As we age, our ovarian function and egg quality decline. This decline starts already in the twenties, decreases significantly after age thirty, and is nearly nonexistent by menopause. With this decline, the estrogen and progesterone production slowly become more imbalanced and erratic and is often recognized by four different hormonal phases or states.
Each one of the four states present their own set of physical and emotional symptoms. Some women sail right through these phases without any symptoms while others suffer a great deal. The more balanced we are nutritionally and the less stressed we are, the better are our chances to go through these phases without too many symptoms.
1: NORMAL (Hormonal balance)
The normal or balanced state usually starts in puberty soon after the first period. For some women it will take a couple of months before the hormones have stabilized. A balanced nutritional intake in combination with stress reduction are important factors for continued hormonal balance until menopause. The possible emotional symptoms are usually not cyclical. Of course, we all feel a little different from day to day in a normal menstrual cycle, but in this phase, the symptoms do not increase drastically before the expected period like in women suffering from PMS/PMDD.
2: PMS/PMDD (Hormonal imbalance)
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) often starts in the mid-thirties but can start even earlier. Cyclical symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, mood-swings, headaches, and depression can last anywhere from a couple of days up to two full weeks before the onset the period.
With true PMS/PMDD the symptoms disappear as soon as the period starts. The amount of period days or amount of bleeding is usually unchanged from how it has been before. During this state the production of the sex hormone progesterone often has started to decline.
3: PRE MENOPAUSE (Hormonal imbalance)
Pre menopause often starts in the forties. Cyclical symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, mood-swings, headaches, depression, and night sweats can last anywhere from a couple of days up to two full weeks before the period. But during pre menopause the symptoms do not disappear once the period starts (like with PMS/PMDD), instead new symptoms like fatigue, low energy and lack of motivation are very common during the period.
Women often say they only have one week during the month when they feel like themselves. The period often starts earlier than it used to. Instead of a 28-32 day cycle, a 21-24 day cycle becomes more common. The period is also often heavier and sometimes contains blood clots. During this cycle the progesterone levels have declined even further, and the estrogen levels often measure higher than normal.
4: MENOPAUSE & POSTMENOPAUSE (Hormonal imbalance)
This phase usually starts in the late forties to early fifties. Common symptoms are crying spells, lack of motivation, feeling low, night sweats, hot flushes, brain fog and insomnia. The symptoms are not cyclical, and they are pretty much the same throughout the month.
The ovaries have ceased to ovulate and therefor there is no longer any progesterone produced by the ovaries, and the estrogen has declined to very low levels. The periods are very sparse or have stopped all together. Menopause lasts for about one year to be followed by post menopause, a phase lasting for the rest of one’s life.
The degree of symptoms during these states are of course very individual. Some women sail through all the phases without much of symptoms while others suffer a great deal. However, knowledge is power, so by keeping track of your symptoms and by educating your self about hormones you get empowered to take control over your well-being and your health.