Perimenopause - what is it and am I in it?

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You’re going along, PMS-period, PMS-period, all the joy, and then BAM something changes. Your PMS is a little worse. Or a lot worse. You cycle has gotten shorter. Or longer. You’re feeling anxious, but you can’t work out why, and is it me or is it HOT in here?

Are you menopausal? Or is this the perimenopause? First up, what’s the difference? Perimenopause is basically menopause transition by another name. It’s the bit between your periods changing to you not having them for 12 months, which is the medical definition of being post-menopausal. Menopause is the destination. Perimenopause is the journey. For some women, this transition is something they don’t notice, for others it has a big impact on their life, and for 1 in 10 women, that “transition” can last for up to ten years and start in their late thirties or early forties.

What does the transition feel like? Well, symptoms can be physical or emotional. There are several tests that can indicate whether you are menopausal, but oftentimes the symptoms speak for themselves, especially if you’re 40+.

Symptoms are emotional and physical and often include:

·         Tired (all the time)

·         Anxiety

·         Mood Swings

·         Memory loss

·         Brain fog

·         Period changes (longer or shorter cycle, heavier bleeding)

·         Low sex drive

·         Hot flushes

·         Night Sweats

·         Insomnia

This is not an exhaustive list (just exhausting to experience).  The reason why you can feel like your PMS has ramped up is because our hormones may be in a state of flux as we age – oestrogen, progesterone, thyroid, insulin… just a few of the hormones that dictate how well we are handling “the change” as it approaches.

Can diet help?  Yes, but as part of a series of measures that might make this time easier.

Balance your blood sugar

Don’t skip meals, and every time you eat make sure you’re getting some protein (for example, chicken, fish, tofu, nuts, seeds, eggs) and a healthy fat (examples include avocadoes, eggs, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds) as well as some vegetables and a piece of fruit. And this also means ditching the sugar in your diet as much as you can… yep, that’s the chocolate, cakes and biscuits that you may think are helping you cope, but which are just aggravating the problem.

Stay regular

Aiming to have a bowel movement a day is part of managing hormonal imbalance. Eating plenty of fibre especially from fruit and vegetables and wholegrains can improve your digestion and in turn help your body excrete excess oestrogen, too much of which can contribute to the perimenopause symptoms.

Feeling seedy?

Seeds are a great source of phytoestrogens – flax, chia, sunflower, sesame, pumpkin – take your pick. A few tablespoons a day as part of your diet may help with hormonal balance.

Eat Your Greens

All vegetables are good, of course. But cruciferous vegetables, like cabbage, broccoli, watercress, rocket and cauliflower may support the liver to detoxify oestrogen, helpful if your levels of this hormone are high.

Diet is just part of the picture. Lifestyle changes are also essential to weather this hormonal storm the best you can – that includes working on getting more and better sleep and learning to cope better with stress. Easier said than done, right? But finding small but consistent ways to deal with stress can have a huge impact on how your body copes. Self-care is not indulgent, it’s a coping mechanism and it’s vital. It can be as simple as 5 minutes of deep breathing when you wake up or before going to sleep (try breathing in for the count of 4 and slowly exhaling for the count of 7, and do it 10 times); it might be getting to that yoga class once a week, or even just making sure you get a walk around the park once or twice a week; it can be time with friends to share and laugh or time alone in a bath with your favourite podcast or your favourite magazine – or all of the above!

Gwynnie stood up not long ago and said, “Hey world, I’m experiencing perimenopause,” (I paraphrase) but she was jovial when she said it. True, she was talking about it to promote her Goop menopause supplement, BUT she said that menopause needs a ‘re-brand’ and I think that’s true.

When our mums went through menopause, it was “going through the change”, a phrase most likely mouthed with dramatic emphasis rather than spoken out loud and was generally endured with misery and often sadness. But menopause is not a disease. It’s a process which our bodies are designed to go through.

So, remember, menopause is the destination, perimenopause is the journey – so post-menopause should be Shangri-La. Right? I hear women say they feel great to be through the other side. My job is to make the journey to post-menopause less stressful, less overwhelming and well, just, less. Let’s work on that together.

If you are experiencing any symptoms that concern you, please see your GP.