When Christine Hooper, a yoga teacher and qualified nutritionist, got quite severe dizzy spells about three years ago, she had no idea what the problem was.
“I almost fell over a couple of times in the middle of class,” recalls Hooper. “And I remember worrying about having a brain tumor or something because it was really pretty bad. Then I got hot flashes and I started pointing it out. “
Next came an almost debilitating series of anxiety attacks, but when she asked her doctor if this was the beginning of menopause, he said she was “way too young” even though she was in her late 40s.
“It was so overwhelming that I had to stop teaching yoga and finally drive out of town to my sister for a month because I couldn’t take care of myself,” she says. “And that wasn’t like me at all. I mean, I got on planes and flew to Syria on my own. “
Hooper attacked the problem from all sides: doctor visits, intense mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, short-term medication, as well as increased exercise and a healthy diet. She conquered fear, but even now has no answers about what went wrong in the first place, why it went away, or what to do when it comes back. At the top of their list of suspects, however, is perimenopause – the stage before menopause – when hormones, especially estrogen, begin to decline.
“The problem is that even if you know you are in perimenopause, it doesn’t mean much to you,” says Dr. Christine Derzko, Professor of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility in the University of Toronto Medical School. “A diagnosis of menopause can only be made after a full year without a period, but when you look at what happened during that time, you’ve been through menopause for at least a year, you just didn’t know.”
And perimenopausal for who knows how long before that. Some experience this purgatory-like phase of the human female reproductive system for 10 years before menopause finally begins. Other? A few months. You could be in your mid 30s or late 40s.
Some people hardly notice this transition period. However, others suffer from sleep problems, migraines, dry skin, thinning hair, weight gain, memory lapses, and various mood disorders, all of which are believed to be related to changing hormone levels. To say that there is no single representation of perimenopause is a wild understatement.
“One of the things that happens is that you lose bones because your estrogen levels are very low,” explains Derzko. “And we don’t always pay too much attention to it, but in the two years before your last menstrual period and then in the year before you can confirm that you are actually going through menopause, that period is 8 to 10 percent” of bone can be lost . And you haven’t even gone through menopause. “
Some people can withstand bone loss more easily than others, but we should all be aware that our hormone levels may drop before we have any idea what is going on, if only to our calcium and vitamin D levels to increase and move sufficiently. And bone density isn’t the only serious problem. Although we still know a lot about the effects of changes in hormone levels on our bodies, McGill researcher Barbara Sherwin found a link between low levels of estrogen and poor memory function decades ago. Derzko calls it a classic Canadian study.
Many people still tend to view hot flashes as weird relief, but once you learn that they can present themselves as chills too and are actually an indication that the brain’s entire thermoregulatory system is failing, it sounds a lot less funny, Right? Especially when you consider that this particular malfunction interferes with a good night’s sleep, which has a negative impact on our health.
With all of this in mind (and I won’t even go into the weight gain that is common), people like me can be forgiven for wondering about hormone replacement therapy since the low estrogen problem seems to be easy to fix, well, an estrogen surge . However, most of us have also heard that it is risky. I’m currently talking to my doctor about this and scheduled for tests that may help determine if the potential benefits outweigh the possible risks.
Don’t judge: osteoporosis runs in my family. But unfortunately also cardiovascular diseases that could disqualify me. It’s a complicated and individual process, Derzko explains, that involves doctors taking into account age, lifestyle, health history (both personal and family), and estrogen levels.
“I think we came together and decided that hormones aren’t necessarily bad,” she says. “I don’t think hormones are the solution and it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, but if you are having problems speak to your doctor.”
Derzko adds that many of her patients are not interested in hormonal treatment, but women should still seek medical advice as this is not always offered to patients automatically.
This is something Hooper is still frustrated about, even though she thinks she’s got through the worst. She thinks there should be an early warning system so that one is not confused as to whether one has a brain tumor or “only” has menopause.
“Do you know how to have a colon test mailed to you when you are 50, or how to have a mammogram?” She asks. “I think at 35 or 40 there should be one thing where the doctor sits down and tells you about menopause and gives you a brochure or directs you to resources and makes you aware of the things that are going to come out of the pipe. “
She adds, “That way, you might not be completely surprised the first time you happen to cry on an Esso commercial.”