For many women, perimenopause can be a rough time. The symptoms it brings coupled with other life changes that often coincide with this time can make the transition difficult. Despite the prevalence of perimenopause symptoms, taking the right steps can reduce them and set you on the path to a smooth perimenopause.
The term “perimenopause” refers to the years preceding a woman's last period; this is the time when the traditional “menopause symptoms” appear. Colloquially, “menopause” is used interchangeably with “perimenopause,” though medically speaking, “menopause” indicates the day a woman has gone 12 consecutive months without menstruating. This marks the end of her reproductive years.
Typically, the perimenopause transition lasts 2 – 10 years and occurs between a woman's mid-forties and mid-fifties. In rare cases, women may experience menopause before the age of 45, making their perimenopause sooner as well. In addition, women who experience surgical menopause because of a radical hysterectomy or a treatment that damages the ovaries will typically not have a perimenopause stage. Because of this room for variance, each woman's perimenopause experience is unique.
About Perimenopause and Pregnancy
It is still possible to become pregnant during perimenopause. Although their periods may be irregular, women may still be ovulating during this time, meaning that pregnancy can occur. However, because of the irregularity of the menstrual cycle, ovulation and fertility can be hard to predict. The body is not considered infertile until a woman has gone a full year without a menstrual period.
What Causes Perimenopause?
The menstrual cycle is regulated by estrogen, progesterone, and other hormones. In order to prepare the body for the end of menstruation at menopause, hormone levels fluctuate up and down, all the while gradually declining. Eventually, estrogen levels reach consistently low levels and remain that way for the rest of a woman's life.
These hormones also play a role in other functions of the body, such as mood regulation and body fat distribution. Given that these hormones have a wide-reaching function, the changes in hormone levels during perimenopause can cause many symptoms.
There are many potential symptoms of perimenopause, but it is unlikely a woman will experience all of them. The most commonly-reported symptoms include:
- Irregular periods
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Insomnia and other sleep problems
- Mood swings and irritability
- Vaginal dryness
- Loss of libido
- Memory lapses
- Difficulty concentrating
- Weight gain or changes in body shape
- Joint and muscle pain
- Urinary incontinence
In many cases, perimenopause symptoms can be managed with healthy lifestyle adjustments and alternative approaches. However, if symptoms severely hinder everyday life, medical intervention may be necessary. If your symptoms are greatly lowering your quality of life, it is recommended to see your physician.
How to Relieve the Symptoms of Perimenopause
The menopause transition is a natural process that cannot be stopped or treated. Nonetheless, it is possible to manage and even eliminate perimenopause symptoms by reducing risk factors, making healthy lifestyle changes, and – perhaps most importantly - balancing hormone levels. Since shifts in hormones are the root of all perimenopause symptoms, regaining hormonal balance is the most direct way to relieve them all in one fell swoop.
Action Plan for a Smooth Perimenopause
Women can take control of their health during the perimenopause transition to alleviate their symptoms and increase their overall wellness, applying these elements as they see fit.
Consume a balanced diet
The first step in leading a healthy lifestyle is to eat a balance diet rich in essential nutrients. As people get older, the body needs fewer calories, so it's important to adjust portion sizes accordingly; this can also help counter weight gain, a common perimenopause symptom. In addition, foods containing phytoestrogens – like tofu, soymilk, chickpeas, flaxseed, and apples – may help increase estrogen levels. Nutrients that perimenopausal women should monitor closely in their diets include calcium, vitamin B6, vitamin B9 (folic acid), vitamin D, and iron.
Being sedentary can worsen menopause symptoms, so it's important to work in at least two and a half hours of exercise a week into your schedule. This should include both aerobic exercise for uplifting mood and weight-bearing exercises to keep bones strong.
It's important to get around eight hours of sleep a night; this will help reduce stress and bolster the body's ability to handle perimenopause symptoms. Night sweats and other symptoms can get in the way of good sleep, but avoiding large meals before bed and going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day can help regulate your schedule.
For women who smoke, perimenopause is a critical time to begin the quitting process. The rewards of quitting are great in terms of both alleviating perimenopause symptoms and improving overall health. Chemicals in cigarettes lower estrogen levels, which worsens the hormonal imbalance behind perimenopause symptoms, in addition to increasing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
For many women in this time of life, stress runs high, and it is important to keep it under control. Of course, this is more easily said than done, but getting in the habit of making time for relaxation will pave the way for reduced stress levels. Every woman unwinds in her own way, but yoga, meditation, spending time in nature, and taking a hot bath are some ideas that are particularly relaxing.
Perimenopause can be a trying time, not just because of the bothersome symptoms, but also because this transition tends to overlap with other major events potentially happening in women's lives, such as divorce, children moving out, a change in job, or parents falling ill. For these reasons, it's important for women to strengthen their social networks. Menopause support groups – whether on forums online or in person – can help women through the transition and know they are not alone.
Balance hormone levels with natural supplements
While lifestyle adjustments can address each symptom individually and improve overall health, natural supplements are instrumental in dealing with the underlying cause of perimenopause symptoms: hormonal imbalance. Many products are available, and they work in different ways.
- Phytoestrogenic herbal supplements. These products are made from herbs like black cohosh, soy, red clover, and dong quai. These herbs contain phytoestrogens, which are plant-based estrogen compounds that behave like a weaker version of human estrogen. They can help raise the body's estrogen levels when they are low, but they are not recommended for use greater than six consecutive months, since external estrogen may raise a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.
- Hormone-regulating herbal supplements. These products, such as Macafem, contain neither plant-based nor synthetic hormones. Rather, the nutrients they contain nourish the hormonal glands. This helps them produce hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone at the levels the body needs, even during perimenopause. Because of this unique mechanism, hormone-regulating herbal supplements are generally free of side effects.
Each woman's perimenopause experience is different, influenced by her genetics, external circumstances, and personal lifestyle. For that reason, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for perimenopause symptoms. A combination of relevant lifestyle changes coupled with hormone-regulating supplements is a solid action plan with which many women have relieved their perimenopause symptoms and improved their overall wellness.