The Herbs & Supplements Most Women Need During Perimenopause
In perimenopause (aka the transitional period into menopause), the ovaries begin to decline, leading to lower hormone levels and the symptoms that come with them. Specifically, low estrogen can lead to poor memory and concentration, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, night sweats, and infertility. Low progesterone can lead to problems sleeping, anxiety, heavy cycles, and infertility; and low testosterone can lead to poor motivation and drive, depression, and low libido and energy. There's no doubt about it: The symptoms of perimenopause are no walk in the park.
But there is good news! There's so much we can do to smooth the transition into menopause and reduce symptoms. And interestingly, my recommendations for women going through perimenopause are similar to what I would tell a woman in her 20s experiencing PMS, or even a man with low sperm count or low testosterone. It all has to do with restoring balance to your body and supporting healthy levels of the most important hormones.
It takes a full lifestyle approach to balance hormones, including dietary changes, exercise, and mindfulness-based stress reduction. On top of that, there are specific herbs and supplements that can help you get there. Here's where to start:
1. Reduce stress with magnesium and L-theanine.
Stress is the body's biggest hormone hijacker, and there's no pill, potion, or powder that's going to improve your symptoms if you're chronically and severely stressed. Tackling this issue means making big changes like learning to set healthy boundaries and leaving a toxic relationship or a work environment. It also requires daily practice, which is where meditation, yoga, deep breathing, resting, and allowing time for mental downtime come in.
If you're already combating chronic stress by adjusting your habits and lifestyle, there are a few supplements that I recommend to help your body deal with leftover stressors. Magnesium is the most soothing, calming mineral, and it's thought that it's one of the first nutrients depleted by stress. Magnesium can help relax the mind for better sleep. Severe deficiency can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and muscle cramps. Look for an amino acid chelated form like magnesium glycinate, which has superior absorption. L-theanine is also an amino acid, often found in the leaves of green tea, that converts to GABA in the brain. This means it calms the central nervous system, inducing a relaxed state. It is most helpful for sleep, anxiety, and stress.
2. Correct deficiencies by supplementing with vitamin D and fish oil.
It's a good idea to have a nutritional analysis run by a functional medicine provider at any age, but it can be especially helpful during perimenopause. Identifying any specific deficiencies can help you create a targeted supplement routine. Even without running a test, however, it's safe to assume you may need a few specific nutrients that many women are frequently deficient in. Omega-3s, zinc, selenium, magnesium, and vitamin D are common ones that are also critical for hormone health—so you'll want to correct deficiencies before you enter perimenopause! The good news is that taking a high-quality capsule multivitamin, omega-3-rich fish oil, and extra vitamin D may be just what you need to cover your bases.
3. Balance hormones with adaptogenic herbs like rhodiola and ashwaganda.
In my practice, I often use various herbal formulations to help balance hormones. Herbs can take weeks to months to take full effect, but when you stick it out, they can be very effective. If the patient is reporting high amounts of stress, I may recommend adaptogenic herbs like Eleutherococcus senticosus, schisandra, and ashwagandha. Rhodiola rosea can help support the nervous system, mood, mental clarity, work performance, and a healthy sleep cycle. It can also help to preserve levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which are important for mental health.
If a woman has low estrogen symptoms or we find low estrogen upon testing, I often recommend estrogen-enhancing herbs like red clover, isoflavones, and black cohosh. To boost progesterone, I typically recommend vitex, passionflower, and paeonae. To boost testosterone, I recommend use of horny goatweed and tribulus. This can get complicated, so it's best to work with a trained herbalist or integrative or functional medicine practitioner who can test your hormone levels and make specific recommendations.
Remember: Perimenopause doesn't have to be as tough as many of us assume it'll be. It's all about knowing what you can do to help your body through this transition. By reducing stress, working to detox the body through healthier lifestyle choices, and correcting nutritional deficiencies, I have seen countless women overcome their perimenopausal symptoms.
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