EVERY woman will go through menopause in their life. It is inevitable and unavoidable. Menopause is still such a taboo subject and needs to be talked about more and more. It is so under researched in our male dominated world that women are suffering through huge bodily changes with little information, knowledge or understanding & help on how to manage it.
So, what is it?
Menopause occurs when the female sex hormones naturally decrease as you get older, your ovaries eventually stop releasing eggs and your periods stop.
Doesn't sound too terrible, does it?
Until you realise the implications this has on the entire rest of your body! Every single cell in the human body has hormones in it, our cells have been bathed in oestrogen and progesterone since before birth, so when hormone levels drop due to perimenopause & menopause, this affects the running and working of every part of our body.
WHAT IS PERIMENOPAUSE?
Perimenopause, means “around menopause.” It’s also known as the menopause transitional phase because it happens before menopause.
Perimenopause can begin to occur anything up to 8-10 years before you arrive at menopause (the complete cessation of periods), or as little as a few months before.
The first sign of the perimenopause is usually, but not always, a change in the normal pattern of your periods, for example they become irregular, heavier/lighter and more unpredictable.
Perimenopause is marked by a drop in oestrogen, the main female hormone produced by the ovaries. The oestrogen levels can also go up and down more sporadically than they do in a typical 28-day cycle. This can cause irregular periods and other symptoms, including mood swing, anxiety & depression, and some hot flashes depending on your oestrogen levels.
During the final stages of perimenopause, your body will produce less and less oestrogen. Despite the sharp drop in oestrogen, it’s still possible to get pregnant during perimenopause.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF PERIMENOPAUSE?
Every woman will experience perimenopause differently with different symptoms and lengths of time; however, symptoms of perimenopause may include:
Worsening of PMS symptoms
Changes in the hair and body hair
Muscles aches & muscle twitches
Anxiety and depression
WHEN DOES MENOPAUSE START?
Menopause officially starts when you have had your last period and no further periods for a consecutive 12 months. This usually happens between the age of 45 and 55. It can sometimes happen earlier naturally, or for reasons such as surgery to remove the ovaries (oophorectomy) or the uterus (hysterectomy), cancer treatments like chemotherapy, or a genetic reason. Sometimes the reason is unknown.
Menopause is a natural event and transition that women experience, however, the timing and symptoms are different for everyone. You can look at your family history to get an idea of when you might go through it. It's likely to be a similar age to when your mother or older sisters started theirs.
WHY DOES MENOPAUSE OCCUR?
Menopause occurs due to the changing levels and eventual decline of oestrogen and progesterone, the two female hormones made in the ovaries that are in control of the menstrual cycle & key to female reproductivity. This decline leads to the symptoms known to coincide with perimenopause and menopause, like hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Menopause is a natural and inevitable part of aging and marks the end of female reproductive years.
WHAT MENOPAUSE DOES TO YOUR BODY
As you age, the reproductive cycle begins to slow down and prepares to stop. The reproductive cycle has been continuously functioning since puberty.
When the decrease in the reproductive hormones occurs, your menstrual cycle (period) starts to change. It can become heavier, lighter or irregular and then stop. Physical changes can also happen as your body adapts to different levels of hormones. The symptoms you experience during each stage of menopause (perimenopause, menopause and postmenopausal) are all part of your body’s adjustment to these changes.
Due to the decline in oestrogen, vaginal dryness is an unfortunate common symptom with perimenopause and menopause. Using tampons during those irregular period years can become even more uncomfortable and more likely to cause micro tears in the vaginal walls which can lead to infections, UTIs and Toxic Shock Syndrome.
Avoiding using tampons all together is much better for your body and your adjusting hormone levels. Natural, breathable, super soft period underwear is a much better choice for managing the irregular, unpredictable nature of perimenopause periods, and avoiding using tampons and aggravating symptoms of vaginal dryness
SYMPTOMS OF MENOPAUSE
Up to 80 percent of women will experience at least one symptom of the menopause. Although some women will suffer from debilitating symptoms, others will sail through with the odd hot flush or mood swing and suddenly menopause has been and gone! These symptoms can include:
Hot flashes (a sudden feeling of warmth that spreads over the body).
Night sweats and/or cold flashes.
Vaginal dryness; discomfort during sex.
Urinary urgency (a pressing need to urinate more frequently).
Difficulty sleeping (insomnia).
Emotional changes (irritability, mood swings, anxiety, mild depression).
Dry skin, dry eyes or dry mouth.
