A Beginner’s Guide to Perimenopause
Menopause. It looms large in the future for most women. We think of it as the point where we no longer have the hassle of bleeding once a month.
We might associate menopause with hot flashes and weight gain. But we don’t always know what it is, or realize the there is a transition period before menopause.
Menopause is actually the point when you have not had a period in over a year. Pretty plain and simple.
But your body don’t just one day decide to stop ovulating and shedding the uterine lining. Instead, your body can take many years to transition from a regular period to menopause.
That transition is perimenopause.
[The information provided herein should not be construed as a health-care diagnosis, treatment regimen, or any other prescribed health-care advice or instruction. It is intended as information only.]
How do I know if I am experiencing perimenopause
Perimenopause can begin as early as your late 30’s. Although recent research is showing that onset is occurring as young as 35.
During perimenopause, estrogen, progesterone, growth hormone (GH) and other hormones begin to fluctuate. These fluctuations are a result of a decline in egg quality and quantity.
While all these hormone levels and cycles are changing, your brain also becomes less sensitive to hormone signals (oh yay).
“There really isn’t any part of your mind, body, or spirit that isn’t somehow affected by your hormones.” ~ Marcelle Pick, Is It Me or My Hormones?
Not all women experience symptoms with perimenopause. Some medical professionals note that your transition is a preview into the future.
Easy (natural) cycle now, easy transition.
Your experience with perimenopause can also be a predictor of how you experience menopause.
Some of the most common symptoms women experience during perimenopause are:
- Mood swings
- Unexplained weight gain
- Difficulty losing weight
- Lack of interest in life
- Chronic low energy
- Difficulty sleeping
- Hot flashes
- Irregular periods
- Lack of sexual enthusiasm
- Brain fog and forgetfulness
Do I just have to suffer
None of the symptoms listed above are fun. So do we just have to suffer?
For many, the stress of life has triggered the early onset of perimenopause. How we react to stress, and how much stress we have in our lives, can throw off the balance of our hormones.
Our body can produce the steroid hormones oestrogen, DHEA, progesterone, cortisol, or testerone. But, there is only so much to go around. In good times, DHEA and progesterone are produced at optimal levels and everything is dandy.
Yet, when stress happens, the body must create cortisol instead. Too much stress means too much cortisol and not enough progesterone.
This throws the whole balance off, creating estrogen dominance even if your estrogen levels are normal.
Stress isn’t just trying to pay the bills or dealing with an annoying coworker. Stressors that influence our hormonal balance include
- Food sensitives
- Too many or too few carbohydrates
- Not eating enough calories
- Skipping meals
- Lack of sleep
- Excess body fat (body fat produces hormones)
- Chronic exposure to toxins
To reduce or end the symptoms of perimenopause consider following the 6 action steps:
6 steps to manage symptoms of perimenopause
1 — Balance your blood sugar
The traditional Standard American Diet (SAD) is generally
- too high in carbohydrates (particularly refined carbohydrates like sugar and white flour)
- too low in healthy fats
- too low in micronutrients
And for many women, SAD is also too low in quality proteins.
This throws off the hormones that balance our blood sugar and maintain our reproductive health. Continues spiking and crashing blood sugar is a chronic stress to our bodies. The stress signals the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. When this is a chronic condition, the production of cortisol can rob the body of progesterone.
To balance your blood sugar:
- limit refined carbohydrates
- increase your vegetable intake
- include all three macronutrients with each meal and snack
Breakfast could include two whole eggs scrambled with sautéed onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms. Serve a small handful of raspberries and a half an avocado on the side.
For an easy snack, enjoy an apple with nut butter or tuna salad with veggie slices.
2 — Increase your fiber intake
Fiber helps keep you regular, which means excess estrogen can leave the body, and helps keep you feeling fuller longer.
Most women under 51 should consume around 25 grams of fiber a day. Women 51 and older, can reduce their fiber intake to 21 grams per day.
To increase your fiber, add more non-starchy vegetables, whole fruits, nuts, and beans to your diet.
If you are eating little fiber now, as most people are, go slowly. Increasing your fiber too quickly can lead to some uncomfortable side effects. Plan to increase to 25 grams over several weeks.
3 — Prioritize sleep
A lack of sleep is a common culprit of stress. Most adults need seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Yet few are getting a full night’s sleep.
A chronic lack of sleep can lead to increased levels of cortisol and a decreased production of GH. The only means of getting enough sleep, is to prioritize sleep over other activities. Try going to bed 15 minutes earlier each night to help with the transition.
To improve your quality of sleep, turn off electronic screens at least one hour before bed and sleep in a cool, dark room.
4 — Move daily
Weight-bearing and explosive movements, have been shown to combat loss of bone density. This is a common concern many women face as they age.
Strength training has also been shown to increase testosterone and GH levels. And moving more also contributes to better sleep.
But, intense exercise is also a stressor on its own. Limit intense workouts to no more than four times a week.
On rest days, fit in other forms of easy movement. Go for a walk at lunch, take an easy bike ride, enjoy some restorative yoga, or do some gardening.
5 — Reduce toxin exposure
Many of the non-organic foods, household cleaners, and beauty products contain endocrine-disruptors. Check the ingredients and toss products that contain:
- sodium lauryl sulfate
- sodium lauryl ether sulfate
6 — Supplement as needed
If the above do not resolve your symptoms, there are many supplements you can try.
- Flaxseed: components of flaxseed can regulate hormone metabolism
- Black cohosh: supports and maintains hormone levels and helps reduce hot flashes
- B vitamins: support the body’s stress response
- Evening primrose oil: contains and essential fatty acid the moderates symptoms of menopause
- Red clover: contains natural estrogens that may help balance estrogen levels
- Wild yam: contains compounds like to estrogen and progesterone. However, studies have not supported personal accounts
- Chasteberry: has been shown to increase estrogen production
The above are general best practices for better health. If they do not reduce your symptoms, consider talking with your doctor about the use of bioidentical hormones.
The transition of perimenopause does not have to be painful, uncomfortable, or unpleasant.
Following the steps above will make today healthier and happier, regardless of your stage in life. And they will set you up for a more pleasant menopausal experience in the future.