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Posted on: March 26, 2019 at 4:09 pm
When most women think of “the big change”, our minds go straight to menopause. But there’s another huge hormone shift that happens up to 10 years before menopause, and it can be unsettling for women in their 40’s (to say the least) because it’s not very widely discussed.

Mother and author, Aileen Wentraub, puts it this way:

“As if God, the universe or some other holy power were in on the conspiracy to drive all middle-aged women mad, it turns out the symptoms of pregnancy are almost identical to the symptoms of perimenopause: weight gain, breast tenderness, spotting. I had them all.”

Wentraub recalls being sidelined by perimenopause symptoms in her early forties. Somehow no one in her social circle had ever been warned about perimenopause. Wentraub found herself staring into the face of the possibility of having another high-risk pregnancy (or so she thought).

“[I was] thinking about how I, like so many other women in their 40s, am in between ― taking care of both kids and parents ― the sandwich generation. But who is taking care of us while we navigate this new territory? Who is telling us that it is perfectly normal to drive halfway to work before realizing that we forgot to pop in our contacts?”

Marie Hoag, expert in estrogen research famously writes, “Perimenopausal women don’t make eye contact, don’t want to be touched, they slouch, they scuff, and avoid any social interaction if possible.” (1)

Writer, Catherine Crichton, isn’t shy about the hellish periods she experienced once she entered into perimenopause:

“The last one carried on for over three weeks for pity’s sake. Industrial strength sanitary protection is deployed, but fails to hold back the tide. As emergency back-up, tampons and towels are worn simultaneously, sometimes even two tampons at once. White trousers are not my friend. Underwear has been destroyed. I’m fairly aghast at this latest development and find myself equating all this blood loss with the very essence of youth draining away. Will I be a shrivelled old prune by the time it stops?”

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So, what’s actually going on here?

What is perimenopause?

Perimenopause is the transitioning phase in between pre-menopause and menopause. Your body transitions from peak fertility, stable hormone levels, and regular menstrual cycles to… well, not.

Women can experience perimenopause in their 30’s and 40’s. The stage can last anywhere from a few months to over a decade. Changes in your body are caused by a decline in estrogen levels (though you’re still able to conceive during perimenopause). Perimenopause is officially over once you’ve reached one full year since your last period.

Common perimenopause symptoms include: (2 , 3)

  • hot flashes
  • night sweats
  • vaginal dryness
  • urinary tract infections
  • very heavy periods
  • irregular menstrual cycle
  • fibroids
  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • memory problems
  • difficulty concentrating
  • muscle pain
  • low sex drive
  • breast pain
  • weight fluctuation
  • headaches

How to Handle Perimenopause

Perimenopause is a natural process, not a disease, so there’s no need to look for a “cure” (however tempting it might be). Of course, there are methods of reducing some of the main symptoms when they interfere with your day-to-day (and your sanity).

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Exercise regularly: Staying active can help fight insomnia, weight gain, hot flashes, and mood swings.

Eat more protein: As your muscle mass begins to decrease, boosting your protein intake can help counteract it, as well as help regulate cravings and control blood sugar levels. (4)

Supplement with Omega-3’s: Eat more foods rich in omega-3’s or ask your healthcare practitioner about a quality supplement to help moderate mood swings (4)

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Cut down on sugar and caffeine: (Sorry). High sugar and caffeinated beverages can make your hormonal symptoms worse. Hydrate with water and herbal teas instead. (5)

Practice mindful breathing: Breathing exercises can minimize hot flashes and they’re a great way to unwind before bed and help battle stress (6)

Supplement with iron: If you’ve been experiencing very heavy periods, it might be necessary to replenish your body’s iron supplies. Talk to your doctor about testing your iron levels.

Moreover, don’t be afraid to reach out for guidance from your medical care provider. Some women find estrogen therapy is necessary to make their symptoms manageable. Speak to your doctor to find methods that work for your body and your lifestyle.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.

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Emese Graham
Health Expert
Emese believes women's health, mental health, and spiritual health really matter, so she jumps at the chance to bring those conversations to light. In her spare time, Emese enjoys finding challenging workout videos on Youtube (because gyms are hard for introverts), and she's all about getting creative in the kitchen and making recipes a little different every time - who needs measuring cups?

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