Collaboration with Catherine Grace, “Mastering Modern Midlife”
Midlife and beyond can be a powerful and transformative time in a woman’s life. It can also be quite challenging as a woman transitions from perimenopause to menopause. My Ultimate Age Disruption Experiment enters its second month as I share my personal journey through Menopause. Guiding me along the Hormonal Highway is Leona West, a certified and highly respected authority in Functional Nutrition. Leona and I are not medical doctors and we are not giving professional advice. All information, content, and material of this website is for informational purposes only and are not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider. Whew! Now, onto the journey…
Once a woman enters perimenopause and on to menopause, hormonal changes can happen rapidly with an impact on everything from mood, energy, and vitality, to physical changes in their outward appearance, including weight gain. Awareness is critical to noticing those hormonal imbalances early on. If you’ve been catering to everyone but you, denying your own needs might feel normal. As a recovering perfectionist and a woman who kept the happy face on for most of her life, I get it! The truth is .. SELF CARE IS A MUST! Put your oxygen mask on first and ask your doctor to test your hormone levels as those pesky hormones may be causing havoc. If you’re in the throes of menopause … there could be something wrong … but it’s not YOU! It’s most likely your endocrine system messing with those fundamental hormones making you feel like a crazy woman…or at least that’s my story! Without the need to reproduce, the decline in estrogen levels is perfectly normal. In my case, I’ve been feeling anything but normal!
“Menopause isn’t for sissies,” and just as puberty can rock an adolescent’s world and turn it upside down, the same goes for menopause. At 56, my experience wasn’t a gradual descent into menopause, but a rather an earth-shaking, sudden plunge, with my estrogen levels hitting the skids seemingly overnight. From spring in 2017 to late fall of last year, my estrogen production went from normal perimenopausal levels to basically undetectable by clinical standards. Feeling as though my body and emotions hit a brick wall at a hundred miles an hour, I’d like to share my personal experience and what I’ve learned along the way.
Reviewing my bloodwork with my UCLA MD, my estrogen levels were abnormally low. I’m all about healing from the inside out and using food as medicine and there’s no one better for the job than Leona West. You may be struggling with hormonal imbalances and simply accept this as a normal part of aging. Declining estrogen levels may cause serious mood swings, insomnia, dry skin, a loss of interest in sex, hot flashes, weight gain, among many others. Estrogen is complex as there are three types of different kinds of this hormone. You might be thinking…WHOA…this isn’t the typical fun fashion or lifestyle post! But it might be one of the most important posts I’ve done as fashion and lifestyle don’t matter if you’re hormones are wreaking havoc with your health and wellbeing. To keep things simple, there are three forms of estrogen:
Estradiol – This is the major form of estrogen we produce from our ovaries and in high amounts from puberty through menopause. It is responsible for energy, libido, sleep, bone health, skin and moisture to mucous membranes from our GI tract to our vaginal tract. Also responsible for growth, in higher amounts it can be a risk factor for breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers. At menopause, our estradiol levels drop significantly. Just prior to that in perimenopause, estradiol can fluctuate wildly from very high to low throughout our cycle.
Estriol – This is considered a “weak form of estrogen” but it is actually a powerful and protective estrogen. Estriol regulates Estradiol, kind of as taskmaster keeping it in line and supporting its strengths while reducing its harmful effects. Production of this hormone is increased during pregnancy. This is why women who have had pregnancies are at a lower risk of reproductive cancers because they made a load of estriol from their placenta. That translates to higher estriol levels overall that provide protection. Estriol is made in the liver and breast. Supporting liver and many of the foods that support estrogen overall, also support estriol.
Estrone – Women produce this form of estrogen mainly at and after menopause. It is produced in our liver, adrenals and fat cells, Estrone takes over some of the “slack” of Estradiol and if the adrenals and liver are not quite ready, then the “Shit can hit the fan!”
Now, with this abbreviated education on the three forms of estrogen…how do you raise your estrogen levels naturally using food and herbs as medicine?
Here are some of Leona’s recommendations to support all forms of estrogen and make a smooth transition through perimenopause through post-menopause. What I love about Leona is she maintains the highest level of integrity by remaining neutral in her recommendations. To remain free of any conflict of interest, she refuses to make any money off of her recommendations. Keep reading as I’ll share with you the symptoms I’m experiencing, the gradual changes to my diet, and the addition of specific herbal supplements and vitamins Leona personally suggested given my lab results.
Where to begin:
- Clear out the 4th kind of estrogen, Xenoestrogrens! These are synthetic estrogens that occur in plastics as well as parabens in many beauty and skin products. They are also found in pesticides. Highly processed soy is another culprit as it can block calcium absorption and impair gut function.
