At the age of 33, following the birth of my second daughter I never seemed to be ‘quite right’, either physically or mentally.
Intense fatigue would overtake me, on more than one occasion I missed picking up from school; my mood resembled a dangerously swinging pendulum, anything could happen, and my periods were erratic and often heavy. I was embarrassed so many times! I felt totally unstable and fearful of what was happening to my body and mind.
Seven visits to seven doctors over seven years… I was fobbed off with many excuses and the offer of prescription drugs. Yet not once did a doctor suggest any hormone testing. Why would they? I was far too young to be menopausal surely?
Finally I had private testing and discovered I was menopausal, and also had severe endometriosis. The solution was a full hysterectomy, and age just 39 I didn’t hesitate to say yes, I just wanted this time to end, to feel ‘normal’ again.
Signs of early menopause
The average age for the menopause in the UK is 51, but if it occurs before the age of 40 it’s referred to as Premature Ovarian Insufficiency or POI.
One in 100 women under the age of 40 will have POI, and around one in 1000 women under 30 are affected. So it’s not really that uncommon.
What POI basically means is that your ovaries have given up, and no matter how much your other hormonal glands speak to them and try to jolly them along and support them, they just aren’t going to put out any more oestrogen, or any other hormones.
Symptoms you can commonly experience are:
- irregular or missed periods
- mood swings
- anxiety and depression
- low libido
- hot flushes
- poor sleep
- brain fog
Five causes of early menopause
1. Genetics. If your mother, sister or grandmother went through early menopause then there is a probability you will too. Research has shown that as many as 20% of women who experience early menopause have a family member who’s also experienced it.
2. Autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease is one where the immune system starts attacking the tissues in the body – such as Hashimoto’s (autoimmune thyroiditis) or Addison’s disease which attacks the adrenal glands, affecting cortisol production.
This in turn impacts on all other hormones and can trigger an immune attack on your ovaries.
3. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy. If you’ve undergone chemo or radiation therapy, it is possible that this is the root cause of your early menopausal symptoms as both can block ovarian function which may be temporary or permanent.
4. Surgery. Probably the more obvious reason why you might be experiencing early menopause is if you’ve had an oophorectomy, which is when your ovaries are surgically removed. This is sometimes done as part of a hysterectomy (where your womb is removed).
5. Environmental toxins. There are a number of environmental toxins that can affect your hormonal system and optimum functioning of your ovaries. You should be aware of xenoestrogens, found particularly in plastic bottles and the lining of tin cans.
Smoking affects hormonal health and depletes the body of vital vitamins and minerals; and being exposed to pesticides can put you at higher risk of POI.
We are all so unique
These are the five most probable reported and researched causes, but I don’t believe this list is exhaustive.
My early menopause couldn’t be attributed to genetics, autoimmune disease, chemotherapy or radiation therapy or surgery. The latter happened AFTER I’d been diagnosed with POI. That leaves only environmental toxins as I did smoke cigarettes. Could that have been the sole cause? I don’t know, we still have so much to learn.
Five ways to eliminate early menopause symptoms
1. Eat a hormone friendly diet. Eating a diet that’s rich in antioxidants from a wide range of brightly coloured, fresh foods is essential. As is including hormone boosting nutrients from foods high in Omega 3 fats, e.g. oily fish, nuts, seeds and avocados, as well as keeping yourself well hydrated.
Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, refined carbohydrates and processed foods can go a long way in supporting you and eliminating symptoms.
Following these simple guidelines will provide not just your ovaries, but every cell, tissue and organ in your body with much needed protection.
2. Adaptogenic herbs and supportive supplements. Studies have shown that adaptogenic herbs, such as Maca and Rhodiola, can be beneficial in helping with hot flushes and promoting more restful sleep.
A good quality multivitamin/mineral with CoQ10 for energy, magnesium, much-needed vitamin D, and Omega 3 oils work together to reduce symptoms, balancing hormones and health.
3. Move! Regular daily exercise helps you balance your blood sugar, body weight, and stress response—all of which can help you feel better about yourself. You don’t have to join a gym or do anything complicated.
Walking, rebounding, weight resistance, Pilates and yoga are all beneficial, and some High Impact Interval Training (HIIT) in a gym or at home for 30 minutes three times a week can transform the way you look and feel.
4. Sleep well. I know this can be easier said than done! Yet there are so many reasons why it can be beneficial to set good sleep habits before it becomes a problem. Go to bed and rise at regular times, remove all .sleep hormone melatonin also affects the ovaries. Practising calming breathing and meditation can help if you wake up in the night.
5. Remove environmental toxins. If you smoke do stop as it affects your hormones and overall health. If you buy water in bottle, decant immediately into a non-plastic water bottle. Check out where you may be coming into contact with harmful xenoestrogens. Eat locally grown, organic foods where possible to reduce the intake of harmful preservatives, insecticides and pesticides.
Early menopause can be a shock if you’re not prepared for it. If it’s as a result of surgery, you may be expecting it but still not sure how your body will react. These few simple steps can really make a difference – there is so much you can do to help yourself.
The Natural Menopause Road Map is a 60 minute video presentation guiding you through the 7 essential steps required to naturally manage your menopause. Embracing the recommendations you’ll very soon start to notice a difference to how you look and feel; reducing or even banishing unpleasant menopause symptoms affecting both body and mind.
The NICE guidelines recommend women experiencing early menopause talk to their GP about HRT.
The Daisy Network is a charity which provides help and support for women experiencing POI. More information here: https://www.daisynetwork.org.uk