things that I do and advise upon but it very much depends on the individual and how their body is functioning.
As I regularly tell clients, anything to do with hormones takes time to rectify and of course finding a good Nutritional Therapist will help! Through my studies and my successful clinic I have gained priceless knowledge that gives me confidence to deal with this head on, and to also help other women who are either experiencing menopause or feel generally burnt out. It’s about finding what suits you, and that could be HRT or it could be more natural remedies – there is no ‘one size fits all’ – I work with my clients as a team and together I aim to optimise wellbeing both inside and out.