- Support your liver and adrenals! Start by cutting out alcohol, home and body toxins in common products. Work on genuinely supporting your stress levels by incorporating lifestyle changes such as meditation, yoga and doing things that bring you joy! More coming next month on the many ways to reduce stress and boost your adrenals.
- Consider adding a liver cleanse. Make sure to check with your medical practitioner to advise you and ensure that your system is strong enough. There are many ways to cleanse your liver from a full cleanse to supplements that cleanse your liver more gradually. See below as I’m incorporating Leona’s Ayurvedic herbal supplements to help support my liver while also supporting better sleep.
- Add a healthy nutritional program and incorporate the following foods that are known to naturally support healthy estrogen levels.
- Herbal supplements and lifestyle changes are the keys to optimizing estrone and estriol. These are your 2 new besties when it comes to estrogen, in addition to supporting YOUR NEW LEVEL OF estradiol while OPTIMIZING ESTRADIOL LEVELS AND making estradiol work for you. This way, you’re getting all the good bits of estradiol and minimizing your risks.
DON’T MISS LEONA’S TOP FOODS, HERBS AND SUPPLEMENTS TO SUPPORT HEALTHY ESTROGEN LEVELS NATURALLY AT THE END OF THE POST!
In my case, with my estrogen levels crashing to ground zero, I’ve noticed a dramatic decrease in energy mainly due to insomnia and some over the top, sheet soaking hot flashes! A couple of months ago, I began adding natural hormone replacement with a compounded form of progesterone. Increasing to 200 mg. each month completely eliminated my menopausal hot flashes. Having woken many nights as though I walked out of the shower, progesterone supplementation has been a miracle worker. Last month, Leona and I talked about the impact of healthy cholesterol on our hormones. I’m planning to reduce the progesterone over time and increase the healthy cholesterol through ghee, flaxseed oil, raw grass-fed butter, and kefir. Flaxseed oil doesn’t contain any cholesterol but Flax is a natural source of “phyto” or plant estrogens.
I’m also looking into natural hormone replacement for Estrogen but finding an experienced practitioner is key. Many women don’t know that even if you decide to supplement with natural hormone replacement or prescription hormones from your doctor, this is only a temporary solution. It’s recommended to use these hormones for no longer than a period of 3 to 5 years as there can be a detrimental impact on your health by continually adding hormones to your body. In addition, it’s imperative to have regular lab work to monitor your hormones as, in general, they don’t stay static but will most likely fluctuate. It’s important to know you have choices! There are more natural alternatives to synthetic hormones. You don’t need a prescription for bioidentical Estriol and Estradiol and natural remedies tend to be much safer.
The goal of using food and herbs as medicine and to support building estrogen levels naturally, is to have your body begin to produce estrogen on its own. If you don’t approach hormonal imbalances from both sides, supplemental and food and herbs as medicine, you are likely to experience a much more difficult impact when you have to discontinue the compounded formulas or medication. In my case, I’m choosing to use both simultaneously, natural hormone replacement with the added nutritional, herbal and lifestyle changes. At least for the next few years until I begin to eliminate the compounded formulas. My best advice, if you tend to be an overachiever like me, is to go slowly. Be gentle with yourself. Start with just a few simple changes by substituting healthier nutrition options from the list below. Then, try adding an herbal supplement or two and pay attention to how it makes you feel. Taking a few moments to slow down, breathe and adding some joy to your life will result in greater well being!
I’ve found meditation to be hugely beneficial and I’ve using Transcendental Meditation for many years. I’ve been incorporating different forms of meditation, depending on what feels right given my daily levels of stress. There are wonderful apps that offer a variety of easy meditation practices. Calm, PureMind, BreAthe and Mindful are a few of my favorites. Heartmath offers an amazing biofeedback tool that shows you immediate progress as you learn to focus on your heart. Monkey mind is real for this girl and I need all the help I can get! I can’t say that I’m close to being enlightened but I definitely feel a difference when I take the time to slow down and meditate.
Leona recommends using a sleep mask to help produce melatonin naturally which I now can’t live without! Also, adding a fan or some form of “white noise” can make a huge difference. Try turning off the technology a couple of hours before bed as the blue light has a definite impact on allowing our brains to shut down. There are some delicious and calming herbal teas that work wonders to help the body relax. I’ve been incorporating these into my daily routine. Flower Essences and Bach’s Rescue Remedy help to balance the electrical system by adding a couple of drops into a glass of water. A couple of tablespoons of organic tart cherry juice in a glass of water before bed can help your body to naturally produce melatonin.
