If you’re a woman between the ages of 40 and 51, you may have entered or be about to enter the transitional years before menopause known as perimenopause. While this is a natural part of a woman’s reproductive lifecycle, the symptoms and challenges you might experience along the way may not be. In addition to being unpleasant and affecting quality of life, some perimenopausal symptoms can progress into chronic disease later in life if left unchecked. Read on to discover what you can do to optimize your health and wellbeing naturally during perimenopause – and beyond.
Perimenopause refers to the transitional period before menopause when a woman experiences menstrual irregularities due to changes in hormones. While many people use the terms “premenopause” (meaning before menopause) and “perimenopause” (around menopause) interchangeably, medically speaking they are different; all perimenopausal women are premenopausal as they have not yet reached menopause, however a premenopausal woman may not be perimenopausal if hormone changes have not yet begun.
Menopause, which may take up to 10 years to occur, is noted when a woman has not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. After that time she is considered post-menopausal.
A number of biological changes begin to occur in women during their perimenopausal years, including:
- Shorter menstrual cycle – The length of menstrual cycles begin to vary, most typically to a shorter overall cycle and a shorter follicular phase (the first half of the cycle leading up to ovulation)
- Anovulatory cycles and lower progesterone levels – Along with having fewer ovarian eggs remaining, women experience a higher number of cycles without ovulation, which results in lower progesterone levels
- Estrogen dominance – Progesterone levels decrease significantly, creating an imbalance with the decline in estrogen.
- Fluctuating estrogen levels – As a woman gets very close to true menopause, her estrogen levels may rise very high and then drop very rapidly. This typically happens only in the last 6 months to 1 year before menopause.
Signs and symptoms
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of perimenopause include:
- Irregular bleeding – lighter or heavier periods, changes in duration and frequency, intermittent spotting
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Skin changes – wrinkling, sagging and brown spots
- Vaginal dryness, thinning and atrophy
- Sleep disturbances and insomnia
- Mood swings and/or depression
- Memory and cognition changes
- Heart palpitations
- Hair loss and thinning
- Facial acne and hair growth
- Slower metabolism and weight gain
- Recurrent urinary tract infections
What’s important to note is that no two women experience perimenopause the same way with the same combination or level of symptoms. Symptoms can be mild, moderate or severe; with changes in frequency. Some can be problematic and progress beyond menopause. And many symptoms can also be a reflection of other interrelated hormonal imbalances connected to thyroid function, cortisol and adrenal fatigue or related to co-existing health concerns.
What to watch for
Estrogen dominance that persists over a longer period of time may be a risk factor for a number of diseases. Over time, estrogen dominance could lead to:
- Cancers (particularly breast and other cancers of the reproductive system)
- Cardiovascular disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
There are a number of things you can do to manage and improve symptoms associated with perimenopause, rebalance your hormones and help prevent the risk of disease later on:
Phytoestrogens – Increasing your consumption of foods containing estrogen-like compounds called phytoestrogens can help relieve many perimenopausal symptoms. These foods include:
- Spinach, peas, beans and other green vegetables
- Nuts and seeds, especially flax seeds
- Apples, Chickpeas, Pomegranate
- Soy (this is not suitable for everyone as it is a common allergen; use in moderation even if you are not sensitive to it)
These foods have many other nutritional and health benefits, and may lower the incidence of osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer.
Nutritional supplementation – A number of medicinal plants containing phytoestrogens, including black cohosh, dong quai, licorice and ginseng, have been shown in studies to reduce hot flashes, decrease vaginal dryness, and improve mood and energy. Natural progesterone cream can also be used to help with symptoms associated with perimenopause. Ask your health practitioner about herbal remedies and supplements, as well as nutritional IV therapy and injections that may support hormone balance.
Mindset – Our attitudes, individually and culturally, may have more to do with the experience of perimenopause and menopause and its related physical challenges than we realize. Studies have shown that in certain eastern cultures where older women are honored and valued, women experience fewer symptoms like hot flashes during perimenopause and menopause. Instead of focusing on this as a time of loss of youth and fertility, why not try shifting our mindset to focus on the gains of wisdom and freedom?
Testing for Hormonal Imbalance
If you are experiencing some of the symptoms listed above, you may be perimenopausal. The only way to know for sure is to have your hormone levels tested. Ask for a comprehensive hormone panel using salivary testing to assess your levels of the different types of estrogen, as well as progesterone, testosterone, DHEA and cortisol. Your health professional will use this information to put together a personalized plan of action to improve hormone balance, manage your symptoms and encourage healthy aging.
NEX Wellness and IV Clinic offers naturopathy care and hormonal assessments, serving Burlington, Hamilton, Binbrook and surrounding areas.Leave a reply →