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

Changing Toxic Thought Patterns
by Hamilton Beazley, Ph.D.
It’s been said that we are what we eat. It’s even more true that we are what we think. Toxic thought patterns lead to various forms of self destructive behavior, including the creation and retention of regrets that burden us. Letting go of our regrets and overcoming the anger, pain and guilt they feed requires us to identify the toxic thought patterns that support them. Journaling, spoken or written affirmations, creative visualizations, prayer, meditation, thought analysis and sharing with others are among the spiritual and psychological tools we can use to counter toxic thought patterns. Some of the most common toxic thought patterns that support regrets and other counterproductive behavior include the following:

1. Perfectionism. These people are driven to be perfect and suffer terribly when they are not. Although perfectionists acknowledge intellectually that perfection is impossible, they behave as if it were. To be less than perfect is to fail. Perfectionism keeps us from reaching our full potential and even robs us of learning from failure. Perfectionism makes our regrets more regrettable and self-forgiveness more unlikely.

2. Exaggerated Control. When we have an exaggerated sense of control over other people and the events of our lives, we take responsibility for results we did not create and for which we should not be held accountable. We can influence some people and some events, but we have no real control over anyone but ourselves. While an unrealistic sense of control pleases our ego and may reassure us, it also makes us feel guilty in situations where no guilt was warranted.

3. Foreseeing the Future: If we could foresee events, we could eliminate costly mistakes, avoid serious pain and guarantee extraordinary success. But we cannot predict the future. In our regrets, we may blame ourselves for not having predicted future events and acted to prevent them or take advantage of them in some way. John says, “If I had only married Sue in college, I would be happy now.” But John can’t possibly know that he would be happy, because he cannot predict what his life with Sue would have been like. Such an imagined outcome is pure speculation.

4. Personalizing Events. “It’s all about me.” That’s the assumption we make when we erroneously assume that whatever happens to us is primarily about us and not about the other person. This ego-centric thought pattern puts us at the center of things when we don’t belong there. Another person’s actions toward us are assumed to be in response to what we said or did rather than in response to the other person’s needs, feelings and desires.

5. Incomplete Comparisons. The comparisons we make between ourselves and others inevitably lead to regret when we find our own lives lacking. Yet all such incomplete comparisons are invalid because we can’t really know what the lives of other people are like. We have compared our “insides” to their “outsides.” We see only their facades, not their truth.

6. Extreme Thinking. Extreme thinking is an all-or-nothing, black-and white thought pattern. With extreme thinking, it’s everything or nothing. There is no second, third, or fourth place and no second, third, or fourth chance---only first place or failure. With extreme thinking, our failure is total when we make a mistake. With no second chance, we have no way to correct the error, no way out of the problem it created. “I’ll never find another job!” “I’ll never follow my dream.” Extreme thinking removes us from the reality of a complex world with many different opportunities and reduces our experience of life to a simplistic world filled with high drama and continuous disasters.

Fortunately, toxic thoughts can be counteracted by applying thought analysis whenever they crop up and by utilizing other spiritual and psychological tools. By becoming aware of your thought patterns and then taking time to really analyze them, you can:

1. Listen critically to the thoughts you have about your regrets, whether the regrets are new or enduring.
2. Determine whether these thoughts arise from toxic thought patterns.
3. Review the validity of the thought by asking yourself such questions as, “Is this statement true? Is it realistic?”
4. Reject the thought if it is untrue, unfair, or unrealistic.
The use of thought analysis and the other spiritual and psychological tools to counter toxic thought patterns is a process that requires continuous effort. The thought habits of a lifetime are not quickly changed, but they can be countered, neutralized and gradually altered though persistent work. Gradual transformation, not complete inalterable perfection, is the goal.

Hamilton Beazley, Ph.D. is author of the critically-acclaimed new book, “No Regrets: A Ten-Step Program for Living in the Present and Leaving the Past Behind” (John Wiley & Sons; 2003). For more information on letting go of regrets, please visit www.NoRegrets.org.