What is the difference between menopause and perimenopause?
Menopause is defined as the final menstrual period. It occurs when there has been a change in a woman's reproductive hormones and the ovaries no longer release any eggs. You only know you have had a final menstrual period if you have had no period for 12 months. Perimenopause on the other hand is the stage before natural menopause and is often the time when women notice and experience the symptoms of menopause such as hot flushes, vaginal changes and mood swings.
Perimenopause is the transition period prior to hitting menopause, it can last 4-6 years, and it is the time when your periods start to become less regular, lighter or heavier in flow, can last longer or finish earlier than they used to. Hormone levels, particularly oestrogen can swing erratically from high to low and the ovaries are starting to run out of eggs which then affects hormone levels. Some of the symptoms of menopause can begin during this time such as hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia, mood swings, forgetfulness, dry vaginal area and pain with intercourse, recurrent urinary tract infections, low libido, dry skin, aches and pains and headaches are some of the common symptoms.
So, what are some of the things that you can do to better cope with menopause and its symptoms.
Eat a healthy, balanced and nutritious diet. By doing so helps with maintaining a healthy weight, ensure bone health and heart health in particular and lessening the severity of menopausal symptoms. Once a woman reaches menopause their risk for osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease increases so ensuring good nutrition is very important. Ensure you eat good quality protein at every meal. Protein is found in eggs, red and white meat, fish, dairy, nuts and seeds, particularly flaxseeds, legumes and pulses and whole-grains. Eat around 2 cups of vegetables a day. Choose a rainbow of colours of vegetables to get the benefit of the different phytonutrients. Eat good fats every-day, choose from avocado, nuts and seeds, oily fish, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, nut and seed oils, grass fed butter. Ensure a good serving of calcium containing foods such as nuts and seeds, dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, kale etc or otherwise take a good quality supplement to ensure the recommended daily amount.
Exercise, relaxation, stress reduction and adequate sleep. The frequency and severity of hot flushes can be reduced by exercising. Stress can increase the frequency and severity of menopausal symptoms. Managing stress and practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, tai chi, qi gong for example can help with the transition to menopause. Menopause symptoms, particularly hot flushes and night sweats can disturb sleep and may change your usual sleep pattern. This can in turn contribute to increased feelings of stress, mood swings, depression and anxiety. A vicious cycle!
Healthy weight. As women age the fat that used to sit around our hips moves upwards towards our stomach area which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Also, women who are overweight may have more hot flushes than women of healthy weight. Ensuring adequate levels of exercise helps to maintain a healthy weight, ensure good muscle mass and bone density and helps with stress and energy levels. Try to get 1 hour of exercise 4 days of the week with some cardio work and muscle strengthening work.
Other things to consider....
Women who smoke are more likely to reach menopause a few years earlier and they have an increased risk of osteoporosis, heart disease and lung cancer than those women who don’t smoke. Stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol can have a disruptive effect on sleep which can have a flow on effect to mood.
There are many herbal remedies that have shown effectiveness in reducing the severity of menopausal symptoms. Herbs such as Black cohosh and St John’s Wort will help with hot flushes and mood changes such as anxious thoughts and depressed feelings as will many other herbs and nutrients. Women who make their lifestyle as healthy and as stress free as possible seem to experience less severe menopause symptoms.
Nicole Haak is an experienced Melbourne Naturopath whose gentle approach and warm nature enable her to be an empathetic and supportive practitioner who takes a genuine interest in her clients’ needs. She has a deep passion for what she does. This is evident by her holistic approach to helping her patients find solutions to their health concerns and improve their quality of life.