Almost every woman knows the signs and symptoms of menopause: the infamous hot flashes, moods that swing like a rollercoaster, your jeans suddenly not fitting for seemingly no reason, and of course, the cessation of your period. But, what about the flurry of symptoms that appear before formal menopause, like longer, heavier periods, night sweats, and insomnia? Are these simply a part of aging, or are they a different condition altogether?
Research shows that these symptoms are due to “perimenopause,” sometimes referred to as “the change.” Perimenopause occurs in the time prior to menopause, where the menstrual cycle ceases completely and your body can no longer conceive.
One of the difficulties of perimenopause is that it’s known for its unpredictability. While the average length of perimenopause is four years, it can range anywhere from four months to ten years. Because of this, many women don’t realize what they’re experiencing and often end up ignoring the uncomfortable symptoms that occur.
Physical Changes and Hormonal Alterations
So, what’s happening to our bodies during perimenopause? Well, a variety of things. The physical changes to your body during this period result from hormonal alterations, specifically the level of estrogen circulating in the body. Normally, estrogen levels rise and fall quite predictably, but during perimenopause, these fluctuations become irregular. Your menstrual cycles may become longer or shorter, and there may be cycles where ovulation doesn’t occur at all.
While your cycle may no longer be the same, it’s still possible to become pregnant during perimenopause. If you wish to avoid this, it’s important to continue using contraceptives, such as birth control or other forms of protection.
Other Symptoms of Perimenopause
Along with hormone fluctuations, women may experience other symptoms, such as:
- Lower libido
- Urinary incontinence
- Memory lapses or brain fog
- Brittle nails
- Hair loss or thinning
- Unexplained weight gain and difficulty losing weight
- Sleep disturbances
These fluctuations can also precipitate metabolic imbalances in our bodies. Addressing these symptoms is crucial not only to improve your quality of life, but also because we now have evidence that the hormonal changes that occur during our perimenopausal and menopausal years may be linked to disease or cognitive decline, such as Alzheimer’s.
How to Combat Symptoms of Perimenopause
While the symptoms may be uncomfortable, the good news is you don’t have to continue to suffer with them. There are a few ways to combat symptoms of perimenopause, such as:
- Consuming less processed foods, reducing carbohydrate and sugar intake, and increasing whole foods in your diet, like:
- Dark, leafy greens (kale, spinach, arugula, and collard greens)
- Healthy sources of fat (avocado, walnuts, and oily fish)
- Healthy organic proteins (grass fed beef; free range chicken breast, tofu, and low mercury seafood)
- Stay active and focus on strength training to increase lean muscle mass and improve metabolism.
- Increase your hydration with water and other low calorie choices.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Prioritize a good sleep schedule.
- Take supplements that support your overall health, reduce inflammation, and balance hormonal fluctuations.
- Consider bioidentical hormone replacement
If you begin to suspect you may be undergoing perimenopause, it’s important to consult a medical professional to ensure you can provide the best care for your body.