Perimenopause – Why your body is changing in your 40’s and what to do about it

If you are a woman in your 40’s chances, are you may have noticed some changes going on with your body. Changes you may not be so thrilled by. Perhaps you have been gaining weight (particularly around your waistline), despite not changing your diet or exercise routine? Have you noticed your sleep quality decline and spend much of the night either struggling to get to sleep and waking up and can’t get back to sleep? Your periods have started to become very heavy or irregular? You’re feeling more anxious and irritable than normal? WHAT IS GOING ON??

If you have been experiencing any of these changes, you may have entered the transition period called perimenopause. First of all, this is not something to be alarmed by, and not because of something you have (or haven’t) done – it is a natural (and temporary) part of ageing for every woman. But just because it is a natural process, doesn’t mean that you have to put up with these symptoms and not acknowledge how you are feeling. The onset of perimenopause otherwise known as the menopausal transition can vary in length from between 2 to 12 years BEFORE your final period and starts somewhere around 35-45 years old. Once you have not had a period for 12 months you are then considered to have reached menopause. The average age for women reaching menopause in Australia is approx. 51 years old. The time of entering menopause is largely genetic and therefore the age your mother or siblings also reached menopause would be a good indication of when it will happen for you.

The hormonal rollercoaster

When I was in my 20’s and early 30’s I assumed that these ‘menopausal’ symptoms wouldn’t appear until much later, like 50+? But in my early 40’s? No. Whilst we have commonly associated hot flushes and night sweats with post-menopausal women, the information I had around perimenopause and what happens during this time was relatively limited. Which is quite surprising, because the perimenopausal transition period where our hormones take us on a big rollercoaster ride and symptoms during this time can be more intense. Some women are more affected than others, others may notice no symptoms at all. So, what’s happening here? There are 2 key reproductive hormones that a woman’s body produces – oestrogen and progesterone. As a woman enters perimenopause her body naturally starts producing less of both of these hormones. The ratio between progesterone and oestrogen levels also becomes altered, leading to states of deficiency and excess depending on where you are at on the rollercoaster. These fluctuating hormones result in a number of different symptoms including;

  • Irregular or heavy periods,
  • Mood swings – feeling more irritable, emotional and anxious
  • Stubborn weight gain, especially around the abdomen.
  • Breast tenderness
  • Migraine headaches
  • Loss of libido
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Hot flushes and night sweats

Smoothing the transition

Perimenopause although it may be challenging and disarming is a critical window of time in your health where we can make changes to support the hormonal transition, reduce the associated symptoms and to set yourself up for healthy ageing beyond menopause. Key recommendations include;

1. Maximise your nutrition; Good nutrition is the foundation of health throughout our lives, but during perimenopause it is especially important in relation to metabolic, heart and bone health and prevention of chronic disease. You can start with these steps;

    • Veg and more veg! boost your daily intake of antioxidants, phytonutrients and fibre. Aim for 4-5 cups of raw or 2-3 cups of cooked veg daily
    • Include a source of protein with every meal. This will help in maintaining muscle mass (see below) promote satiety and stabilise blood sugar, leaving you less likely to prone to snacking between meals. In addition, due to the thermogenic effect of food, the body expends more energy to convert protein into energy, than it does for fats and carbohydrates.
    • Include nutrients for bone health: ensure adequate calcium (including non-dairy sources) in your diet, 1,000-1,200mg daily from dietary and supplement sources is recommended. Vitamin D3 and K2 are also important nutrients required for the absorption of calcium into the bone.
    • Consume omega 3 fatty acids to support cardiovascular and brain health. Food sources include oily fish including sardines, mackerel, salmon, walnuts and flaxseeds.

2. Maintain your muscle mass: From the age of 40 we start to loss muscle mass at an accelerated rate. This is called sarcopenia. Resistance training* using either bodyweight exercises, bands or free weights is one way to combat this. By maintaining muscle mass you’ll enjoy the benefits of an improved metabolic rate, in addition to improved strength, core stability and bone density as you age.

3. Support your gut and liver; the digestive system and liver are both channels of metabolism and elimination for hormones and toxins. Digestive elimination can be supported by increased dietary fibre. Protect the health of your liver by reducing consumption of alcohol and refined sugar.

4. Prioritise time to recharge: The overwhelm and busyness of everyday life whether through work, family commitments, and relationships increases the burden of stress in your life which can wreak havoc on the nervous system and long-term health. Give yourself permission to prioritise your mental and emotional wellbeing and allow yourself some downtime to relax and recharge on a regular basis. Set boundaries for commitments on your time, it’s ok to say no sometimes, or ask for help if you need it.

5. Herbal medicine and nutritional supplementation – Customised herbs, dietary changes and supplementation can be very effective in reducing the symptoms of perimenopause and supporting long term health through perimenopause and beyond.

If you’d like a personalised approach to your health concerns, book in for a free 15 min discovery call to discuss ways I can help you.

* If you are new to exercise it is recommended to consult your doctor prior to commencing any new exercise regime. In addition, to avoid injury and maximise results its best to work out under the guidance of a trained fitness professional.

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