It is only relatively recently that science has been able to break down the female experience they simply called ‘change of life’ and give each stage of it a name, like ‘peri menopause’, ‘menopause’ and ‘post menopause’.
‘Peri menopause’ is the first stage and the one it is vital to understand and crack right at the beginning. It is when the body begins to prepare itself for a time when child bearing is over and no longer the focus of the body biology.
This usually happens in a woman’s 40s and is generally a fairly measured process, a gradual build-up to the time when the menstruation cycle ceases completely. Peri menopause is signalled by a dropping off in progesterone production. Progesterone is such a critical hormone in females that when its production slows down or ceases , much trouble can be expected. That’s because normal health requires a hormonal balance between progesterone and its opposite, oestrogen. Take one away and the other becomes dominant.
Symptoms of peri menopause
Here are some of the ‘symptoms’ that are signs of progesterone decline:
- weight gain (or loss)
- lowering libido
- night sweats
- increased menstrual cramping
- cracked and dry skin, amongst others
These uncomfortable symptoms are because the body is trying to adjust to the relative oestrogen excess.
Oestrogen and progesterone are what are known as the ‘sex hormones’. But when they are unbalanced, it affects other hormones too. For example, cortisol levels may increase and insulin resistance can become more common.
All these hormones are synthesised in the body using nutrients absorbed in the digestive process, so it is absolutely vital at this potentially unbalancing time to eat a healthy, balanced diet.
Another word of explanation! Before menopause the ovaries are the main source of oestrogen manufacture, but as they become less active the balance shifts. Eventually at least half of the body’s oestrogen and progesterone is made in the adrenal glands.
At times of stress the adrenal glands will always prioritise the secretion of the stress hormones over the creation of sex hormones – that’s their prime function, you see. Stress therefore is a key factor in keeping your body hormonally balanced from your 40s onward. The body, meanwhile, can also seek oestrogen from other sources – like the fat cells which store it – once the ovaries start to slow down. Of course this may explain why some women put on weight at this time – the body craves more oestrogen which translates as more food.
Oestrogen dominance, particularly during peri menopause, is the cause of decreased sex drive, irregular or absent periods, bloating, swollen and tender breasts, not to mention depression and irritability, wild mood swings, cold hands and feet, weight gain, and headaches.
How to manage peri menopause
Eat a healthy balanced diet, avoiding refined carbohydrates such as pasta, bread, cake and biscuits. Choose fresh, organic vegetables, grass fed beef, free range, organic chicken and non farmed fish, plus pulses and whole grains instead.
Try to cut out the use of stimulants like caffeine and alcohol, but don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t make yourself miserable!
And keep yourself busy! Exercise not only keeps your mind off your problems, it is good for you! Include things like regular reflexology or massage treatments, daily meditation, better time management. And spend time in the great outdoors, getting back in touch with nature, and even keeping track of your actions and thoughts!