A woman over 40 sits in one of 4 categories:
Breaking those down:
Pre-Menopause – you are over 40 years old but still menstruating with no symptoms of peri-menopause (as listed below).
Peri-Menopause – You are still menstruating but your body is slowly producing less estrogen the result of which can cause the symptoms we know of as Menopause eg Hot flashes, night sweats, irregular periods, heavy bleeding, excessive periods of bleeding, poor sleep, fatigue, poor mood, vaginal dryness, low libido, hair loss, breast pain, pain during intercourse, weight gain especially around the tummy.
Peri-Menopause can go on for up to 10 years with symptoms getting worse in the final years.
Women typically hit peri-menopause ages 45-55.
(note women can go into menopause younger as a result of ovary removal or chemotherapy – this is called early menopause.)
Menopause – actually just one moment in time – exactly when your period has stopped for 1 year.
Post-Menopause – Periods have stopped for at least 1 year and you may still be experiencing Menopausal Symptoms (for up to 2 years) – your ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and making most of their estrogen.
Here’s how you help yourself through the three active stages of Menopause:
1. Find yourself a good PCP/GP and/or Naturopath who is well educated on the 3 stages of Menopause. They may recommend adaptogens (herbal supplements that aid your liver to adapt to hormone fluctuations), and/or Hormone Replacement Therapy.
2. Cut back your alcohol consumption. Why?! Your liver is the processing plant of your body – its role (simplistically) with hormones is to help balance them out.
Now all things being equal your liver does a great job BUT it also has to deal with outside stressors such as alcohol – your liver will prioritise processing alcohol because it’s a poison – so if its spending all its time processing alcohol it cannot process your hormones very well – resulting in the escalation of hormone fluctuations. Meaning your menopause symptoms become WORSE! (1)
3. Maintain a healthy lifestyle, stop smoking, avoid sugary foods and too much caffeine – multiple studies show that smoking can increase the onset of menopausal symptoms, and sugary foods and caffeine contribute to worsening symptoms. (1)
4. Increase your muscle mass – one of the major concerns with post menopausal women is low bone density resulting in Osteoporosis.
Estrogen is a huge contributor to our ability to build muscle and hence maintain muscle mass – as estrogen levels fall our risk factors for Osteoporosis increase.
Its not all bad though – by following a high protein diet and doing resistance training 2-3x per week you CAN continue to build muscle as you age – even into your very later years! Its never too late (2)
5. Move your body daily – get out of your chair and off your butt! You know this already and its doesn’t change during menopause – our bodies crave movement and studies have consistently shown a correlation between exercise and managing stress and anxiety.
Help your mood fluctuations by moving more. Walk, cycle, swim, do pilates, yoga, gym or dance – find exercise that you enjoy! (3)
6. Avoid Intermittent Fasting – current research on IF is predominantly performed on males and mice! What is true for them is the opposite for women – IF can lead to a catabolic (breakdown) state in women and higher levels of cortisol – this then leads to increased fat storage and decrease metabolic rate. (4)
7. Stay Sexy! – Studies have found that a lack of sexual activity can cause worse menopausal symptoms – so enjoy with or without a partner, and grab the lube! (5)
OK then, quite a lot to digest!
The thing is, if we’re lucky enough to be moving through our 40’s and beyond then we will experience these 3 stages of Menopause, and what we can to help ourselves is make choices to lessen the impact these stages can have on our bodies and minds.
My focus with the women I work with is to support you with your consumption choices and exercise, so that you are carrying less unnecessary, unhelpful fat, and building muscle, maintaining mobility so you can feel capable and in control of your body and your life as you move through these 3 life changing stages of this phase of your life.
PS: For those that like to dive deeper, here are some more resources:
1. Sciencedirect.com Risk factors for onset of menopausal symptoms
2. Can vigorous exercise play a role in osteoporosis prevention?
3. The relationship between exercise, Body Mass Index and menopausal symptoms
4. Keto and Intermittent Fasting in Menopause
5. Assessing menopausal symptoms