Updated: Aug 19, 2021
When it comes to women's health, there is a lot of emphasis on menopause, but perimenopause is also an important phase in the female reproductive cycle.
What's the difference?
Menopause officially starts from the date of a women’s final period (typically around the age of 50). So most women only really know they are in ‘full’ menopause when they are about 6 months into it!
Perimenopause is the slow transition into menopause. This can happen 5-10 years before the final period. For some women it can be a time of crazy hormonal ups and downs.
The Perimenopausal Rollercoaster.
For some women, the years preceding menopause can be hormonally turbulent. In some ways, perimenopause mirrors what happens in puberty. During puberty teenage girls are subject to ups and downs because of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone fluctuating until regular periods set in and monthly ovulation occurs.
In perimenopause, oestrogen and progesterone start to fluctuate again – often with higher levels of oestrogen, relative to progesterone. This can cause several symptoms – some of which are not always obviously hormone-related!
What are the Symptoms of Perimenopause?
While symptoms of menopause include night sweats, hot flushes, vaginal dryness and other physical and emotional symptoms, the early signs of these can start showing up in your late 30’s and 40’s.
In the years before the final period, some women may notice the following symptoms of perimenopause:
Heavy or flooding periods
Anxiety and/or depression (unexplained by other life events)
Migraines / headaches
Irritability / rage
Heart palpitations (unexplained by usual cardiovascular checks)
Many of these symptoms are pronounced in the week or so before a period is due.
Start Thinking about Perimenopause BEFORE it Happens
Preparing ourselves for the natural aging process is often like taking out an insurance policy - we don’t know we need it, until we need it!
While some women are offered hormonal contraceptives to manage symptoms like heavy periods, there are some diet and lifestyle habits that can help prevent the worst of perimenopause and help smooth the transition to actual menopause.
Each woman is different and will have different experiences of perimenopause and menopause. There is a genetic connection, so what happened to your mother or older sisters will give you a general clue as to when and how menopause might affect you.
If you have had a lifetime of hormonal imbalance, such as fibroids, endometriosis, PCOS or painful periods, then the years before menopause might also be a bit bumpy.
The good news is that it’s never too late to start thinking about supporting your hormones
Natural Approaches to Perimenopause
The functional medicine approach to healthy hormones after 40 is to focus on the body systems that are either changing during this phase of life or that are most affected by the hormonal ups and downs.
In my practice, I work with clients on:
Nervous system health through promoting stress management, the right kind of exercise and good sleep.
Healthy blood sugar balance which helps to alleviate many of the perimenopause symptoms.
Liver health – this is where female hormones are metabolised.
Gut health – a healthy digestive system is essential for healthy hormone metabolism.
Good nutrition – providing the body with the specific nutrients it needs during this time of transition and recalibration.
Nutrition Tips for Perimenopause
My top tip is to keep a food diary for 3-5 days. Have a look at your typical diet and answer these questions:
Am I taking in excessive amounts of sugar?
Is more than 40% of my food prepackaged / processed?
Am I drinking more than three caffeinated drinks a day (e.g. colas, energy drinks, coffee, tea)?
Do I skip meals because I am too busy / tired to cook?
Do I crave sugar or salt?
Do I need chocolate or coffee to keep me going mid-morning or mid-afternoon?
Are most of the foods on my plate beige? (e.g potatoes, pasta, crisps, bread, cereal).
If you have answered 'Yes' to many of these questions, then you can use them as a guide for some simple changes. For example:
Too much sugar / chocolate = cut it right down.
Too much caffeine = switch to water / herbal teas (NOT fruit juice).
Skipping meals = make the time to prepare proper meals (this will also help to reduce sugar cravings between meals).
Take Control of your Hormonal Health: Perimenopause Support Group
If you need a bit more support to achieve healthy hormone balance, you are welcome to join my Perimenopause Support Group: for healthy hormones after 40.
My next 6-week online support programme starts in September 2021.
The programme is designed for women who want to balance their hormones naturally and give themselves the best chance of a smooth transition into menopause.
The programme includes a comprehensive Hormone Balance Nutrition and Lifestyle Plan and weekly group sessions (via Zoom). During the six weeks you’ll learn everything you need to know about your hormones and the proven methods to keep them balanced – for good!