Has your period gone MIA, or are you waking up finding yourself soaked in sweat every night? Maybe you're noticing that you've been struggling to concentrate and not feeling as sharp as you did once before? Well, these can be common symptoms experienced by a postmenopausal woman, but if you're too young for menopause then this is not normal. If you're nodding your head, “Yes,” it's time we talk about early menopause.
If you're in your 30's or younger then keep reading because you've got at least a decade before your ovaries should be calling it quits.
1 in 100 Experience Early Menopause
Some unfortunate truth is about 1 in 100 women will experience early menopausal symptoms—hot flashes, vaginal dryness, having really light periods that eventually just go away. It's estimated that as high as 90% of women never understand why they actually lost their period in the first place.
In medicine, we refer to early menopause as premature ovarian failure or primary ovarian insufficiency. It basically means that your ovaries have given up, and no matter how much your brain speaks to them, they ain't going to put out any more estrogen or other hormones.
Signs of Early Menopause
A telltale sign of premature ovarian failure is when you've skipped your period or they've been very irregular for more than four months. This is also something that can go along with post birth control syndrome and PCOS.
If your period's gone away all altogether or you're experiencing mood swings, low libido, hot flashes, fatigue, brain fog or any other signs of hormone imbalance lab testing is in order. The sooner you can get to the root and intervene the more likely you'll be able to recover your period. Because if your ovaries aren't producing hormones, they certainly are not ovulating, which can lead to infertility. So if you know you'd like to have children then definitely investigate sooner than later.
Studies have shown that about 5-10% of women with premature ovarian failure can get pregnant. That's because there's a whole lot of diet and lifestyle interventions and targeted supplementation that can really help women recover and restore hormonal function, but in some cases, we're not able to do that naturally, so let's chat about what puts you at risk for premature ovarian failure or early menopause.
Early Menopause Symptoms
- Irregular or missed periods
- Anxiety or depression
- Spotting mid-cycle
- Thinning skin
- Dropping breasts
- Low libido, difficulty orgasming
- Hot flashes
- Brain fog
- Vaginal dryness
- Incontinence, bladder problems
7 Causes of Early Menopause
It may be genetic. There are certain genetic disorders that are associated with premature ovarian failure. If your mom, sister or grandmother went through early menopause then there is a good chance you will too. We tend to see this family trend in medicine. Research has shown us that as many as 20% of women who experience early menopause have a family member who's also experienced it.
Sometimes, the reason why we lose our period has nothing to do with our ovaries and everything to do with our brain. In order for your ovaries to do their job, they need your brain to be telling them what to do, basically orchestrating your hormones. Anything that can affect the brain function will affect how your brain speaks to your ovaries. What this means is is that if you've had a brain surgery, a head injury, autoimmune disease that affects brain tissue, or even just inflammation these may be the cause for an irregular or missed period.
All right, ladies. Who gets autoimmune disease? It's us. The most common type of autoimmune disease that women experience is known as autoimmune thyroiditis or Hashimoto's. Autoimmune thyroiditis has been linked to premature ovarian failure, as have other autoimmune diseases, like Addison's disease.
Addison's is a disease in which you attack your adrenal glands. The result is that you don't produce enough cortisol, which can impact all hormones. These antibodies can also trigger an immune attack on your ovaries.
Once you've lost immune tolerance to one tissue, it is possible to see more autoimmune disease occur. Yes, you can concurrently have Hashimoto's, Addison's, and primary ovarian insufficiency. In some case, loosing your period will show up before symptoms of autoimmunity in other tissues, as is the case with adrenal insufficiency.
Hypothyroidism, which is primary caused by autoimmunity, can cause your period to go missing as well, which doesn't mean you have antibodies to your ovaries. You can read more about how your thyroid hormones effect your menstrual cycle.
Autoimmune Lab Testing for Early Menopause
You can order advanced lab testing to evaluate if autoimmune disease is your root cause. In my practice, I use the Cyrex Array 5 to evaluate if a woman is actively making antibodies to her ovaries, along with other tissues. It is a predictive auto-antibody screening that can help you understand if you're making antibodies to additional tissues.
Testing for TPO and thyroglobulin antibodies can help you screen for Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Testing for 21-hydroxylase antibodies can help you evaluate for Addison's disease.
It is important to note that if you do not have sufficient immunoglobulins circulating (your doctor can check this) then you may have a false negative antibody result. Not everyone will have a positive antibody to their ovaries.
There are certain toxins that definitely can affect our ovaries and impair their function. For example, smoking does you no favors when it comes to your hormonal health. Smoking cigarettes or living in an area that exposes you to pesticides can actually put you at higher risk of premature ovarian failure or early menopause.
Chemo and Radiation
If you've undergone chemo or radiation therapy, it is possible that this is the root cause of your early menopausal symptoms. You see, radiation and chemotherapy can block ovarian function. Not that some women don't actually experience early menopause symptoms until they're well beyond therapy, like two years later.
Remember in Sex and the City, when Samantha had chemo for breast cancer? What followed was symptoms of menopause, which is not uncommon to see. The good news is is that there's lots of ways that you can support yourself naturally. Even if you're ovaries decide to call it quits, medicine has a lot of options in terms of maintaining your health.
A last and probably more obvious reason why you might be experiencing early menopause is if you've had an oophorectomy, which is when your ovaries are surgically removed. This is sometimes done as part of a hysterectomy. In those instances, it may be advised to begin bioidentical hormones.
Regardless of the cause, having adequate estrogen levels is necessary for maintaining your health.
When estrogen gets too low it can compromise your bones, your brain, and your heart. If you've been without a period for more than four months, definitely make a trip to your doctor to get some lab testing and evaluate your symptom picture as a whole to help you understand the cause.
5 Ways to Eliminate Early Menopause Symptoms
Adaptogens for the Win.
If you're in need of symptom relief now, studies have shown that adaptogenic herbs, like Maca and Rhodiola can be beneficial in helping with hot flashes, as can vitamin E. When your ovaries quit your adrenal glands take over by producing DHEA and other hormones that support your health. Taking care of your adrenals with cortisol modulating adaptogenic herbs, vitamins and minerals can go a long way in reducing symptoms.
Check out Adrenal Support by Dr. Brighten for a comprehensive adrenal supplement.
Make That Body Move on the Daily
Regular exercise helps you balance your blood sugar, body weight, and stress response—all of which can help you feel better fast. Without exercise we can't activate our thyroid hormone. Try pilates, yoga, body weight resistance, strength training and walks to help your hormones be at their best.
Eat a Hormone Friendly Diet
Eating a diet that's rich in antioxidants will also provide your ovaries with protection. You can grab a hormone friendly recipe guide here to help you get started. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol can also go a long way in supporting you and eliminating symptoms.
Getting adequate sleep allows you to make ample melatonin, which will help protect the ovaries. Aim to get in bed by 10 pm and stay there. If you're having trouble with that, consider Adrenal Calm to help your adrenals chill and your parasympathetic nervous system do it's thing.
Ditch Environmental Toxins.
If you're a smoker, you got to ditch that stuff because it's doing your lady parts no favors. Take a look at how to get rid of those hormone harming products and start eliminating them from your routine.