Let’s talk perimenopause and menopause.
This sucks. Truly. I’m bloated, even though I’ve not eaten much, and there’s tension emanating from my shoulders up my neck and into my head. Last night, it was below zero outside yet I slept with my bedroom window open and still woke up sweating.
I’ve become obsessed with making sure my house smells sweet. I mean, the smells in my house are driving me mad. The fridge, bin, kids shoes, bedrooms; everything stinks.
I feel like I could hit something; the rage can swell up at the tiniest of things. I’m quick to snap at the teenagers (who, to be fair, can be challenging) and because my car wouldn’t start this morning I almost cried. What the heck is going on?
I’m 47 and as my periods have pretty much disappeared I’m guessing this is my perimenopause moment. And now I come to think of it this may be the reason why, when my daughter has a shower, I want to scream at her to come out of the bathroom after 5 minutes and to wipe her splashed about sticky hair conditioner off the shower door for the love of God!
There’s not a great deal of information out there for women about the perimenopause, or the menopause (it feels a bit like we are trying to keep the ‘change’ a secret!) but I’ve searched and searched and here are a few facts.
The full menopause is defined when a woman has had no period for a full year. This can take some time. It’s a myth that the menopause starts at age 50. It can start anytime from 45, and before, and all depends on our individual bodies. The period (no pun intended) before this is called the perimenopause and for some, this time can be even more fraught than the menopause itself.
Our bodies are transitioning. Remember how crazy we got during the teenage years with all of those crazy hormones? Well, similar is going on now. Our estrogen levels are fluctuating wildly, and this can account for many of the symptoms of the perimenopause and the menopause.
Hot flushes. A sudden rise in body temperature that radiates thoughout the body. This may result in severe sweating, a flushed face and neck and can last anything from 1–5 minutes.
Vaginal dryness. Falling estrogen can make the vaginal tissues become thinner and drier resulting in soreness or itchiness.
Uterine bleeding problems. This is due to a lowering of progesterone. The uterine lining may become thicker before it’s shed, resulting in very heavy periods. Also, fibroids (benign tumors of the uterine wall) and endometriosis (the migration of endometrial tissue to other pelvic structures), may become more troublesome.
Fogginess. Nope, we are not talking about the weather. This is a frustrating general confusion; forgetting words and words failing you mid sentence….
Mood swings. This is a biggy amongst all my friends. Estrogen levels affect serotonin levels. Serotonin has an impact on every part of your body; it reduces depression and anxiety, regulates happiness, influences our bowel movements, controls our sleep and waking, amongst many other functions. This will explain why we can be wildly sad, angry, restless and have constipation during the perimenopause!
Night sweats. Waking up in pools of sweat isn’t fun and it disrupts our sleep, making us more tired and grouchy the next day. Again, this is due to our fluctuating hormones.
Anxiety and depression. Some women have described the feeling during PM and MP as though they are ‘going mad’. Our drop in estrogen and Pprogesterone can contribute towards depression and anxiety as there is a fine balance between these hormones and others such as serotonin and dopamine. Menopause expert Holly Thacker, MD, says,
“In menopause, women’s estrogen levels drop. Estrogen acts like an MAO inhibitor and helps boost some of the serotonin levels in the brain. So women with depression, who already have low levels of serotonin, are going to have even lower levels due to menopause.”
Research has suggested that women who experience Menopause later in life will suffer less with depression due to estrogen being present for longer.
Menopause and alcohol.
My friend reassures me frequently that she can now drink wine without getting absolutely hammered after a glass (she’s 55) as can happen when we are going through the PM. There’s hope then.
And speaking of alcohol why do we get drunk so quickly? As we age, and particularly during the menopause, our tendons and cartilage lose water. We need water to dilute and process alcohol.
As we already struggle with fatigue due to hormonal changes and restless nights then it may be wise to stick to moderate drinking; moderate drinking has been defined as one small glass of wine a day or equivalent and no more than seven drinks a week.
Some women experience an increase in hot flushes when they drink. For me, I have developed Rosacea which gets worse when I drink. Some women experience anxiety and palpitations which is made worse by alcohol. This is about noticing how you feel during and the morning after a drink, and if you think it’s making the menopause issues worse then it might be time for a re-think.
What can we do?
Every woman is different; some may never experience hot flushes or mood swings and some may struggle hourly. Noticing what is going on for you and how certain things are affecting you is crucial; if caffeine causes you to have palpitations and anxiety then think about cutting down.
Being aware of how your body, and mind, is responding to certain food and drink will help because once we are aware then we can make small changes which can help. For instance, if you notice that you are putting a bit of weight on then think about changing to low carb and increasing exercise to push up your metabolism.
Exercising is massively beneficial here. Getting out in the fresh air will boost all of those lovely feel good hormones. A brisk walk and exercising in the natural environment has been said to improve our mood, reduce fatigue and don’t forget the benefits of vitamin D and sunlight on our health and wellbeing. Furthermore, exercising will boost metabolism, particularly weight bearing exercise, which will keep the extra weight off and improve bone density.
Eat loads of fresh fruit and vegetables. Studies have shown that eating fruit and veg can lessen the menopause symptoms. Fruit and veg are full of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants that are all crucial for our bodies during this time of change. Vitamin B6, for instance, helps to make serotonin which is essential for maintaining good mental health and energy levels.
Sleep! Loads and loads of rest and sleep where possible will help us to fight fatigue and keep our immune systems in good condition. If that means going to bed at 8pm when we are exhausted then so be it. The hormones estrogen and progesterone promote healthy sleep and as our hormones are declining this explains why we struggle with sleep.
Water….our bodies are at least 75% water and drinking lots of water can help with many problems such as mood swings, headaches, constipation, bloating, night sweats and fatigue. Drink, drink drink! If you cn fill up a litre bottle with water in the morning and sip throughout the day this will help all of these symptoms.
These are some of the ways that we can help ourselves during this challenging and difficult time. Self care and looking after ourselves is crucial. Take time for you. You are important!