How our hormones change in or near our 40s & what you can do with Pamela Windle
In this interview, Laurie and Pamela Windle discuss how hormones change in or near our 40s & what you can do, and how you can support your body to minimize symptoms perimenopause and menopause.
This is a transcription of an Instagram live conversation. You can find the full video on Laurie’s IGTV tab on Instagram and on soon on YouTube.
I am here today with Pamela Windle. We’re going to be talking about perimenopause and how our hormones change when we’re in or near our forties and what we can do to help that transition go more smoothly. Pamela, would you want to take a quick minute to introduce yourself?
Yes. 2014 I was very, very unwell. I came down with a virus that turned out to be Epstein-Barr virus, and I was basically house bound for five years. They called it chronic fatigue. I didn’t know why I had the symptoms, but I was literally housebound.
I’m a very independent woman, so it was quite a shock and something to deal with. Luckily I met a doctor called Dr. Jessica Drummond and I became a woman’s health coach. In that process, I also healed my body at the same time. Since then I work with women in perimenopause and menopause to help them transition into this phase of life so much easier. In 2014, when I was sick, I was 46. In this phase of life, when things aren’t quite right, they really show up and have such a big impact on us. My hormones had an impact. The changing hormones had an impact while I was out at the time. I’m also a qualified personal trainer and I’m trained in hypnotherapy and psychotherapy. I do women’s health coaching and women ages 40 plus are my clients.
So let’s talk about perimenopause and what it is? How would you describe it?
I think it’s individual, but the research says the average age for women to start perimenopause is around your early forties. Obviously we’re all different. So it could start in your late thirties, or it could start in your early forties or even mid forties. We’re all different.
Initially, in terms of symptoms, you may not experience anything drastic. You might just feel fine throughout your cycle, but you might have some little changes. You may be having some heavy bleeding or your periods, your cycles come from 28 days to 26 days. Perimenopause is literally the lead up to menopause and the perimenopausal phase can last five years, 10 years or 15 years. It really depends on you as a woman.
Genetics play a role in that, but also how you live your life. That means exercise and how we move our body and the foods that we eat, all of that has an impact on you. It can lead you towards menopause much quicker, but you may have a bumpy ride to get to menopause. Perimenopause is a natural stage. It’s a pre stage before menopause.
Depending how we live our lives during perimenopause and leading up to that phase, can help us make perimenopause go more smoothly, right?
A hundred percent. You can have a bumpy ride or a smooth ride. When we’re talking about hormone balance in this stage of life, we need to support everything, not just the symptoms. For example a lot of people google hot flash and what they need to do to manage a hot flash. Hot flash is a symptom, that something else is out of balance. We need to treat everything else as well at the same time, not only the hot flash.
When you say everything else, what does that encompass?
We have to support our liver. Nutrition is really important. Digestion, absorption, elimination and making sure that you’re having a healthy bowel movement daily. Your makeup, cosmetics, personal care products. The things that you cook in, even drinking out of plastic water bottles. These are conversations you have to have with yourself. So that’s about your mindset.
The conversations you have with yourself, if you’re worrying about something that might never happen, that’s going to impact the hormones, exercising as well. Exercise is great, but are you overacting exercise? Is the type of movement that you’re doing actually detrimental to your health, or aren’t you moving at all? That’s really important, because we do need to move.
Hormone health is a combination of everything, it’s what we eat, making sure we’re detoxifying through our liver and our colon, movement, reporting our moods and having healthy relationships with ourselves, but also with others.
When should we start thinking about these things? Are these things we should always be thinking about, whether we think we’re in perimenopause or not?
I think so. There’s some resistance to thinking about it when you’re young. We often think of menopause as a woman, who’s old, with gray hair and wrinkly and we don’t relate to that woman. I think the face of menopause needs to change, because women don’t look like that today.
I think that there’s some resistance in women, because our society is largely built on women as an external thing, for example how we look. How we present ourselves in society as pretty, groomed well, slim and so on. That puts so much pressure on women.
I think there’s resistance to talking about perimenopause and menopause, because there’s a stigma about aging in our culture. I think that’s the reason why women think this isn’t related to them, even though they don’t have libido anymore, even though they’re having really terrible heavy bleeding or migraines every cycle that they have, are anxious or can’t sleep, those are all signs that their hormones are changing.
We then go to the doctor and seek a pill to make us feel better. I’m not saying the medication that doesn’t have a place. It does, but it’s not always the answer, especially in the long-term.
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What are some of these symptoms? Let’s talk about what we might be noticing when we’re in the transition already before we’re ready to accept it.
Progesterone is the first hormone that starts to withdraw. Estrogen and progesterone, they have a loving relationship with each other. Progesterone’s job is to keep estrogen under control.
When we are balanced throughout our menstrual cycle, we should feel good.
