What is Perimenopause and How Can You Treat Symptoms? by Holly Lucille, ND, RN

Everyday in my practice, I see women as young as their mid-thirties who tell me that they are experiencing symptoms of menopause even though they are far too young for menopause. I know first-hand what these women are going through, since at the age of 38, I began to experience many of the same symptoms, fatigue, painful periods, weight gain and fluctuations in body temperature.

What my patients and I are actually experiencing is perimenopause, a phase of a woman's life that typically starts when hormones begin to fluctuate about eight to ten years before menopause. Some of the symptoms are similar to menopause: hot flashes, restless sleep, mood swings and difficulty concentrating. Another hallmark of perimenopause is periods that become more erratic and uncomfortable.

Not much has been written about perimenopause, possibly because many doctors have not recognized it as a distinct life phase and until recently, many women have simply overlooked the symptoms. A recent survey found that fewer than half (47.5 percent) of women know what perimenopause is and 30 percent have never even heard of it.

So, why the sudden increase in women reporting these menopause like symptoms in their thirties and forties? Most of the symptoms can be linked directly to hormone imbalance. At times, there is actually too much estrogen and not enough progesterone in our bodies resulting in what is known as estrogen dominance. Women today tend to have higher estrogen levels than women in the past due to stress, diet and environmental factors. The impact of estrogen dominance on women means the highs and lows of hormone fluctuation during perimenopause may be more dramatic today, causing more severe symptoms. Fortunately, just as supplements can help relieve the symptoms of menopause, there are supplements that also can combat perimenopausal symptoms.

Supplements should be part of a woman's larger plan for getting her hormones back into balance. The plan should also include a healthy, whole food diet, exercise and techniques for relieving stress. I recommended supplements that are safe and natural; there is usually no need to resort to the synthetic hormone treatment of birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Recent media reports about HRT have caused both fear and confusion among many women. More than 50 percent of women surveyed said they feel fearful or confused about the prospect of taking hormone replacement therapy. It's no wonder with all of the recent news about the health risks of HRT. Fortunately, there are natural alternatives to help women combat the symptoms of perimenopause and coupled with some lifestyle changes, they can help women get their hormones back in balance and restore the body's natural function. I recommend a range of ingredients to my patients for perimenopausal symptoms including:

Black Cohosh is widely used for natural hormonal support and relief of occasional hot flashes, PMS and other perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms. Green Tea is one of my favorite herbs for women's health. It helps reduce fatigue and has even been shown to stimulate metabolism to help avoid weight gain. Clinical studies have shown that green tea can play a role in supporting breast health. Rhodiola helps with "brain fog" associated with perimenopause. It aids concentration and has been shown to provide temporary relief of stress and improve energy levels.

Chaste Berry helps with natural progesterone balance and relief of menstrual symptoms. It may help alleviate painful periods, including breast tenderness and other PMS symptoms. Valerian root and hops can work in tandem to induce a really nice relaxation and increase the quality of sleep without causing daytime sluggishness. L-theanine is an important amino acid found in green tea which helps aid concentration, alleviates muscle tension and helps promote restful sleep.

While hormonal shifts may be a natural part of the aging process, it is important for women to know that they can stay in control of their bodies and their hormones. In partnership with their health care professional, lifestyle changes and the right supplements can help alleviate the symptoms of hormone imbalance without the use of synthetic hormones.

Dr. Holly Lucille is a licensed Naturopathic Physician, member of the Scientific Advisory Board for Enzymatic Therapy and author of the new book, "Creating and Maintaining Balance: A Woman's Guide to Safe Natural Hormone Health." For more information on AM/PM Perimenopause, visit www.enzy.com