Perimenopause and menopause are natural transitions that happen in a woman's life and bring about many body changes. These changes can be physical, mental, and emotional.
Hormonal fluctuations during these life periods can lead to a variety of symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and sleep disturbances. Do any of these sound familiar to you?
If so- you aren't alone! While these symptoms can be hard to deal with, there are ways to support your body through these transitional periods with nutrition and lifestyle strategies.
In today's article, we will be discussing an overview of what perimenopause and menopause are. We will also go over our best tips for how you can minimize symptoms and live your best life!
If you haven't already, make sure you check out our article on functional nutrition and how we use a functional approach with our clients here at New York City Nutrition.
What is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause is the phase that comes before menopause, usually beginning in a woman's 40s or even earlier (mid to late 30s). You may also hear it called the menopausal transition. Perimenopause continues until menopause when the ovaries stop releasing eggs. Sometimes this transition to menopause can take anywhere from 7-14 years!
Many hormonal changes are experienced throughout perimenopause. During this phase, your ovaries start producing less estrogen, leading to irregular periods, changes in menstrual flow, and other symptoms.
Estrogen is a hormone that plays a role in sexual and reproductive development, in addition to other functions. You also may see changes in progesterone levels as well, another reproductive hormone.
Perimenopause can be a challenging time for many women, with years full of body changes. The onset of perimenopause is typically characterized by irregular periods. As your hormones start to fluctuate, your body will respond with a variety of signs and symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of perimenopause include:
Changes in sexual function
Hot flashes and night sweats
Change in cholesterol levels
Decreasing fertility and more!
As you can see, many of these symptoms can greatly impact your quality of life. This is why it is so important to support your body through this transitional period as you enter menopause.
What is Menopause?
Menopause is classified as the point in time when a woman's menstrual periods stop, typically occurring around age 50. You are considered officially in menopause when you haven't had a period consecutively for at least 12 months.
The onset and duration of menopause can depend on your lifestyle and diet habits, as well as other factors including genetics and chronic diseases.
Some women go through induced menopause where their menstrual cycle is stopped due to medical intervention, such as the removal of ovaries or cancer treatment. This can cause an early onset of menopause and associated hormonal changes.
After menopause, the ovaries produce very little estrogen, which can lead to a range of symptoms, such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and mood changes. Many of the same symptoms associated with perimenopause can also be seen in menopausal women.
Signs & symptoms of menopause include:
Hot flashes and disturbed sleep
Mood changes including anxiety and depression
Sexual dysfunction (vaginal dryness)
Loss of bone mass
Weight gain/difficulty losing weight
Insulin resistance and more!
Did you know that after menopause, women are at an increased risk for heart disease and osteoporosis? The hormonal fluctuations related to menopause not only may result in symptoms, but also increase your health risk after menopause.
Tips to Support Your Best Self
Now that you know a brief overview of both menopause and perimenopause, let's discuss what you can do to support your hormonal health!
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, making certain lifestyle and nutrition changes can help alleviate some of the discomforts.
Here are just a few of our best tips to keep in mind when entering these times of your life.
Drink adequate fluids. Menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, or bladder infections may be improved by proper hydration. Choose mostly unsweetened beverages including herbal tea and sparkling water. You can also eat water-rich fruits and veggies for hydration such as cucumbers and watermelon. You may need to hydrate more when necessary, such as during exercise.
Limit or avoid alcohol. Drinking excessive alcohol over a long period of time may aggravate hot flashes, disturb sleep, and worsen health conditions (including osteoporosis, high blood pressure, stroke, ulcers, memory loss, and mood disorders). It is recommended that women consume 1 drink or less per day. If you are going through perimenopause or menopause, you may want to consider avoiding alcohol altogether.
Eat an overall balanced diet. Spicy foods and caffeine-containing drinks and foods may aggravate hot flashes in some women. Instead of using heat-containing ingredients, flavor food with herbs, sweet spices, alliums, mild peppers, and citrus juice. To cut back on caffeine, focus on getting proper sleep, taper off caffeine consumption gradually, and choose decaffeinated coffee and herbal tea.
Include nutritious, whole foods. Nutrient-dense foods are foods with an abundance of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals. These include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and lean proteins such as fish and poultry. Eating more nutrient-dense foods supports overall health during perimenopause and menopause.
Balance your macronutrients. Protein, carbs, and fat make up the three macronutrients. A balance between these is key for helping with hormonal imbalances and insulin resistance. Protein is especially important because it feels contribute to a feeling of fullness and satisfaction after meals. Aim to include a protein source at as many meals as possible!
Increase your physical activity. Exercise is important for menopausal women because it can help reduce bone loss and increase muscle mass. Find types of exercise that bring you joy and feel good to you. Strength training can be especially beneficial as lifting weights will increase your muscle mass even further than compared with cardio training.
Patience is Key
It is important to remember that when working with hormonal imbalances, there is no quick fix. You have to start working to correct the imbalance before you can dive deeper into the work needed to help with your symptoms.
As with many good things in life, it can take time! So patience is key. Give your body some grace if you aren't seeing changes right away. Especially if you are working with a team (such as us!) that has an evidence-based strategy in place. Trust your body that it will heal with time and effort.
We always remind our patients that it took time to develop an imbalance- and that means it will take time to correct. The process may not be quick, but it will be so worth it.
We hope that after reading this article you feel empowered to make the changes that feel supportive to you during menopause and perimenopause. Remember, nutrition interventions are not about losing weight or becoming a certain size, but rather about being there for your body through a natural transition.
Taking a non-diet approach can help you focus on nourishing your body rather than restricting or punishing it. By treating your body with kindness and respect, you can thrive during any period of your life!
Trina is an amazing member of our team that specializes in working with women going through perimenopause and menopause. If you are looking to take that next step in your journey, please reach out to us today! She has limited spots available and would love to talk with you about our different package options.