One of my Fabulous Fifty resolutions is to address my hormones once and for all. This may seem an overly dramatic statement but it is something I have been battling with for a while. I have written previously about my menopausal madness which manifests itself largely with me feeling irritable, impatient, forgetful, tired and fuzzy headed. Everyone's experience is different and I am sure as my mid-life journey continues my symptoms will vary but this period of transition for me currently is all about my mood and general feeling of well-being.
Hormones regulate every function in our bodies and when in balance they make us feel healthy, energetic and more in control of our lives. As we age and some of these hormones decline then the balance is upset and a range of symptoms like mine may manifest themselves.
- The HRT Debate
I have always suffered from severe PMS but this is on a different scale. For a couple of years now I have dipped in and out of various consultations with my GP and been referred to a gynaecologist regarding the best way forward and HRT is always presented as my saviour. My mother started taking HRT in her mid-40's and to this day absolutely swears that it saved her sanity. But we live in a different world now. Is it the be all and end all?
Some friends have sailed through the menopause without any problems at all apart from a steely determination to not let it beat them! Others have battled with hot flushes and horrific insomnia and come out the other end with a bigger waist. Very few, however, have actually turned to HRT.
HRT is and always will be a hot topic and in recent years, many women have stopped taking it because of apparent growing evidence that the risks outweigh the benefits. I am not adverse to chemicals, if there is a pill to rid me of something I will always be first in the queue. Also I don't pay much attention to these trials as they are rarely conducted on a sample that matches "me", but I have listened to the arguments over the years and as the time drew closer for me to make a choice and stop dithering, I decided that I didn't want a one size fits all approach.
Our health is our wealth and I want to be better informed about the choices available to help me get through this peri-menopausal hell and looking ahead, to be better prepared for the menopause and all the life changes that has to bring. The decision I make now is a long-term investment in my health and to that end I decided I would rather have a treatment that was tailor-made for "me" and what was happening specifically in "my" body.
- Bio-Identical Hormone Therapy
So on this basis, research and recommendations from friends led me to look at bio-identical hormone treatment which uses plant-derived hormones that are identical in chemical structure to those found in the human body. Basically this means that because they are an exact copy of the hormones we produce they work in our body in the way they are supposed to and prescribed properly do not carry with them any of the side effects or health risks of HRT.
For my birthday present to myself I booked a consultation which included a review of my medical history, a full physical examination and blood tests to review my hormone and thyroid function, blood biochemistry, Vitamin D levels and full blood count. These tests aside, to me the most important questions I was asked were "Why are you here? What concerns you the most? What do you want to achieve from this for yourself?" Dealing with women and their hormones on a daily basis whether, pre-natal, post-natal or menopausal must be tedious but no medical professional had actually asked me these questions before about "me" and how "I" was actually feeling, just about my symptoms.
So what did I achieve? Well after a very thorough consultation I returned a week later for the results. On that morning my husband texted me and said "I hope you get the answers you want." Ultimately that is what I wanted more than anything else. I wanted someone to say you are experiencing this because of X, Y and Z. Did I get that? Yes I did. In hindsight I don't know how I would have felt if I hadn't but in short my tests confirmed that I was peri-menopausal (no surprise there really); my oestrogen level was decreasing but most significantly of all my progesterone level was low.
Being presented with a sheet of numbers for my bloods and being shown where my figures sit in the normal range was great but I needed a translation of what this meant and how it related to my situation. Well oestrogens perform a range of vital tasks in our body such as regulating our body temperature, helping us to sleep, supporting the collagen in our skin, maintaining our memory, concentration and bone density as well as helping to keep our moods positive. If that isn't enough they also protect us from cardiovascular disease and assist in the production of serotonin, which is responsible for decreasing depression, irritability and anxiety.
As for progesterone, well it truly is the happy hormone. Its primary function is to relieve tension in the body; it decreases anxiety and depression and also relaxes us, thus keeping us calm and balanced. On the whole it is a natural tranquiliser. It is the first hormone to be depleted on our way to menopause and those who are progesterone deficient commonly complain of excessive irritability and mood swings like me.
As a result I have been prescribed a carefully calibrated dose of bio-identical hormones to apply in a cream via the skin twice a day. The emphasis is on increasing my progesterone levels but I have also been prescribed an oestrogen cream as it is important that both hormones are at a level where they both balance each other because this is what it is all about, restoring my body's hormonal balance and thus getting everything back on track. I recognise that this is not a miracle cure, but just one component of managing my mid-life changes, however, at the moment I am in right now, it is a potential antidote for my crazy lady syndrome and for that I and my family will be grateful as long as it works of course! It is very early days but until my review in 8 weeks I am doing as instructed and applying the cream.