Here's What You Need To Know About Perimenopause
Perimenopause is simply the time before menopause. It refers to the physiological changes and hormone decline that happens naturally as we age.
But get this, it starts as early as 35 and, although the drop in hormone levels can be gradual at first, it can still have a profound effect on our health and wellbeing. Even more importantly, the way we take care of ourselves throughout perimenopause is not only essential for our day-to-day energy, it directly influences how we experience menopause, making it all the more important to know what’s what.
SO, WHAT IS HAPPENING?
As we breeze through our thirties, the levels and consistency of oestrogen and progesterone start to become irregular. For some women, it will start as early as the mid-thirties, and for others it may be later, but the term 'perimenopause' encompasses the myriad of changes that occur in the 15 years leading up to menopause. So, although the onset will differ for everyone, it’s something to be aware of far earlier than you may have thought.
Before we go on, if you’re reading this in your thirties and are still looking to get pregnant don’t fret – you can absolutely still get pregnant throughout these years. But what it does mean (whether a baby is your end goal or not), is that we need to ensure we’re taking care of our hormone health, not only to reduce symptoms of perimenopause, but to set ourselves up for a smoother transition through menopause.
One of the first changes that occurs is a gradual decline in progesterone, which can contribute to anxiety, poor sleep, increased breast tenderness, water retention, and eventually, shorter cycles. Some of the other early signs of perimenopause is a drop in libido and vaginal dryness.
As we progress through perimenopause, we’ll also experience changes in cortisol, thyroid hormones, insulin, leptin, and eventually the sharp drop in oestrogen that hits while we’re in full blown menopause, when our ovaries stop making the sex hormones and no longer release eggs. The good news is that, as with most things, tweaks in our lifestyle including nutrition, stress management, and fitness, can help make all the difference.
STRESS + CYCLES
As our ovaries start to back off on the production of oestrogen and progesterone, our adrenal glands step in as the pinch hitter. Although they won’t produce the same levels, as ovarian function declines, the adrenals take on the role of making these essential hormones. Enter: chronic stress. This is often the time in a woman’s life where stress is at its highest – whether it be from work, family or trying to juggle them both, the effects of stress are definitely more apparent as we approach forty. If our adrenals are already overburdened, stress will trump sex hormones, which can exacerbate symptoms.
Although metabolic changes happen a little later in the process, women in their thirties will definitely feel the shift (it’s suddenly a little harder to get away with staying up all night and eating poorly). As we age, we all - men included- start to lose our sensitivity to insulin, but this is more pronounced in women because of its relationship to oestrogen. As oestrogen declines, so will our insulin sensitivity. The best way to combat this is of course, ensuring our diet is low in sugar, refined carbohydrates and excess starch. But another key contributor is the amount of lean muscle mass we have. Maintaining good lean muscle mass helps us stay more metabolically fit by improving our glucose uptake and insulin sensitivity. In simple terms? Resistance training should be a definitely fixture in your thirties to.
Another change that happens for both sexes is a decline in testosterone. Although this is generally age related, it is happening at the same time as our perimenopausal swings are in full effect, so will contribute to our sex drive and also indirectly, our insulin sensitivity, making resistance training even more important for women.
SUPPORTING YOUR HORMONES
In your 30’s…
— Make stress management a priority so that you’ve cemented good habits as life gets more complicated.
— Start to prioritise resistance training. Building muscle is easier when we’re younger and will help us stay more resilient to the metabolic changes that are coming. It doesn’t mean you need to stop cardio, but make strength work a regular part of your regime now to reap the full benefits.
— Keep your gut on track. The estrobolome is the part of your gut that helps metabolise oestrogens, and its role in women’s health is becoming more apparent every year. If you’re suffering from IBS in your thirties, it’s something to get a firm handle on before you hit forty to increase your chance of hormonal harmony.
— Support yourself with adaptogens. Ashwaganda can help maintain healthy cortisol levels and is our go to adaptogen for all things stress related. Enhanced Nootropics comes with the added benefits of magnesium and methylated b vitamins, which are essential for health hormones, mood, and sleep, so is our supplement of choice.
— Be mindful of how alcohol affects you at different stages of your menstrual cycle. You'll find that it's gets harder to handle alcohol in the latter two weeks of your cycle, so modifying how much you drink and when can help optimise your biology to decrease fluctuations in mood, energy, and cortisol.
In your 40’s…
— Stress management continues to take main stage as your hormones shift to the later stages of perimenopause. Remember, you want your adrenals to feel happy and healthy by the time they need to take on sex hormone production.
— Strength training should be a primary focus and with that, we can often see a need for more protein intake. This doesn’t mean you need to increase meat but ensuring your protein intake is solid will help ensure you’re building and maintaining the muscle you need to fuel your metabolism.
— Increase phytoestrogens from food, which have been shown to reduce hot flashes and improve symptoms of menopause. These include organic soy (fermented is best), chickpeas, lentils and peas.
— It’s fair to say that one of the things women fear about the menopausal years is weight gain. But it’s not a given, and the more you can support your insulin levels the better. The first line of defence is the diet, so keep the sweet stuff low (you know the drill).
— The second line of defence is supporting your insulin levels with targeted botanicals and phytonutrients. Metabolic Fix is our go to when it comes to metabolic control and can help keep your body insulin sensitive and metabolically flexible.
Regardless of age…
— A worsening of PMS can be a sign of changing hormone levels. GLA has been shown to decrease symptoms of both PMS, perimenopause,and menopause, so if you’re suffering from breast tenderness, tearfulness, water retention and painful periods, Essential GLA can be a life saver in the luteal phase. Once you’re closer to menopause, taking it all month long can help combat hot flashes and some of the other symptoms including insomnia, mood swings and anxiety.