Understanding perimenopause and what you can do to improve symptoms

black woman with hands in the air looking confused

There's so much attention (deservedly) on the menopause right now, but actually it's the ‘perimenopause' that we need to talk about, as this is when women can really struggle.

The fact that many women now recognise the word perimenopause is in itself huge progress! When I first suffered my hormone issues in my early 40's, nobody had heard of the word, and I myself thought that you had to be in your fifties to go through this!

But there's still a lot of confusion around what perimenopause is and how to make it a smoother journey for us all.

You can watch the video below or listen to the podcast (episode 97).

What is perimenopause?

The peri-menopause is regarded as the transition between your reproductive years and post menopause, which officially happens a year after your final period. Symptoms can include fatigue, mood swings, irregular or heavy/painful periods, brain fog, poor sleep, weight gain, hot flushes/night sweats, depression, anxiety, hair loss, joint pain, low libido, vaginal dryness…..and the list goes on!

Are you in it?

If you’re over 35 and you have symptoms (and periods), then yes! 

Many Doctors will tell you you’re too young.  Or you may get your FSH or LH tested.

But all this tells you is that the brain is pumping out a constant message for hormones to be produced because you are under-producing. That’s the nature of peri-menopause – that test is just telling you what you already know!  Much more useful to get your actual hormones measured properly if you can.

What are the drivers of peri-menopause?

  • Age! After 35 your eggs are starting to run out, and ovulation can be more erratic. This affects the production of oestrogen and progesterone. Both hormones are starting a long slow decline towards final menopause, but on the way they can fluctuate wildly, and this can feel like a mood swing roller coaster!
  • Stress– any kind of stress on the body can be a major disruptor to your peri-menopause journey. Cortisol can not only have an impact on your energy, mood, brain function and metabolism, but it can also suppress your thyroid and sex hormones, making your symptoms even worse.
  • Thyroid – the impact of stress, a poor diet, gut health or environmental toxins can take a toll on your thyroid hormones and crash your metabolism, leaving you exhausted, sluggish, foggy and achey. And that extra weight isn't going anywhere soon.
  • Diet – your hormones need a whole load of different nutrients from your diet to work properly. If you're not packing in the protein, healthy fats and tons of veggies, then you're likely going to be missing a few. And if you're eating too many carbs or you're stressed out, then you might be on the blood sugar roller coaster, increasing your insulin  and messing with your other hormones.
  • Toxins Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDC’s) can mimic or alter hormones, especially oestrogen, and impair mitochondrial function (your energy battery cells).
  • Medications– certain medications can disrupt your hormones, including the Birth Control Pill, synthetic HRT, steroids and anti depressants.
  • Liver overload – if the liver is struggling to process and eliminate toxins, alcohol, caffeine or drugs, then hormone metabolism can be affected
  • Gut health– if your gut is not working optimally, certain hormones might not be metabolised or converted properly. Inflammation in the gut caused by food sensitivities or underlying infections can also spread to the neighbouring areas and disrupt hormone function.

What you can do to help your perimenopause?

Obviously there are medical options – HRT (make sure you ask for Body Identical) or other medications are often used to treat symptoms.

However HRT only replaces oestrogen and progesterone (if you want or can take it). You still need to look after your other hormones!

Implementing the right diet and lifestyle foundations is going to be beneficial not just for ALL your hormones but for your future health as you get older.

  • Diet – balancing blood sugar is a priority as it helps to sustain energy levels, balance moods, improve cognitive function and lose excess weight.
  • Including phytoestrogens in the diet (eg flaxseeds and soy) can help to balance oestrogen levels and reduce incidences of hot flushes and night sweats. Ensuring enough protein, healthy fats and phytonutrients are in the diet to support thyroid and cellular health is very important.
  • Support gut and livercruciferous vegetables help to support your liver detoxification pathways and oestrogen clearance. Hydration helps to keep the bowels moving, while reducing alcohol and caffeine can support the liver and gut. Including probiotic foods (live yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha) can help to support the microbiome (your good bugs!) and digestive function.
  • Minimise exposure to EDC’s– eat organic where possible to avoid pesticide exposure. Swap BPA plastics to glass or stainless steel. Avoid products containing phthalates (eg synthetic fragrance in personal and household products).
  • Activity – increasing NEAT movement (Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) helps to reduce sedentary behaviour and increase metabolism. Avoiding over-exercising is as important to not increase stress on the body.
  • De-stress and sleep– managing stress through mindfulness or other relaxation techniques can have a huge impact on symptoms. Improving sleep quality through dietary changes, stress management techniques and sleep hygiene routines can be very helpful.
  • Supplements – topping up your nutrients can be really helpful. Hormones need a lot and we may not be getting enough in our diet, or stress may be using them up! Check out my Top 5 recommended supplements for women over 40 to see what you need.
  • Get appropriate tests carried out– whether through your doctor or privately, tests can be very helpful in identifying the root cause of any imbalance. We look at including thyroid, adrenals, sex hormones, blood sugar, gut health and key nutrients.

How are you managing your peri-menopause journey? I'd love to know in the comments!

If you'd like more information on the tests we do, please CONTACT us and we can send you more details.

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