In the middle of your cycle, when you’re ovulating, you should feel full of energy, really motivated and your libido should be high. As you move towards the end of your most cycle, you should still feel energised as well. When you start your period, a little bit of tiredness is okay, a little bit bloating is okay, feeling a bit grumpy is okay, but anything else that’s extreme isn’t normal. For example, if you are about to start your period and you’re feeling really fatigued and you can’t do anything that isn’t normal.
These are signs of perimenopause or that something else isn’t quite right. If you’re bleeding heavily or for more than seven days that isn’t normal. It could be a sign of perimenopause or that you just need to do some extra work with your liver and your colon. If your PMS is stretching from two days or three days to five days or a week, then clearly there is a hormone imbalance going on there. If breasts become really, really painful or you have migraines, those are signs of perimenopause as well, or imbalances of hormones. They’re kind of the subtle signs that people wouldn’t relate to perimenopause.
Does perimenopause make women experience more dry skin or even breakouts?
Definitely. Personally my skin was fine for instance, but some women experience dryness and breakouts, particularly during the later end of perimenopause. You might experience it in the early days or in the later ones. I think things really start to shift including weight gain. Not being able to lose weight, whereas before you could literally lose weight just like that and now all the things that you used to do, aren’t working any longer. That’s a sign of hormone imbalance and potentially moving into perimenopause. It sounds awful. Doesn’t it? It sounds stressful.
But there’s something we can do about it! Perimenopause is something that every woman is going to experience differently. You might be having acne and rosacea, while I might be having weight gain and hair loss and some other women might be having libido issues and a dry vagina. How we experience perimenopause is going to be very different and our lifestyle, genetics and all these other things play a part in our experience.
Estrogen dominance is something that women in the perimenopause phase might experience as well.
Definitely. There are three types of estrogen dominance. There’s relative estrogen dominance and that’s the relationship between your progesterone and estrogen. We know progesterone is the one that declines first. Therefore we are relatively estrogen dominant as a result of that, every woman will go through that.
Then there is frank estrogen dominance. You can be frank estrogen dominant, even post-menopause as well. The liver has two jobs. It detoxifies estrogen in two pathways. Frank estrogen dominance is the one that we don’t want to have. It’s the one that causes lots of havoc, worse PMS symptoms, hot flashes, painful breasts and weight gain. At its worst, it can contribute to estrogen dominant cancers as well.
We need to make sure that we’re not going down unhealthy pathways. The colon is a third. We need to detoxify waste obviously, but also estrogen as well. If your liver and colon aren’t working to eliminate estrogen properly, this can also lead to estrogen dominance.
Being estrogen dominant isn’t a great position to be in, particularly frank estrogen dominant, because that’s very uncomfortable.
You don’t necessarily need a doctor to figure this out, you can also work with a hormone specialist like Pamela or me.
As hormone specialists we’re looking out for how your body is functioning. We’re looking at stress hormones. We’re looking at the metabolism of estrogen. Knowing how these things are going, can help to bring the rest of our hormones back in a better balance.
Let’s talk about what we can start doing, whether we’re in perimenopause or not, to help the transition go more smoothly. Especially if we’re already experiencing symptoms, like low libido and skin issues, weight issues, hair loss, the list goes on. What would you suggest?
I think one of the first things I think that women should do, regardless of where they are in their hormonal journey, is to start to understand the cycle and understand yourself. Actually monitoring your menstrual cycle is just huge. It gives you so much information. A lot of women use apps. Apps are great and there are some really good apps out there.
Yet how about for one to two or even three months actually using pen and paper and really paying attention to your cycle. Understand how you should feel when you’re bleeding. Understand what you should feel after your bleed day seven up to day 14. Understand how you should feel when you’re ovulating and at the end of your menstrual cycle as well as your luteal phase.
Take your basal body temperature, your temperature, first thing in the morning, before you go to the bathroom, before you talk to anybody and it needs to be done roughly at the same time every day. Understanding your basal body temperature gives you so much information. You understand the signs that you are ovulating, which is really, really important. It tells you that you are going through the different phases of your menstrual cycle. If you understand where your body temperature should be during each phase, I think it’s a great thing to do. Just paying attention and understanding your body. The other thing is to find some way to manage stress and right now we’re all potentially stressed in some way, but we need to find some ways to manage stress on a daily basis.
Stress is great in some respects, but sometimes it’s not, a lot of the time it’s not. Estrogen actually helps us to buffer stress. As we’re transitioning into the perimenopause, particularly in the later stage, we don’t manage stress that well. Just because of our changing hormones, we have more cortisol and more insulin available, which isn’t great for us. Try to find a way of managing stress, whether it’s meditation, walking, mindfulness, yoga or something like that, and try to build that into your lifestyle so that you’re doing it on a regular basis.
From a nutritional point of view, the one thing that I really wish I knew back then, was how important it is to digest your food and absorb your food. It’s not just about eating good food, that’s part of it, but we also need to absorb the nutrients from the food. There’s no guarantees that you are absorbing your food. I thought I was healthy as a personal trainer and actually I was depleted in so many things.
