Tired? Foggy? Irritable? Frequent migraines? For millions of women over 40, these symptoms signal the hormonal imbalance that typically precedes menopause. And while there are countless natural remedies for there perimenopausal symptoms, many women are finding luck with probiotics for menopause. Before we get to that, a little bit of background.
We know all too well about the hot flashes and night sweats that are hallmarks of the menopause transition, but 46.5% of women in perimenopause experience fatigue and a whopping 85.3% of postmenopausal women do, report researchers in the journal Menopause.
One key culprit? Imbalances in the estrobolome, an array of hormone-balancing gut bacteria. It’s an under-recognized cause of female fatigue, says Mark Menolascino, MD, medical director of the Meno Clinic Center for Functional Medicine in Wilson, Wyoming. “The estrobolome is a subset of beneficial gut bacteria that plays a key role in regulating estrogen levels,” he says. But factors like diet and toxin exposure can cause imbalances, triggering fatigue, mood swings, memory decline and more.
Never heard of the estrobolome? Neither had Vanessa Ford, 49. But when she was overcome by fatigue and brain fog that made it nearly impossible to function, she saw her doctor, who informed her that she was in the throes of perimenopause and that the drop in estrogen was wreaking havoc on her system. But when she took steps to rebalance her hormones, she got her life back!
Read on to learn more about Vanessa’s story. It could help you determine if you’re going through something similar — and if the steps that helped her could also help you sleep better, ease anxiety, restore clear thinking and boost your vitality!
Vanessa’s brain fog was relentless and getting worse
Ugh! I sound just like my grandmother, Vanessa Ford thought to herself as her cheeks turned red when she struggled to recall a coworker’s name during an important meeting. I’m too young to have these memory issues. What is wrong with me? the then-44-year-old worried, trying to cover her embarrassment and fear.
“Ten years ago, around my 40th birthday, I started noticing issues with my cognitive abilities. My brain would feel cloudy and I had difficulty finding the right words,” recalls Vanessa. “Over the next few years, the fuzziness worsened to the point where I was frequently forgetting why I walked into a room, who I wanted to text or what I was going to say. My short-term memory was spotty too, and it became so severe by the time I was 44 that I wondered if I had aphasia [the loss of the ability to express or understand language], dementia or even Alzheimer’s.
“But it wasn’t just brain fog that worried me. I was also dealing with inexplicable fatigue that was far worse than the occasional I-could-use-a-nap-because-I-didn’t-sleep-well feeling we all get from time to time. I was bone-tired exhausted to the point of slogging through my day, not only battling brain fog and memory issues but barely being able to muster the energy to move.
“Some days, I had to give myself a pep talk to gather the energy to get out of the car and walk into the grocery store because I felt like I would collapse from exhaustion. Downing several pots of coffee was the only way to avoid falling asleep in the middle of my workday because I was only getting two to four hours of horrible sleep every night. I even had a coffee maker on my desk to help get me through the day. I always laughed off comments coworkers made about how much coffee I drank, but inside I was ashamed that I needed caffeine to get through the day. (Love coffee? Click through to see how protein coffee, or proffee, can help you lose weight.)
“Then, about four years ago, I had a period that lasted for three weeks, which was completely out of the ordinary for me. It was full-on, soak-the-tampon every two hours, every single day for 21 days. Because of a family history of cancer, about 2½ weeks in, I called my doctor in a panic and told her I thought I needed to come in for tests.”
When doctors couldn’t help, Vanessa did her own research
“By the time I saw the doctor, my period stopped and I thought I’d overreacted, but she suggested doing tests anyway to make sure there wasn’t a serious problem. Then she said, ‘This is likely just perimenopause.’ (Click through for signs that perimenopause is almost over.)
“I had never heard the word perimenopause before, and while I was thrilled she didn’t think I had cancer, I was disappointed she didn’t have any suggestions for easing my symptoms. She sent me home with resources, and as I did my own research, I started connecting the dots that the trouble sleeping, fatigue and cognitive issues I’d had since I turned 40 were due to my dipping estrogen levels.
“I was relieved that I didn’t have dementia, but I was sad to learn the fuzziness might become part of my everyday life. There has to be a way to feel better, I told myself.”
The natural remedy that helped Vanessa feel whole again
“So I set out researching options to boost estrogen levels. I learned that phytoestrogens and certain strains of probiotics can help manage estrogen production. Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that act like estrogen in the body, and sort of fill in the gaps when there isn’t enough estrogen. (Click through for the phytoestrogen-rich snack that reduces hot flashes)
“I read how probiotic strains like Lactobacillus gasseri and Bifidobacterium animalis help the body deconjugate estrogen, which essentially means that your gut recycles estrogen, instead of passing it out in your waste or storing it in fat cells, so you get to make use of the same estrogen again. This helps immensely with brain fog and other estrogen-related memory issues and with a host of menopause symptoms, including anxiety, weight gain, fatigue and hot flashes.
“Thrilled to find a possible solution, the next day I tried a probiotic supplement with these strains, plus Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus reuteri, and I started taking a probiotic and phytoestrogen every morning. Within a few weeks, the fog started to lift. (Click through to see how probiotics can help you lose weight too)
“I was thinking more clearly and fought less to find the right word. Six weeks later, I was sleeping soundly for five to six hours at night. After about three months, I felt amazing. My energy, concentration, and memory were normal!
“After overcoming my struggles and battling frustration from the lack of support that women experience during this stage of life, I was prompted to action and decided to co-found Menolabs, which produces natural healthcare products, supplements and high-quality probiotics company that can keep us focused, healthy and productive throughout our lives. Indeed, our MenoFit product has the probiotic strains that helped me heal.
“Today, at 49, my short-term memory and language skills are so much better than they were five years ago. I credit probiotics for giving me back my life. Without them, I would still be battling those symptoms, and instead, I feel like a better version of me at 50 than I was at 40!”
How estrogen flux drains the energy of women
Women in their 40s and 50s are hardest hit, Dr. Menolascino notes. The reason? When the estrobolome is imbalanced, estrogen fluctuations worsen, magnifying hot flashes and other draining symptoms. (Click through for natural hot flash cures)
How to know if your hormones are out of whack
Doctors can conduct stool, blood and urine tests to identify deficits in gut bacteria and hormones, but no test focuses on the estrobolome. And while mainstream physicians often suggest hormone therapy as a fix, the strategies below can restore balance and reduce the need for medications.
How to restore hormone balance naturally
In addition to the supplements that helped Vanessa, foods that feed the estrobolome can rebalance it naturally. Dr. Menolascino advises eating artichokes, garlic, onions, asparagus and grapefruit (they contain prebiotic starch that the estrobolome thrives on) daily, as well as fermented foods like kefir, yogurt and sauerkraut three to five times a week. These foods boast beneficial bacteria species such as lactobacillus and bifidobacterium to reseed the gut and the estrobolome.
Also smart: Eat more legumes. The estrobolome converts compounds in beans, lentils and chickpeas into phytoestrogens to optimize estrogen levels. And eating cruciferous veggies (like broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts) nourishes the gut and assists in toxin removal.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
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