Tune-up your overworked ovaries
Imagine, your job is to coordinate and put up a big corporate event every month, 12 months in a row. No breaks, no holidays, no sick days, no vacation days. Even worse, you have no assistance, no team to rely on, and you have been doing it for at least 30-long years. Talk about burnout!

This is what your ovaries do their entire lives. Every single month, your ovaries orchestrate a big event no matter what new challenges and variable situations they face on a daily basis, and that big event is ovulation. It’s inevitable that by perimenopause, the ovaries are tiring out. They are still active, but more prone to hiccups and mistakes. Their egg-release schedule may be less predictable, and their production of estrogen and progesterone may be less precise and unsynchronized. The overworked ovaries are the reasons for irregular cycles, spotting, cyst formations, heavy bleeding, migraines, hotflashes, etc.

The lifetime of ovaries can be extended
Given our busy and high-strung lifestyle, if not tended to, the overworked ovaries could senesce quickly and retire early, resulting in early menopause. Unsupported overworked ovaries equate to silent aging. For a premenopausal and perimenopausal woman, the health of her ovaries is the determinant of her health and vitality. If we are able to support to the ovaries and nourish its environment (the body), we would be able to slow down aging, not just on the internal level, but also the superficial level because we know that a perfectly choreographed waltz between estrogen and progesterone, which are largely made by the ovaries, is the reason for skin-elasticity, mental sharpness, stress-resilience, easily manageable weight, and lower chance of hormone-sensitive pathologies and cancers.

Initial signs of overworked ovaries in premenopausal and perimenopausal women

  1. Changes in menstrual bleeding
    If you notice that the amount of your menstrual bleeding alternates between light and heavy from one month to the next, chances are that your ovaries are not producing progesterone consistently. Progesterone is required to mitigate the growth of the endometrium (the tissue that later sheds when you get your period), making sure that it doesn’t overgrow. When there’s not enough progesterone in a cycle or that the progesterone was produced too late, your endometrium ends up growing thicker than it should be, giving you a picture of estrogen dominance. Then, when you get your period at the end of that cycle, it would be heavier because there’s more endometrium tissue to be shed. The cause of progesterone deficiency is attributable to overworked ovaries.
    As well, if you are spotting before period, meaning that you get some brown spots on your underwear, but there’s no sign of period flowing, it’s a tell-tale sign that progesterone level isn’t stable and cannot hold the endometrium intact. As a result, some of the endometrium tissue slides off, showing up as menstrual spotting. Again, same as above, inability to keep the endometrium intact due to unstable progesterone level is a sign of ovarian fatigue.
    Quick nutraceutical solution: vitamin C 750mg/day (proven to raise progesterone based on a randomized, placebo trial).
    Quick lifestyle solutions: get together with good friends/family, volunteer, spend valuable time with partner, which helps to raise oxytocin and indirectly raise progesterone.
  2. Missed periods
    In general, women may start having anovulatory cycles starting 35. You might be able to relate. Your period normally comes at a regular interval, but there are times that it completely skips a cycle. Assuming that you’re not pregnant, missed periods means missed ovulation. When there’s no ovulation, there’s no progesterone. The endometrium keeps growing and it doesn’t slough off to give you that menstrual bleeding. The accidental absence of ovulation is a mistake made by your burnt-out ovaries.
    Quick herbal solution: Chasteberries (Vitex agnus-castus) tincture 1 tsp or capsule 500mg daily on empty stomach for 6 weeks. A study done by Stanford University had shown that the fertility rate is 3 times higher in women who took chasteberry for 6 months.
  3. Insomnia or difficulty getting good sleep
    Aside from being a complementary force of estrogen, progesterone can also act as a neurotransmitter. When adequate amount of progesterone enters neurons (nerve cells), it allies with GABA receptors to make us feel calmer and more relaxed.

As well, progesterone sits on the see-saw with cortisol (stress-hormone) on opposite ends. When stress level is high, cortisol is also high, rendering progesterone to be low. Cortisol is known to hog progesterone receptors, blocking progesterone from entering cells. So when your stress level is chronically high, that will deprive you of progesterone, making your ovaries to work even harder to produce more progesterone.

Quick nutraceutical solution: B complex 100mg/day.

Quick lifestyle solutions: switch to herbal tea over coffee, cut out wine/beer/spirits, mindfulness practice, reduce electronics use, avoid multi-tasking eg. shut off radio/podcast when driving, shut off TV when cooking, etc.

Questions? Email Dr. Kait at drkait@calgarymenopause.com

Stay tuned to upcoming blogs where I’ll be introducing advanced signs of burnt-out ovaries and ways to re-vive them!

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