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Escape From Hormone Horrors — What You Can Do

From PMS to perimenopause and on into menopause, hormonal ups and downs can wreak havoc on a woman's life. Here’s how to escape the horror hormones cause.

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And while medical studies remain scant, Northrup also believes women should avoid diet sodas and sweets containing aspartame (NutraSweet) and foods containing MSG (monosodium glutamate). "Both are loaded with excitotoxins, chemicals that impact brain cells and can make PMS symptoms worse," she says.

In addition, Goldstein recommends that women increase intake of vitamin B6 - either by taking supplements or by adding more beans, nuts, legumes, and fortified bread and cereals to your diet. Northrup suggests increasing levels of zinc (try poultry, seafood, nuts, and whole grains), and magnesium (found in legumes, nuts, whole grains, and vegetables).

Finally, experts advise women to pay close attention to both weight and exercise, and not to take either one to extremes. "Maintaining a healthy weight - not overweight, not underweight - and exercising regularly, without overdoing it, helps to ease PMS symptoms and make them easier to cope with," says Rebecca Amaru, MD, clinical instructor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

For additional help, talk to your doctor about birth control pills, which can help stabilize hormone levels. In rare instances, Amaru says, antidepressant medications, such as Prozac, can be used several days a month to help control symptoms.

Hormone horrors: The perimenopause years

It can start as early as your late 30s or as late as your late 40s. It's the life change known as perimenopause, a time when egg production dwindles and hormones can take on a life of their own.

"Your reproductive years may seem to be in full swing," says Goldstein, author of Could It Be Perimenopause? "Then suddenly, you become the mirror image of puberty."

The first thing that happens, he says, is a break in the cyclical nature of your menstrual cycle with periods that become irregular - a signal that ovulation is slowing down. This, he says, can send your hormones on a roller coaster ride.

"Every woman thinks that it's the sudden drop in estrogen from not ovulating that causes the problems. But in reality, it's the fluctuation of estrogen, along with less progesterone, that is behind many of the typical symptoms of perimenopause," Goldstein says. These symptoms, he tells WebMD, include not only mood swings and sensitivity, but also hot flashes, night sweats, and memory problems.

And while there is little hard data to support the notion that bad PMS in your 20s and 30s leads to greater hormone problems during the perimenopause, Northrup believes that it does.

Perimenopause hormones: What you can do

"If you do not get your PMS under control in your 20s and 30s, it will come screaming into your 40s," Northrup says. "Perimenopause can be the mother of all PMS attacks. And it can last quite a while." As discouraging as this may sound, even the "mother of all PMS" can be tamed.

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