Let’s talk about perimenopause, or the hormonal “Autumn.” This can be a tough time for women due to the arrival of a whole new set of hormonal symptoms we didn’t see coming.
Perimenopause, refers to the hormonal tides in the 5 years before menopause or a woman's last menstrual period. Menopause usually occurs at about age 51 but just like girls seem to be heading into puberty earlier, menopause also seems to be arriving earlier for western women and why perimenopause may occur before we could see it coming.
Some of the common initial perimenopausal symptoms include;
fluctuations in cholesterol levels
These symptoms are influenced by depressed progesterone production due to less robust ovulation. A woman's cycle may shorten and possibly become heavier, and many women will feel what I describe as the “runaways”, where we just want to run from the overwhelm of our work and family responsibilities. The fun continues when oestrogen also starts to drop which can be signalled by symptoms such as lack of skin integrity, vaginal dryness, depression, poor memory and sore joints. Oestrogen also has an intimate connection with our serotonin levels necessary for our mood, cognition and memory, while progesterone aids in the availability of GABA which helps to facilitate sleep and reduce symptoms of anxiety. This is why menopause and perimenopause must be appreciated and treated as a state of both body and mind, not just a time when our fertility ceases.
Perimenopause can be tough for women to navigate as fluctuating oestrogen and progesterone levels can cause some crazy crosstalk with crucial brain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and GABA. Fluctuating oestrogen and progesterone can also cause confused hormonal messaging to other hormones including thyroid hormones, cortisol, leptin and insulin. Due to this, many women will experience thyroid wobbles as the female body thinks it is under stress due to the hormonal change. Consequently, the thyroid might slow down to adjust to the perceived stress, impacting mood, metabolism and energy. Furthermore, symptoms will be magnified when we are under chronic stress, depleting the production of key female hormones to instead favour cortisol (stress hormone), which may cause excess oestrogen availability and related pathologies such as fibroids, adenomyosis, fibrocystic breasts, polyps and heavy periods.
I know this sounds like a bit of a hormonal design fault, but perimenopause and menopause need not be a distressing slog through hormonal decline! Your body will still crave hormonal peace and equilibrium, and mother nature really does have our back here as our adrenal glands become our primary source of hormonal production once our ovaries go quiet.
Menopause can be a powerful and healthful time when we appreciate the hormonal dance that can give rise to the hormonal haywire. To navigate this time, it is important to become intimate with your stressors both past and present. Studies have confirmed over and over that the impact of stress is not due to the magnitude of the life event but is more about our perception and attachment to the stress it has caused. When we consider diet, nutritional and lifestyle changes that nourish our adrenal health we see a trickle- down effect that will support our sleep, thyroid, heart, metabolism, bone and brain health. Some of the little tweaks that are worth considering during the perimenopause/menopause years include:
Prioritise sleep and a nightly sleep routine.
Consume a diet rich in protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates at each meal to balance blood sugar and support our adrenal glands.
Minimise sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and restrictive diets.
Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as fish, nuts and seeds, avocado, eggs and olive oil.
Ensure you include foods rich in phytoestrogens such as fermented organic soy, millet, buckwheat, chickpeas, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, nuts, sprouts and legumes.
Include colourful foods like pomegranate, purple cabbage, beetroot, green and orange veggies, berries, herbs, nuts and seeds, matcha and maca - these foods will all help to fill your antioxidant bucket.
Consider adaptogenic herbs such as ashwganda, rhodiola, tulsi and ginseng.
Incorporate exercise into your weekly routine for both stress management and to improve mood.
Remember that perimenopause/menopause is a natural process of aging and can provide an opportunity for a more intimate connection to our hormonal health and the personal levers that can improve the second half of our lives.
Our highly qualified Naturopaths support women going through perimenopause and menopause in the Darling Health clinic on a weekly basis. You do not need to and should not be struggling during this time! Naturopathic treatment can make an enormous difference, and we are here to help.