Perimenopause

The Fatigue-Inducing Hormonal Imbalance 85% of Older Women Have — and the $12 Cure

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For years, Doris Carlson, 59, battled exhaustion, body aches and brain fog — until she discovered the surprising culprit and the natural cure.

“Mom! Mom!” I woke up to hear my 14-year-old daughter, Alexis, yelling as she rang the doorbell, recalls Doris. I ran downstairs to find her on the verge of tears as she fell into my arms and said, ‘I didn’t know what to do. You weren’t there to pick me up!’ My heart sunk. For the past few months, I’d been so exhausted that I often took naps after I dropped Alexis off at school. What in the world is wrong with me? I wondered as I admitted to her that I had overslept — again.

Doris Carlson

For four years, fatigue took a major toll on my life. No matter how much I wanted to be there for my family, I just couldn’t find the energy to do so. I ended up making excuses to loved ones, including my daughter. She had been begging to join the YMCA so we could swim together. She and I both love swimming, but I barely had the energy to get through the day, let alone exercise. So I told her we didn’t have the money. She was so disappointed, and I felt awful.

I was disappointing my husband too. The things we enjoyed doing together — going out to dinner, playing pinball, gardening — were too much for me. So he did those things alone while I stayed on the couch. He said he understood, but I knew he was worried about me.

As the months went on, I found myself missing out on more and more. Especially heart-wrenching was when I had to break a long-standing family tradition: After losing my parents at a young age, my siblings and our cousins made a commitment to always spend Christmas Eve together. It was one of the few times all year that I saw my family. But as my health spiraled downward with brain fog, insomnia, depression and night sweats adding to my struggles — I knew I wouldn’t be able to drive 90 minutes each way and have enough energy to be social. When I called my brother to back out, I was afraid he wouldn’t understand, so I made up a story about having back pain… it just sounded better than saying I was too tired. After I hung up, I burst into tears.

It wasn’t just that I felt horrible — I also looked worse. I had recently lost 45 pounds, but I suddenly gained back 10. My hair was falling out, too.

Last February, I had finally had enough, and I decided to see my doctor. He said it was part of menopause, but also said I was prediabetic and suggested I go on a diet. I tried the no-carb, no- sugar, high-protein diabetic-friendly meal plan he recommended, but there were too many restrictions. I was constantly hungry, and my sugar cravings were out of control. I knew it would never work — I needed a plan that was sustainable.

Then one day my friend posted on Facebook about weight-loss expert JJ Smith’s 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse (Buy at Amazon, $12). After reading about others who had great results on the detox, I decided to try it.

Within 10 days, I was sleeping better and I lost 14 pounds. I continued on a healthy diet and within eight months, I reversed my prediabetes and improved my cholesterol, plus my sugar cravings weren’t controlling me. Yet the fatigue still lingered. I had to find out why.

I joined JJ Smith’s support group, then spoke to her on the phone and via email. She suggested I have my hormones checked, so I returned to my physician with a list of things to test: TSH, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and cortisol. The results showed I had estrogen dominance and low progesterone. My doctor explained that this hormonal imbalance was causing my fatigue and night sweats. I was relieved to finally understand why I was so tired. To help balance my hormones, I started taking bio-identical hormones and using a progesterone and estrogen cream. I also started to take Nature’s Way DIM-Plus (Buy at Amazon, $22), a supplement that helps with estrogen metabolism.

On JJ’s advice, I cut refined sugars and white flour from my diet and upped my fiber intake by adding more cruciferous vegetables and low-sugar fruits. I also started mixing flaxseed and a fiber supplement into my smoothies.

Within 48 hours, the night sweats were gone. Within a week, my energy had returned. Today, instead of missing out on time with my family, I enjoy the special moments we have together. And instead of staying home when my husband has time off, I jump at the chance to be with him, whether it’s gardening or going out to eat. I even became a nutritionist and opened my own business, Get Your Foxy Back, to help women lose weight. I’m thrilled to have my life back!” —As told to Julie Revelant

Could you be ‘estrogen dominant’?

If you have fatigue and two or more of the symptoms below, estrogen dominance may be to blame:

  • Brian fog
  • Breast tenderness
  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Migraines
  • Low libido
  • Ruddy cheeks or palms
  • Irregular periods

How to fix it:

“Estrogen dominance robs women of the energy, mental clarity and upbeat mood they deserve,” says Sara Gottfried, M.D., author of The Hormone Reset Diet. She estimates that 85 percent of women over 35 have the condition, which occurs when estrogen rises too high in relation to progesterone, causing fatigue, brain fog and weight gain.

Age and chronic stress increase the risk of estrogen dominance, says ob-gyn Marcelle Pick, co-founder of the healthcare center Women to Women. Production of progesterone declines as perimenopause approaches while estrogen levels remain fairly stable. And stress impairs the function of the adrenal glands, suppressing progesterone output further.

If you say yes to two or more of the red flags in the list above, progesterone cream (like GNC Women’s Progesterone Cream, Buy at GNC, $13) can help. Use it from day 14 of your cycle to the first day of your period each month, rubbing it on the inside of your wrists or thighs. Post menopause? Use for 21 days in a row; take seven days off each month. Also smart: eating 25 grams of fiber a day to help flush excess estrogen.

This story originally appeared in our magazine, Save on Healthcare.

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