Some people might also experience:
Joint and muscle aches and pains.
Changes in libido (sex drive).
Difficulty concentrating, memory lapses (often temporary).
Hair loss or thinning.
HOW TO MANAGE PERIMENOPAUSE & MENOPAUSE
Hormone replacement therapy is about the only scientific answer to managing menopause. However thankfully the magical wonder of food has a few tricks up its sleeve. Certain foods have something called Phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens have a similar chemical structure to that of oestrogen and may mimic its hormonal actions.
However, not all phytoestrogens function in the same way.
Phytoestrogens have been shown to have both estrogenic and antiestrogenic effects. This means that, while some phytoestrogens have oestrogen-like effects and increase oestrogen levels in your body, others block its effects and decrease oestrogen levels.
Because of their complex actions, phytoestrogens are one of the most controversial topics in nutrition and health.
While some researchers have raised concerns that a high intake of phytoestrogens may cause hormonal imbalance, most evidence has linked them to positive health effects.
Phytoestrogens are found in:
Soybeans (& soya milk)
So, by adding these foods into our diets we get a natural boost of oestrogen, which can often help to reduce or in some cases even eliminate some menopausal symptoms.
LIFESTYLE CHANGES TO PREPARE YOU FOR PERIMENOPAUSE & MENOPAUSE
Women who are healthy when they go into menopause stay healthy, generally. However, there are a few things you can do in your 20s, 30s, and early 40s to take good care of your body and lower your chance of experiencing the horrible & bothersome symptoms or medical issues during and after menopause.
Fluctuations in levels of blood sugar can be a big driver of hormonal symptoms. Keeping blood sugars stable can help to control some symptoms. You can help regulate blood sugar levels by limiting alcohol and foods containing refined sugar, eating regular meals with a balance of healthy protein such as pulses or quality meat, high quality healthy fats such as oily fish, avocados, nuts and seeds, and complex carbohydrates such as vegetables and quinoa.
FIBRE! This is essential for a healthy gut. We know from research that an imbalance of microbes in our gut can affect our hormones. Good fibrous foods include fruit and veg (a wide variety will offer different nutrients), wholegrains, nuts and seeds, and pulses such as peas, beans and lentils.
Caffeine and alcohol contain toxins which can affect the liver, a vital organ for helping with hormone balance. Caffeine and alcohol can also dehydrate you, affect your sleep and result in symptoms such as low mood and anxiety, all of which can create stress and have a knock-on effect on your hormones. Drinking enough water is also important to restore hydration (just 2% dehydration can affect your focus and concentration).
Getting enough sleep. Most people need between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Not having enough sleep or experiencing interrupted nights can cause stress and lead to weight gain, poor skin health, emotional problems and more. One of the reasons why people may struggle to get to sleep in the evening is due to too much of the one of the stress hormones (cortisol) which can impair levels of melatonin (the ‘sleep hormone’). Having a relaxing bedtime routine is one method to help reduce stress and may aid sleep.
Exercise is important to help reduce stress, as well as contributing to a healthy weight. Find a form of exercise that you enjoy – you are more likely to stick to it. Be careful not to over exercise though as this can create stress itself and make you feel worse rather than better.
As your menopause approaches your metabolism slows, making weight gain more likely and making it harder to lose weight. Being underweight or overweight can affect your hormone balance, and changes in weight can also have an impact on our bone density.
Due to hormonal changes during the perimenopause and menopause there’s a greater risk of osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) so maintaining a healthy weight is important for your bone health. Getting enough calcium in your diet or taking some calcium supplements can also help keep bones stronger, along with regular weight bearing exercise such as walking, hiking or running.
Reduce exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) These are toxins in our environment which can affect hormone balance, for example by mimicking oestrogen. Avoiding plastic, choosing natural skin care and organic fruits and vegetables can help to reduce our exposure to EDCs. EDCs have also been found to be in disposable tampons and pads. Using natural sustainable period underwear for your periods, especially in the lead-up to the irregular periods symptomatic to perimenopause, can help to reduce the risk of EDCs in tampons; with the added benefit of being fully protected should a period arrive unexpectedly.
It will help your transition through perimenopause and into menopause if you are well informed and talk openly to family members and colleagues about the changes you are experiencing.
Any return of periods after a break of more than 12 months should be investigated by a medical practitioner as a matter of urgency.
Everybody will experience perimenopause & menopause differently. If you have any concerns about your own symptoms, always speak to a health care provider straight away.