We all know what menopause is. It means no more periods!! Whoohoo (for some, others are very sad). How is menopause defined? It literally means 'stopping menstruation. As we don't know when menopause has occured until there has not been a period for 12 months, we can only say we are in menopause until after the date. Average age for menopause in Australia is between 45 and 55. Peri-menopause is something entirely different!
So what are all the symptoms leading up to menopause called? This time is known as peri-menopause. If you are in your thirties or forties you may start experiencing symptoms that you thought you would not get until your fifties. These include irregular cycles, heavy periods, wild mood fluctuations, hot flushes, sleep problems, really bad breast tenderness, night sweats, weight gain and increased PMS symptoms.
Peri-menopause is when the oestrogen levels are fluctuating wildly and menopause is a time of low oestrogen, Two completely separate hormonal states and should be treated differently.
Now the bad news ......... Peri-menipause can be anywhere from two to twelve years before menopause! This is not a fun time for some women. We all like to think that our oestrogen levels gradually decline as our eggs decline. No..... that would be too simple. Instead our oestrogen levels go on this wild ride where they can be higher than ever before and then crash to almost nothing. Not all women experience all symptoms, many will only have a few symptoms and they will vary in intensity.
Without going into too much detail about the differing hormones causing the wide and varied symptoms (progesterone, follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinising hormone and andrgogens amongst others) via decling or increasing levels, there are many things that can be done to ease the symptoms.
What can you do?
First of all, if you are not sure what is happening always talk to your GP or Naturopath. They may recommend blood or saliva testing to see where your hormone levels are at and to rule out any other possible causes for your symptoms.
Then what? Well the main strategies are to support progesterone, help metabolise oestrogen and reduce any inflammation within the body. Listed below are some general tips or supplement recommendations to support you during this time.
Increase vegetable and fibre within diet. High intakes of healthy carbohydrates, vegetables, fibre and whole grains are associated with shorter natural menopause whereas higher total fat, protein and meat intake is linked to prolonged peri-menopause.
Decrease sugar intake and processed foods. High sugar foods are linked to an increase in the presence of candida and also increase your risk of developing diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Maintain a healthy weight and BMI. Obesity has been found to create an increased oestrogenic environment due to changes in the levels of hormones and the clearance through the liver. This is linked to a prolonged peri-menopause
Exercise is crucial during this time! It will help reduce bone loss, decrease cholesterol, improve circulation, improve stress handling, reduce blood pressure, increase energy and offer relief from any hot flushes.
Evening primrose oil combined with omega essential fatty acids (EFA - fish oil) and vitamin E, can all help reduce symptoms. EFA's can reduce any hot flushes and reduce inflammation.
Sage is indicated when there is excessive sweating or hot flushes and will also help with memory. A simple remedy is to get 3-4 fresh sage leaves and add to cup of boiling water. Let cool overnight and drink every morning. There is also sage tea available commercially.
A diet rich in phyto-oestrogen can relieve peri-menopausal symptoms depending on your individual history and hormonal imbalance. Flaxseed, tofu and miso and isoflavones found in legumes, (kidney beans, lima beans, chickpeas) are thought to compete with oestrogen recepters thus lowering the symptoms caused by excess oestrogen. (always check with a Naturopath if increasing the amount of phyto-oestrogens is right for you)
Decrease caffeine intake (I know, now is when you think you need more coffee to get through each day!). Caffeine can affect anxiety and stress levels and also effect bone health (bone mineral density also decreases during peri-menopause and menopause).
Ensure you are having adequate levels of B vitamins. This will help with the fatigue, brain function, cardiovascular health and nervous system function.
There are many herbal remedies which can also help to manage peri-menopausal symptoms. Herbs which can be indicated include Black Cohosh, Wild Yam, Hops, Shatavari, St Marys Thistle and Chaste Tree amongst others. Herbal prescriptions are more effective when tailored just for you and your symptoms than a over the counter bought product. There are also specific vitamins and nutrients which can support you during this time. Naturopaths are trained in herbal and nutritional medicine and are aware of any contraindications which could react with any other medications you are on. You should never just self prescribe.
Peri-menopause is a time of immense change for women. It is a time to celebrate how amazing our bodies are and what we are capable of achieving. With the right support and changes to diet and life style you can navigate this tricky time with minimal fuss and interuptions to our daily lives.