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’. What every woman over the age of fifty could have told them, it took scientists painfully long to recognise as a serious complication of the process of ageing, and the wait was costly in terms of misunderstanding, misdiagnosis and mistreatment.
So now it is official. It’s in the books. ‘Peri menopause’ is first stage menopause 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 therefore 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. From a body chemistry point of view, 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.
Signs of peri menopause
Here are some of the ‘symptoms’ that have been found to be the signatories of progesterone decline:
- weight gain (or loss)
- lowering libido
- night sweats
- increased menstrual cramping
- cracked and dry skin, and many more still to be documented.
These uncomfortable symptoms are because the body is trying to adjust to the relative oestrogen excess.
Now, 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.
As you will readily understand all these hormones are synthesised in the body using nutrients absorbed in the digestive process. And so it is absolutely vital at this potentially unbalancing time to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Get that right and the business of managing and coping with the effects of peri menopause can become a little easier.
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 is actually a dreadful condition, particularly during peri menopause. It 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
So all in all, you have to find ways of managing or alleviating what is happening to you during peri menopause. On a scale of one to ten proper nutrition must be a ten and your first priority.
Eat a healthy balanced diet, avoiding refined carbohydrates such as pasta, bread, cake and biscuits, and choosing fresh vegetables, white meat and fish, pulses and whole grains instead.
Switch to organic if you can possibly afford it, it is after all just another investment in your own health! (It can be expensive, but at least you should go organic or be prepared to leave out apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, grapes, hot peppers, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, peppers, kale and courgettes. Here are some that it is supposedly ok to go with ‘organic or not’: asparagus, avocados, cabbage, melon, sweetcorn, aubergine, grapefruit, kiwi, mango, mushrooms, onions, papaya, pineapple, frozen peas, and sweet potatoes.)
If you can handle it, try to cut out the use of stimulants like caffeine and alcohol, but don’t be too hard on yourself! In other words, don’t make yourself miserable.
And then there is the question of keeping yourself ‘busy’. Exercise is obviously number one here because not only can it keep your mind off your problems, it is so good for you! And in this bracket you can include things like regular reflexology or massage treatments, daily meditation, better time management, spending more time outdoors, spending time with animals/nature, and even keeping track of your actions and thoughts!