by Mona Turrell, NC, D PSc

Turn and face the strange

—David Bowie

As women, it seems our bodies and hormones are in flux almost our whole lives. The ebb and flow (pun intended) of menstrual cycles, pregnancy and delivery, breastfeeding, then finally perimenopause and menopause.

We live in a culture that speaks of these changes and shifts as awful. I believe it’s time to reconsider and understand that the design of our bodies is, instead, “awe-ful” and powerful. I spent 40+ childbearing years capable of growing a baby and producing milk to feed the baby without ever having to consciously give it a thought. I never once had to decide which hormone to release or which hormone to inhibit to make any of that happen. I was in awe of what my body could do (yes, even though things didn’t always go perfectly, and though I had four cesareans), and I celebrated and appreciated that season. Then perimenopause began…

I had heard horror stories from my friends. I expected wild mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, heart palpitations, weight gain, and loss of interest in sex.That’s all I had ever heard about menopause, even though women in cultures that value aging and celebrate menopause do not report extreme symptoms. I wondered if I could make it different somehow. I did.

But let’s back up a bit. In my early forties, I began to see a chiropractor for a muscle spasm. Besides chiropractic adjustments, he began teaching me how I should be eating. It changed my health head to toe, inside and out. It changed my career path.  It changed my life. For ten years prior to perimenopause, I was eating organic whole foods without restriction, eliminating or reducing toxins in my home and health and beauty products, and I was physically active. One of the benefits of this lifestyle change is my hormones became balanced. No more PMS, just a regular gentle cycle of rising and falling estrogen and progesterone doing their graceful dance along with other complementary hormones. This set the stage for how I would transition through menopause.

I remember the first time my cycle was late. Here I was, in my early 50s buying a home pregnancy test, both hoping it would be positive and hoping it would be negative. It was negative. For the next few years, my cycles were regularly spaced three months apart (perimenopause) and eventually stopped (menopause). To support my body during this stage, I supplemented my healthy diet with hormone balancing herbs. This was going to be easy-peasy!

Then it happened. I was driving home from a seminar in Dallas in a blinding rain storm and I had just received a phone call telling me of a family emergency. I pulled to the side of the highway with my heart racing and I was warm through my whole body, and I was shaking with anxiety. I was reminded what hormone pathways could cause this sudden onset of symptoms and knew what I needed to do.

The adrenal glands are very small and sit atop the kidneys, and have a mighty effect on the body. They produce stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, but since they also produce an estrogen precursor, they are one of your body’s main sources of estrogen after menopause. Your body uses estrogen for many processes, including bone repair and remodeling and regulating cholesterol, and once your ovaries slow estrogen production your body will convert the precursor provided by the adrenal glands for use. (Fat cells also produce an estrogen precursor, in case you were wondering.) Periods of high stress cause your adrenal glands to produce more stress hormones and less estrogen precursor.

During periods of intense stress, I have experienced heart palpitations and “warm hugs” as I call them since they are not as extreme as the hot flashes others have described. Recognizing this, I have learned to manage stress and take care not to become overwhelmed. I am deliberate in nourishing my body as during times of stress the adrenal glands require more C and B vitamins, so I consume more foods rich in these nutrients and supplement with organic whole food vitamins focused for adrenal support, a high quality wheat germ oil as a whole food source for Vitamin E, and Ashwaghanda which is an herb that has been traditionally used for adrenal support. In my practice I utilize BioScan SRT (Stress Relief Therapy) and Reflexology, and I regularly use these on myself. 

One other vitally important therapy that is free and can be practiced anywhere is deep belly breathing. The intra-abdominal pressure created by core breathing gives the adrenal glands a little massage with every breath. It also engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the “rest and digest” state, instead of staying in a constant state of “fight or flight”.

Menopause doesn’t have to be miserable. Use this season to take care of yourself and celebrate the new freedom

Mona Turrell, NC, D PSc serves as Nutritional Consultant at ProActive Sport and Spine in Broken Arrow, OK. She also offers comprehensive Holistic Health Assessments, Reflexology, and Lifestyle Counseling. Mona has been active in promoting natural health in the Tulsa area since 2008, even appearing on all four network affiliates promoting real food recipes and community health initiatives. Her passion is helping others feel their best by developing strategies for eating well, moving well, and thinking well.