As someone who’s been downing green juices and smoothies long before they were “in style,” and studying holistic healing for decades, I thought I had my nutrition program covered. I was in for a wake-up call as certain things I was ingesting were actually working against my nervous system and hormonal changes. Leona is a nutrition mechanic who looks under the hood. Trust me, she can uncover just about anything! Rhodiola is commonly used as an adaptogen for stress and known for its calming effects. Well, that’s only if you’re not in adrenal overload as I’ve been found to be. Leona quickly eliminated any supplements containing Rhodiola. There is a common belief that all carbohydrates are bad. I was definitely leaning toward a more paleo diet and Leona quickly schooled me in the need for more carbohydrates with dinner. Adding quinoa or brown rice with my nightly grass-fed protein, greens, and some healthy fats became a necessary addition to my diet. Healthy carbs that release slowly are actually beneficial for sleep.
More dietary changes were in store. Having started my day with a superfood shake for the past few years, I’ve adopted a hot breakfast of organic oats topped with almond milk, walnuts, dried cranberries and a little brown sugar. I’ve also added back lots of pasture-raised eggs, made with ghee and usually topped off with some greens and a few slices of avocado. Leona’s a big fan of healthy soups and I’ve become a convert. The VitaClay has become my best friend as I whip together a hearty lentil or mung bean soup, and I have healthy meals on hand for days! If you love smoothies like I do, toss in some ground flaxseed or flaxseed oil as they’re a rich source of lignans AND phytoestrogens. And my new favorite way of combining many of the fresh and organic foods I recommend here are healthy and beautiful quinoa bowls!
I’m gradually adding Glycine, which is known to naturally help with insomnia, and Bupleurum Liver Cleanse and Calmative Compound to my nightly regimen. I tend to awaken around 3 in the morning which is usually a sign of needing to support the liver. I stay away from alcohol, sugar and have a relatively low-toxin lifestyle, but the liver accumulates toxins from everything from our environment to our cosmetics and skin care. It’s also impacted greatly by stress and who doesn’t have stress these days! Adding Evening Primrose Oil into the mix has helped to load my body with the right essential fatty acids. Leona’s a big fan of natural Vitamin E suppositories to help across the board with many menopausal symptoms and they just may boost your sex life! They’re a phenomenal way to support the natural vaginal “mucosa.”
They’re in my Amazon cart currently and I’ll report my progress next month. If you’re looking for a powerful advocate to help you balance your hormones naturally, Leona is available for in-person consultations in the LA area. Her services are also accessible virtually. She’s in demand with a packed calendar, so I highly recommend reaching out to her immediately as it’s likely a month or two for an appointment. I’ll be incorporating more of her recommendations in the next month and look forward to sharing my progress, both personally and through clinical results. Make sure to see our blog post from last month on how a visit to the Farmer’s Market might just change your life! And, if want to enter to win the Puritan’s Pride giveaway for $140 for a head start on your Age Disruption plan, visit my Instagram.
Leona’s adding a few specialty labs to the mix such as the Nutrigenomics Test as nothing is more important than solid nutrition! Nutrition can have a powerful impact on our genetic makeup. Nutrigenomics testing allows a personalized nutritional program. For your own personalized plan or to work with Leona West, visit her website. Next month, we’ll be sharing healthy and natural ways to lower stress levels and deal with adrenal exhaustion, a major issue for most women. Be on the lookout for our webinars beginning later this spring.
SUPPORTING LIVER HEALTH AND INCLUDING THE MANY FOODS THAT SUPPORT ESTROGEN OVERALL, ALSO SUPPORT ESTRIOL:
100% European/bavarian dark rye bread
miso (organic fermented non gmo)
TEMPEH (organic fermented non gmo)
milk thistle (herb)
yams (loaded with B6)
raw grass-fed butter
tart cherry juice (for natural Melatonin)
lemon balm tea
TOP HERBS AND SUPPLEMENTS TO SUPPORT HEALTHY ESTROGEN LEVELS NATURALLY:
EVENING PRIMROSE IS SO IMPORTANT!!!
SPECIFIC SUPPLEMENTS TO HELP WITH INSOMNIA AND ADRENAL SUPPORTt:
Loaded with calming Ashwaganda, PharmaGaba and Lemon Balm
A powerful sleep aid and also aides with supporting liver and mood.
1/4th to 3/4th powder dissolved in water 1 hour before bedtime
Zinc complex chelate: (natural support for testosterone, progesterone, thyroid, immune)