When does the menopause start?
Many women are led to believe the menopause is something that affects them in the mid-late 40s, but hormonal changes marking the beginning of the menopause can start years before the menopause. In fact, it is not uncommon for these changes to start in your late 30s or a decade before your actual menopause.
Every woman is different in how they feel during the menopause and the time of transition before it, known as the peri-menopause. Stress on the body from dietary choices, emotions, a lack of sleep, exercise or relaxation can have a big impact on the balance of hormones and any symptoms that may develop at this time.
You can do something about it and your body may thank you later! Changes in your diet and lifestyle can help you be better prepared for the peri-menopause and beyond.
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What happens in the peri-menopause?
The menopause (the absence of menstrual periods for one year with no other biological or physiological cause found) usually occurs between the ages of 45 to 55, although it can be earlier or later than this.
In the peri-menopause, levels of your progesterone and oestrogen hormones fluctuate and decline, and the amounts of testosterone (testosterone is an important hormone in women as well as men) often lower at this time too. These hormonal changes may also impact the thyroid gland which plays an important role with your metabolism. As a result of changes in the levels and balance of these hormones, a range of symptoms can occur.
What are the symptoms of the peri-menopause?
Up to 80 percent of women will experience at least one symptom of the menopause. Although some women will suffer from debilitating symptoms, others will sail through with the odd hot flush or mood swing and suddenly menopause has been and gone!
However, some of the more frequent symptoms include changes to periods, fatigue, mood swings, anxiety, poor sleep, hot flushes, weight gain, and ‘brain fog’ with poor concentration and memory. These symptoms can often be worse in the days before a period (the pre-menstrual time).
8 lifestyle changes to help you prepare for the peri-menopause
Your diet and lifestyle can play a major role in how you and your body prepare yourself for the peri-menopause and here are eight tips try and follow.
1. Keep blood sugars stable
Fluctuations in levels of blood sugar can be a big driver of hormonal symptoms.
You can help regulate blood sugar levels by limiting alcohol and foods containing refined sugar, eating regular meals with a balance of healthy protein such as pulses or quality meat, high quality healthy fats such as oily fish, avocados, nuts and seeds, and complex carbohydrates such as vegetables and quinoa. A balanced diet can also help to restore levels of nutrients that may be depleted at times of stress.
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2. Eat plenty of fibre
This is essential for a healthy gut. We know from research that an imbalance of microbes in our gut can affect our hormones. Good fibrous foods include fruit and veg (a wide variety will offer different nutrients), wholegrains, nuts and seeds, and pulses such as peas, beans and lentils.
Learn more about foods, what they provide and what they don't.
3. Limit caffeine and alcohol
Caffeine and alcohol contain toxins which can affect the liver, a vital organ for helping with hormone balance. Caffeine and alcohol can also dehydrate you, affect your sleep and result in symptoms such as low mood and anxiety, all of which can create stress and have a knock-on effect on your hormones. Drinking enough water is also important to restore hydration (just 2% dehydration can affect your focus and concentration).
4. Get enough sleep
Most people need between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Not having enough sleep and interrupted nights can cause stress and lead to weight gain, poor skin health, emotional problems and more.
One of the reasons why people may struggle to get to sleep in the evening is due to too much of the one of the stress hormones (cortisol) which can impair levels of melatonin (the ‘sleep hormone’). Having a relaxing bedtime routine is one method to help reduce stress and which may aid sleep.
Read our blog: More than 1 in 3 people suffer from poor sleep.
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5. Exercise regularly and in the right amounts
Exercise is important to help reduce stress, as well as contributing to a healthy weight. Find a form of exercise that you enjoy – you are more likely to stick to it. Be careful not to over exercise though as this can create stress itself and make you feel worse rather than better.
6. Try to maintain a healthy weight
As your menopause approaches your metabolism slows, making weight gain more likely and harder to lose weight. Being underweight or overweight can affect your hormone balance, and changes in weight can also impact on our bones.
Due to hormonal changes during the peri-menopause and menopause there’s a greater risk of osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) so maintaining a healthy weight is important for your bone health.
7. Balance emotions
Yoga, meditation and mindfulness can help to reduce feelings of anxiety or low mood and promote a feeling of calm. Sharing problems with a friend may help, or if you feel that this is something that needs working though in more depth then perhaps a counsellor or therapist would be an option.
8. Reduce exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs)
These are toxins in our environment which can affect hormone balance, for example by mimicking oestrogen. Avoiding plastic, choosing natural skin care and organic fruits and vegetables can help to reduce our exposure to EDCs.
Always #checkthelabel and read our blog on ingredients to look out for.
We're all different and for some, menopause can arrive early while for others much later, but it does come to all women and there are real differences you can make in your diet and lifestyle to help your body adapt and be in the best possible place it can be in advance of the onset of peri-menopause and menopause symptoms.
Dr. Katie Hodgkinson is a GP and runs Hampshire Health & Hormones, specialising in lifestyle medicine and in particular the effects on hormones on the body.
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