Whilst talking about hot flushes is becoming less taboo, discussing heavy periods, or telling anyone about a “supersoaker event” as described by Canadian gynaecologist Dr Jen Gunter is a whole different level of sharing. But heavy periods are experienced by many women as we move through the perimenopause and they can be debilitating, stopping people from going to work, leaving home, and leading to a whole new level of stress.
Fibroids, polyps and in some rare cases cancer can be the driver for heavy periods and need to be looked into by a GP. But for many it may just be a case of our hormones changing. Throughout our menstrual cycle our periods are regulated by hormones, two of which are oestrogen and progesterone. In the first two weeks of our cycle, oestrogen builds up the uterine wall ready for implantation and is very much an anabolic hormone. Progesterone kicks in half way through, slowing down the oestrogen. From our mid 30s both progesterone and oestrogen decline, but progesterone declines at a fast rate and this can result in a relative oestrogen dominance. Therefore, oestrogen can carry on building and is slowed down less quickly. Hence a thicker uterine wall and a heavier period. This is phase 1 of perimenopause. As we move closer to when our periods end, and oestrogen has declined more, our periods become lighter and sometimes our cycles longer.
What can we do?
Of course visiting your GP or health care provider is essential to rule out issues such as fibroids or polyps. HRT and the mirena coil may also help so are good points to discuss with your doctor. But nourishing your body to support your hormone balance is within your control and a great thing to do in our 40s for a whole load of reasons from hormone balance to brain health regardless of whether you take HRT or not. So small changes such as eating an extra colour – if you never eat yellow vegetables add in some yellow pepper or add radishes for red, include lots of plants, eat whole foods and reduce processed foods – this can make a real difference. Regular movement is also a key part of this support and finding the stress management that works for you. The irony is that stress can exacerbate the heavy period problem, causing more stress. So as we move into the new year think about how your stress was in 2021 and what causes you stress. I am committed to walking outdoors regularly, reducing my phone usage, building my stress resilience and removing anything that I know is unnecessarily causing me stress (where possible – come back to me if we return to home schooling!). But finding a trusted friend to talk to about it – so that if you need to make an SOS call in the middle of a run or at work – can reduce that stress. And make you feel less alone. I’m hoping to increase the community within the facebook group 40s Woman so do join if you haven’t already. If you’re interested in knowing more about your periods, Nicole Jardim’s “Fix Your Period” is an interesting read, both for yourself, and your daughters, and I’ll be discussing this more during the “Changing Lanes” programme starting Wednesday 12 January.