Perimenopause and You
I get asked about this life condition a lot so I thought I would take the time to do some research and get you some good information on how to manage it.
Perimenopause literally means “around menopause” and indicates the onset of certain symptoms as your body transitions from childbearing to menopause. The name fits this life stage perfectly as everyone experiences is differently or at different times…or both! Some women begin perimenopause as early as their 30’s but most women begin to feel the changes in their 40’s and 50’s.
As the level of estrogen (our main female hormone) fluctuates during perimenopause, you may experience a variety of symptoms, from irregular menstrual periods to hot flashes, sleep problems, irritability, mood swings, headaches and vaginal dryness. And this is before you even hit menopause! Once you’ve gone 12 consecutive months without a period, you are officially in menopause. Perimenopause symptoms typically last about 4 years, but can occur for shorter times or much longer…just like menopause. (And yes, Virginia, you can still become pregnant during perimenopause…just so you know…).
As estrogen levels diminish and menopause becomes a reality, vaginal tissues also begin to change and can lose its elastic nature and ability to self-lubricate, making intercourse painful…and lead to an increased risk of infections. This loss of elasticity can also lead to an urgent need to pee or…leak…when we laugh or sneeze. Not to mention that bone loss can be accelerated during this time especially in women who do not exercise. And finally, cholesterol changes in the blood can occur as the protective effect of estrogen is diminished, increasing the risk of heart disease. Oy!
So how do we handle this inevitable condition with grace, style and not having to carry a change of clothes with us in case of a hot flash?
It all begins with what we eat (and don’t eat), my loves…as I am sure you expected I would say. It’s also about how we think.
Yup, mental attitude has a lot to do with how well we adjust to this inevitable phase of being a woman. If we see perimenopause as the beginning of the end of our femininity, youth and sexuality, then we lose sight of who we are as women and can become depressed and begin the search for the Holy Grail of youth and beauty. And in that process, we can take risks that could compromise our wellness and vitality. For example, research tells us that the risks to health from hormone replacement therapy can far outweigh the benefits. So it’s important for women to see this phase of life as a natural progression, a transition that can be graceful.
And now…to the kitchen. If hot flashes are a problem (and while I have never experienced one, I have seen them happen to friends), then you must address the cause of them. Why don’t they plague all women of a certain age?
Well, one reason is the foods we choose to consume. It’s important to remember that as our bodies change, so must our style of eating. Metabolism slows so we do best when we reduce the volume of food we eat at a meal. Because of this, we must, must, must exercise rigorously for bone health and weight management.
We absorb minerals less efficiently, so it’s vital to eat mineral-rich foods more often so we get what we need. Foods like dark leafy greens, sea vegetables and fermented foods become important components to being our best.
Whole unprocessed organic soy foods play an important role in helping us feel hormonally balanced at this time. While there’s promising research about isoflavone supplements, I am always going to guide you toward the whole food for the best results. Tofu, soymilk, tempeh, edamame or other whole soy foods provide all of the benefits you seek…with no downside.
Lignans are also important modulators of hormone metabolism so you might want to consider adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of flaxseeds to your diet daily for the benefit. Simply grind them in a coffee grinder and sprinkle on whole grains, beans or salads.
Lots of lightly cooked vegetables and salads will help to cool the body during this phase of life, decreasing the impact of hot flashes.
I have also found that women who eat animal protein struggle more with hot flashes and other symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. So if you haven’t done it yet, this may be the perfect time to ditch all the animal foods and place your focus on being plant-passionate so you can thrive.
Once you have your food handled, you can look at various natural supplements and remedies to support what you are doing with diet. These will sort of…cross the t’s and dot the i’s in your natural approach to balance. Here are a few that I have found to work very well for the women I have advised.
Dong Quai, an herb known in Asian healing as well as here in the west is used to support the natural balance of female hormones and can be used in most cases for menopause. The exception is if a woman is experiencing heavy bleeding during menopause. Then skip this one.
Black cohosh is one of the best-studied traditional herbs for menopause and the one that tops my list for effectiveness. It can help support hormonal balance and seems to provide exceptional relief from hot flashes. One exception for this herbal remedy is if you are taking blood thinners. Then speak to your doctor before taking black cohosh (or any remedy for that matter).
In addition to these herbs, women find that taking a daily dose of 400 IU of vitamin E in its natural form, (mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols) can help alleviate hot flashes in women.
B vitamins are a group of water-soluble vitamins that can help women deal with the stress and mood swings that come naturally with this change of life.
Finally, melatonin can be used for women who struggle to sleep as they move into perimenopause. I have found this remedy to be the most effective if taken at dinner time, rather than before bed so it has some time to get into the system and go to work helping a woman to rest.
In the end, perimenopause is a phase of life that transitions us into our later years. It’s a natural…and inevitable part of aging. We can struggle against it or we can move gracefully through it, aging with grace and style.