I read last week that there are now 51 different symptoms officially recognised as things we might experience in perimenopause.
Now apart from the fact that it bothers me its not a round 50, that’s a lot of symptoms. That’s a lot of cars lost in car parks because you can’t remember where you parked it (my particular specialty).
Largely thanks to Davina, more people than ever are talking about the years leading up to menopause, but what actually is it and what is happening?
You are classed as having gone through the menopause when you haven’t had a period for 12 months. Perimenopause is the period before this, which can be anything from 1-10 years (the average time ladies notice symptoms is around 4-5 years).
You may experience changes to your cycle, heavier periods, hot flushes, night sweats, mood changes, weight gain, headaches, insomnia, joint pain, itchy skin, urgency to wee, vaginal dryness and brain fog (to name just a few of the 51).
You may get tired more easily, have an exacerbation of PMS symptoms or feel like you’ve lost your sparkle. As my Grandma used to say ‘my get up and go has got up and gone’.
What is going on in our body?
Our hormone levels become erratic and fluctuate up and down more rapidly and markedly than before. Our previously finely tuned balanced hormonal symphony now resembles something more akin to a primary school music concert (if you know, you know).
This can cause havoc on bodily systems we would not have previously thought of as connected with our reproductive ability because there are hormonal receptors for oestrogen and progesterone throughout the whole of our body. These receptors are all effected by our now erratic creation of hormones they previously received on a regular basis.
The exact symptoms you may experience are very individual to you and are impacted by numerous factors such as your genetic predispositions and your diet and lifestyle.
What can we do about it?
A lot! There’s too much to write in one blog post here so I will come back to this at a later date and explain why each symptom may occur.
However the over-riding message is – it’s never too early to put your body into the best place possible to ride the perimenopause wave.
(1) Keep your blood sugar balanced
Oestrogen has a regulatory effect on our insulin function. Insulin helps us get energy out of the food we eat into our cells. If oestrogen is all over the place, insulin can operate less effectively and get confused. Over time, our cells can start to ignore the signals insulin is giving to open up and let the energy in.
Imagine insulin knocking on the door of the cells and the cells refusing to answer. This is called insulin resistance, and unfortunately some ladies are at higher risk of developing this during perimenopause.
Therefore in perimenopause, blood sugar dysregulation can lead to weight gain, fatigue and mood instability and have a huge impact on the quality of your sleep.
To balance your blood sugar, make sure you have a good-sized portion of protein with every meal, try to stick to 3 meals a day, enjoy healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts and seeds and avoid refined carbohydrates and processed foods as much as possible.
(2) Be selfish with your stress levels
Frustratingly, perimenopause occurs at a time in our lives when we tend to have numerous responsibilities and a busy life.
However, constant or chronic stress, even at a low level, increases the release of one of our main ‘stress hormones’, cortisol. Alongside the peaks and troughs of blood sugar, excess cortisol can lead to further inflammation in the whole body, weight gain (particularly around the mid-section) and brain fog. High cortisol levels also disrupt sleep.
More than ever, we must make time for ourselves. Walking, reading, singing, spending time with friends…whatever it is that works for you. Strength training is also hugely important (I'll do a separate post on this soon).
Make at least 10 minutes a day non-negotiable and at least once a week a longer session of ‘you time’. This is no longer a nice to have – it’s a key part of managing our own lifestyle to transition more smoothly into menopause.
(3) Help your body detoxify those hormones
Once we’ve used the hormones we’ve created for our bodily needs they need to leave us, largely down the loo – we want to use them and lose them. We have to detoxify them before this can happen, a process that mainly happens in the liver.
Our liver needs a lot of key nutrients to work effectively. Eating foods such as broccoli, beans, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, nuts, and pumpkin seeds all aid oestrogen detoxification in particular.
We also don’t want to overload our liver with other toxins. For instance, perimenopause is a good time to look at the cosmetics and bathroom products you are using and switch to more natural versions.
And.. alcohol…. it is perhaps one of nature’s most cruel inventions that at a potentially stressful time in our lives alcohol really doesn’t suit us. Our livers are so busy dealing with our school band hormone noise that they do not have the time or inclination (or sufficient enzymes and nutrients) to be dealing with detoxifying alcohol.
Unfortunately if we drink, the liver MUST process that first, leaving a queue of unruly hormonal children, already hyper and excitable, waiting to get out. This leaves a backlog of hormonal chaos in our body and unfortunately explains why your hangovers may have got worse.
The health of your gut is also important here – if we don’t have a lovely diverse microbiome (see previous blog posts) then we may not have the bacteria needed to help maintain balanced hormones.
Indeed, there is one particular strain of frankly mean bacteria that breaks down oestrogen already packaged up to leave the body in our poo and sends it back around the body again – not what we want!
We really can help ourselves
There is so much more that I don’t have the space to cover here and will be the topic of further blog posts. But I hope my message is clear, these things are not difficult to achieve, you just need to be conscious of them and know how to implement some subtle changes - it isn’t all doom and gloom!
Just a few lifestyle and diet tweaks and you can manage your perimenopause beautifully.
So far, at almost 47, losing my car at Tesco is the main symptom I’m having and frankly I plan on keeping it that way!
If you’d like to work with me on a personalised plan to help you sail through the perimenopause please do book a free call on my contact page.