Chewing your food well is the first place to start. Cooking from scratch, rather than eating out. Cooking from scratch, eating, chopping your vegetables, hearing the sounds of it, the smells, all of that is getting our bodies preparing for digestion. That’s all part of it as well.
Cooking, using vegetables like onions and garlic, they also help our immune system as well. Cooking from scratch is really important and chewing our food as well. When you chew your food well, it helps you to digest it.
Making sure that you’re eliminating the waste is important as well. A couple of foods that I really think that all women should make sure they’re having, are things like broccoli, brussel sprouts, even broccoli sprouts are great, cauliflower and kale, are foods we need as women.
We need to actually have those on a daily basis, amongst all our other vegetables. We need to add those into our diets regularly, because they help to reduce estrogen. Those vegetables can actually help us to rebalance our hormones. That’s one of the things I think is important that women should know.
We’ve got stress management, we’ve got absorption and elimination, making sure we’re having a healthy bowel movement every day and certain foods that we definitely need to eat. So that we can detoxify the unwanted amounts of estrogen in our body.
When it comes to movement, pay attention to how you feel. When I was personal trainer and a fitness instructer, I remember teaching hardcore classes, like spin or body pump, while I was on my period.
I remember I felt okay while I was teaching. Then the day after the class or two days after, I just felt really drained. That’s isn’t normal. I didn’t realize that it’s not great for my body.
While you’re on your period, while you’re bleeding, your ovaries are kind of taking a bit of a backseat and your adrenal glands are taking up the slack for you and looking after you during that phase. I just did not realize I was doing myself harm.
When you’re bleeding is the time to wind down. Don’t go and do the Ironman. Don’t go do that half marathon. Do more restorative things like yoga, pilates or perhaps some breath work around that phase instead of pushing yourself.
Your adrenal glands are going to be looking after you and producing your hormones, when you get to menopause. We need to start looking after them in and before perimenopause.
All those tips are great, but that last one I’ve personally experienced and had to make some major shifts in my life. I recognized that exercise, the type of exercise and the timing within my menstrual cycle, was actually making me less resilient.
We’re always told that exercise is good for you. To the point of where you think the more exercise you do the better or I must exercise more, to burn off the food that I ate. All these different ideas that were given to us throughout our lives. Then recognizing that actually the exercise was hurting me. It was setting me back. It was making me more and more fatigued. I had to change and do things very differently.
Definitely. When you look at the research around, how much women should eat, lose weight and the type of exercise we should do, it’s all based on male bodies. It’s not based on the female body. As a personal trainer, when I trained women, I trained them hard and I didn’t take into consideration their menstrual cycle or where they were in their hormonal journey. I thought I knew a lot. I don’t even think today, personal trainers know this stuff that we know at all.
No. In the first 10 years of being one, I didn’t learn this depth of hormone education. I’m sure you learn a little bit, but we didn’t go that deeply into specifically the differences between men and women.
I think the thing is, in perimenopause some women gain weight and they’ve been told that the only way to lose weight is to move more and eat less. Those two things will affect your hormones.
We’ve been told for years that fats are bad and we shouldn’t eat fats. We need to start eating fats. Fats are one of the building blocks of your sex hormones. I like to describe it as a hierarchy, like a family tree. At the top of the family tree, you’ve got vitamin D on one side and on the other side, you’ve got cholesterol. We need healthy fats in our diet. Seeds, olive oils, flaxseed oils, avocado and coconut oil are really good. We need them as well.
Stop dieting and be mindful about how you move your body and make sure that the way you’re moving your body, isn’t actually going to make you feel unwell.
I like how you brought up cholesterol, because we do need cholesterol. It’s the backbone of our sex hormones (steroid hormones). A lot of time we were taught that, the lower our cholesterol gets, the better. When our cholesterol is too low, it’s actually not great for us women. Is there anything else you would like to add?
What I want to say to women is that the stuff that we do for women is amazing. It’s not mainstream, because not many people know about this. This way of working with the body. It works. This stuff works. I swear to you that it works.
I 100% agree. It’s amazing to see the difference, after you’ve done some work on just nutrition and lifestyle.
Thank you for joining Pamela.
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This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, manage, or treat disease or serious conditions. Always check with your doctor before making any changes. It’s important to consult a well-informed health practitioner for personal advice about your situation before relying on general information — we’re all wonderfully unique.
Laurie Villarreal, FNLP, CHWC, FNS, LMC, CPT, RYT
Hi, I'm Laurie, a functional nutritionist and health coach, athlete, dog-mom, and biohacking adventure-lover. After having struggled for years to find lasting solutions for my own debilitating hormone-related symptoms, I created my online practice to begin helping other active, driven women get the support they need. I now help women around the world elevate their health, energy, business and life by optimizing their hormones with personalized nutrition and lifestyle tweaks. Together, we discover new tools and strategies that keep you showing up at your best so you can play even bigger in your life and work.
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