Why you should know about perimenopause if you're in your 40s
Updated: Apr 9, 2021
Perimenopause is the phase of womanhood that occurs in the 2 to 12 years leading up to menopause. It’s a time when hormonal changes are occurring, as your body starts its journey towards menopause. For most women these hormonal changes start in their mid-late 40s and for others it can be early 40s, late 30s, and even as young as 35 for some women.
It’s basically a time of hormonal chaos! The communication between your brain and your ovaries starts to change, which results in more pronounced changes to levels of oestrogen and progesterone - where oestrogen starts to become erratic and progesterone production starts to decline.
Oestrogen is on a rollercoaster ride, spiking high one minute and low the next, which means we can experience symptoms of both high and low oestrogen all at the same time. But couple this with lower progesterone and it’s a double whammy of pesky symptoms we could quite simply do without.
During perimenopause cycles can still be regular and you’re still fertile, but you might be starting to notice changes to your cycles, such as longer or shorter cycles, longer or shorter periods, new or worse PMS symptoms (e.g. painful or more tender breasts, headaches or migraines), changes in your mood, sleep disturbances, and an increasing amount of non-ovulatory cycles.
Then, the closer to menopause we get the more pronounced the changes become, for example, missed cycles, more hot flashes, more sleep and/or mood disturbances.
Although this is all a normal part of a woman’s cycling years and her transition into menopause, there is a LOT we can be doing (and not doing), nutrition and lifestyle wise, to make the perimenopause (and transition into menopause) experience the best it can be.
It’s important for women to know about perimenopause in their early 30s so they can start to implement supportive nutrition and lifestyle habits as early as possible, but, equally it’s NEVER too late to start!
Why do we start to lose progesterone during perimenopause?
During perimenopause our cycles start to become more and more ‘non-ovulatory’, which basically means we don’t ovulate some (or lots of) months - now you might be wondering why this matters unless a woman is trying to get pregnant..?
It REALLY matters, because ovulation is the ONLY way we make a decent amount of progesterone each month, and that’s been the case since the very first day we started having periods as a teen.
So during perimenopause when oestrogen is wildly fluctuating and progesterone is gradually declining, we are left with a situation of ‘oestrogen dominance’ which basically means oestrogen is the dominant hormone now, whereas what we actually want is a healthy balance between the 2 hormones, but now we’ve lost that balance. This results in any or all the symptoms I’ve already mentioned above, becoming more and more pronounced the further progesterone declines.
Ovulation is honestly the MAIN EVENT of your menstrual cycle each month! Never mind the actual period itself….it’s all about ovulation!
So it’s important to understand that ovulation is about SO much more than just fertility.
We make a lovely amount of progesterone after we ovulate (around day 14 if an average 28 day cycle) . Oestrogen and progesterone work together to coordinate healthy periods, to promote overall sense of wellbeing, and to safeguard our long term health. If we only have one and far less of the other then our perimenopause experience can really suck!!
Let’s look at why progesterone is SO important..
It’s the yin to oestrogens yang, we need a balance of the 2 to prevent typical ‘oestrogen dominant’ symptoms such as heavy, painful periods, tender or painful breasts, bloating (water retention), weight gain, anxiety and low mood, worsening of conditions like endometriosis & fibroids that can be ‘driven’ further by an over-dominance of oestrogen.
It’s vital for our overall sense of wellbeing & good sleep
It’s our anti-anxiety, calming hormone as it boosts GABA (our chill-pill hormone) & increases our capacity to deal with stress
It boosts your metabolism & lean muscle mass (SO key for keeping body fat in check)
It supports the thyroid gland
It’s a natural diuretic (e.g. prevents water-retention and ‘puffiness’ around the body)
PHEW…so you can see why we REALLY want to be ovulating each month hey?!
The good is that you CAN support your body to have more ovulatory cycles during perimenopause!
How? By managing your stress, prioritising self care, prioritising sleep and cultivating more joy and play!
Throughout the month your brain communicates with your ovaries to produce oestrogen & progesterone at various times, to bring about the necessary changes to stimulate ovulation, and then preparation to hold a pregnancy. If your brain senses that there’s just too much threat (aka stress, which could be emotional, physical, mental, being too busy, worries, anxieties, lack of sleep, any sadness or upset), then it will instruct your ovaries NOT to ovulate, because it’s not a safe time to hold a pregnancy.
So, this is your green light to start cultivating more joy and happiness in your life, and putting yourself first :-)
What if you’re taking the contraceptive pill or injection? Unfortunately this will switch off the communication between your brain and ovaries for the duration that you are taking it, which means you won’t ovulate. Whilst this might seem like a good thing, particularly if you don’t want to fall pregnant, it also means you won’t produce that nice amount of progesterone every month and be adding to your progesterone bank balance that safe-guards your health and your experience of perimenopause :-(
I hope this blog has benefitted you in some way! Let me know, I'd love to hear from you :-)
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