Hormones can be pesky at the best of times, and they can send you even more out of kilter during your late thirties and forties, as you approach menopause; and this time is known as the perimenopause. Mood and energy levels can be the first areas to be affected. They can slowly creep up on you or strike as a bolt out of the blue. So it’s often difficult to make the connection between mood changes, sleep disturbance and weight gain with hormone deviations, especially when the menstrual cycle has remained much the same.
These problems can easily arise due to subtle changes in your underlying female hormone balance, and may be signs that you are on the road to the menopause. There are some simple diet and lifestyle changes you can make to help you sail through this important time in your life known as the perimenopause, so read on to hear more.
Did you know that when most women talk about their menopause symptoms, they really mean they are experiencing perimenopause symptoms? The time when most women start to have changes in their hormones is during the years leading up to their menopause, and this time-period is known as the perimenopause. The menopause itself, literally means one year after a woman’s last period – and refers to that precise point in time. Therefore, the only real so-called ‘symptom’ of menopause is that a whole year has passed without a menstrual bleed. After that menopause date, we can be said to be post-menopausal.
The perimenopause is often a time associated with a lot of physical, hormonal and emotional changes. The symptoms and changes that occur during the perimenopause is the time when your body is still fertile, so you can get pregnant during this time. The perimenopause usually starts to kick in 2-5 years before menstruation ceases. These hormonal changes generally start when a woman is in her early 40s (however we have seen many women in our clinic where this has occurred as early as her mid to late 30s). Out of sync hormone-related symptoms seem to build-up as we head towards the menopause, and can continue well into the post-menopausal stage.
Perimenopause and post-menopause are important parts of the natural cycle of life. Some of these changes within our bodies can often feel severe and we might feel sad that these are the inevitable signs of moving towards ‘old age’. But many of the signs and symptoms are simply our body’s reaction to the additional metabolic pressures of re-balancing the changes in our hormones. The symptoms of perimenopause and menopause can also be exacerbated by the meteoric combination of our children hitting puberty, chronic stress and long-term poor lifestyle and diet choices.
- Heavy and or increasingly irregular periods (spotting is common)
- Insomnia (difficulty getting to sleep/light sleep)
- Heightened emotions, mood swings, anxiety or depression
- Memory lapses
- Night sweats
- Day time hot flushes
- Vaginal dryness (and general dry skin)
- Reduced sex drive/libido
- Digestive problems and bloating
- Joint and muscle pain
- Hair loss
- Weight gain
And here are some simple nutritional steps you can take to balance the nutrients and vitamins your body needs during this important time of your life. Getting this right may well help to relieve the most taxing symptoms and hopefully let you enjoy the halo effect these simple changes will bring to your overall well-being, happiness, health and relationships.
The Cleveland Clinic have found that calcium-rich foods can help support a woman at any stage of menopause. It is thought that two daily servings of foods rich in calcium can help prevent hot flushes. Foods rich in calcium include dairy products, such as organic milk and yoghurt. Green leafy vegetables including kale and purple sprouting broccoli and oily fish with soft bones such as sardines are all very calcium-dense. Nuts particularly high in calcium are almonds and brazil and calcium-rich seeds are poppy, chia and sesame.
Throughout the menopause, your iron levels will probably fluctuate and deficiency in your iron stores can occur quite easily. Low iron can exacerbate hot flushes, so eating iron rich food is essential. Aim to eat at least 3 portions a day of food that contains natural iron such as leafy green vegetables, grass-fed meat, liver and pulses. If you are vegetarian or vegan or are prone to low iron reserves then you should consider an iron supplement.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are the cornerstones of a healthy diet full of nutrients, antioxidants, fibre and water. Ensuring your diet is full of a varied range of fresh fruit and veg will support your overall health and weight. Aim for 7- 10 portions of fruit and veg a day.
Signs of an Omega 3 fatty acid deficiency may range from outward signs such as dry skin, lifeless hair and cracked nails to mood issues such as fatigue, low mood, lack of motivation and forgetfulness. Difficulty losing weight, breast pain and dry eyes are all symptoms are also issues that can be assumed to be due to the perimenopause, but might simply be due to a lack of essential omega 3. Omega 3 can be found in fish oil supplements, oily fish such as mackerel, salmon (preferably organic) and sardines as well as walnuts and flax oil. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends women who are not of a child bearing age can eat up to four 140g portions of such oily fish a week.
Vitamin E is known to minimise perimenopausal symptoms and can be found in plant oils such as olive, flax and hemp as well as in seeds such as sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. Whole grain bread and cereals and avocados also contain naturally high levels of vitamin E.
It is important to ensure you are drinking enough water. The Cleveland Clinic found 2 litres of water a day relieves perimenopausal symptoms and hot flushes. You can enjoy water in herbal teas, broth based soups, fruit and vegetables, or simply with a splash of juice or lemon and lime.
Food Supplements for Perimenopause
Sometimes we need a little bit more help than a healthy diet can provide, if we want to keep our hormones in check. A boost from nutritional or herbal food supplements can make quite a difference, especially if symptoms are quite marked. A multivitamin geared to women in their forties is usually a good start, then you can start to add in others as needed. Herbal and nutritional supplements can be given for a more focused approach and may only need to be taken for a few months to gain the benefit needed. Other supplements may need to be taken more continuously to keep your feeling and looking your best during this time.
- Poor sleep – Theanine, magnesium and lemon balm.
- Fatigue and loss of zest – Vitamin B complex, iron, spirulina, chlorella.
- Anxiety, low mood, irritability – Vitamin B complex, vitamin D3, magnesium, theanine and valerian.
- Libido – Maca and shatavari.
- Vaginal dryness – Omega 3 or sea buckthorn oil orally. Calendula cream or coconut oil topically. (Caution advised if using condoms as contraception – oils can deteriorate latex!)
- Hot flushes – Vitamin C & E, magnesium, chromium, & calcium. Sage, hops, dandelion & red clover
TOP TIP: Try stopping drinking wine and coffee for a week – hot flushes usually reduce considerably just by taking this one (hard!) diet step. It seems that the more alcohol and caffeine you drink, the worse the hot flushes will be.
At NatureDoc also have a team of Nutritional Therapists and Functional Medicine Practitioners who can run laboratory tests to assess your hormone levels to include oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol and DHEA. We also check thyroid levels as well as your baseline nutrient levels. We offer a range of tests which can include saliva, urine, stool and blood and have particular experience and expertise in running and interpreting the DUTCH test which is now seen as the gold standard test for assessing women’s hormone health at any stage of their life.
Perimenopause and the subtle body changes it brings can at first seem very daunting at first, and we may mourn the beginning of the end of our child-bearing years. But if you get the balance right and embrace these changes then you can celebrate the new chapter in your life and even ignite greater health and happiness than ever before.
Hi Lucinda, what about the soy isoflavones recommended everywhere?
They can be very useful and small amounts of soya such as in miso are really helpful. Soya milk and soya yoghurts however are highly processed so best avoided.