The perimenopause is a condition that occurs prior to the full-blown menopause itself. Just like the full menopausal state, there is no known ‘cure’ for the perimenopause. To help yourself if you are suffering, changes in diet will be the only way to cope with your symptoms, and hopefully alleviate them. The onset of the perimenopause can begin around the age of 40, and potentially earlier for some. If there is a history of this in your family, the chances of you being perimenopausal are higher. It is not easy to diagnose this stage of your life, but usually your doctor will order blood tests to establish your hormone levels, to alleviate any doubts you may have about your condition, or to stop you worrying about it.
How to tell if you are perimenopausal
As with the menopause itself, the degree to which you suffer varies from person to person. For some it may be barely noticeable, but for others it can be more severe. The best way to describe this time in your mid-life is to call it transitional – i.e., the time when your hormone balance changes, but before the cessation of your monthly periods. If your periods stop for 12 months, then you have moved onto the full menopause. However, some women may stay perimenopausal for 10 years or more – as long as your periods continue. They may lessen in flow, but you are still perimenopausal. There is no need to suffer in silence, do consult your GP with your concerns, so that you can be 100% sure of your condition.
Other potential symptoms
There are no guaranteed symptoms, nor the severity of them. The main symptoms are:
- Periods may become shorter or more irregular. There is also a chance that spotting may occur in between your periods.
- Some will experience heavier periods, but others may have ones that are lighter than they are used to.
- Hot flushes, night sweats.
- Disturbed sleep patterns.
- Vaginal dryness.
- Weight gain.
- Mood changes and swings, causing anxiety or depression, inability to concentrate or ‘foggy’ head.
- Loss of libido or sex drive.
The last characteristic symptom is one that concerns most women, and this is where DIET may help. Overall, a healthier diet should help you in all aspects of the perimenopause. Changing your diet and lifestyle can alleviate some symptoms If you consult your GP with any concerns regarding the perimenopause, he may refer you to a specialist dietician who can advise you on what to eat and what to avoid. A change in diet can help alleviate symptoms but is still not a cure. Other changes include your lifestyle in general. You probably hear it all the time – ‘get more exercise, go out in the fresh air’, etc. Do listen to the advice, it will help you, particularly from a mood point of view, and to try to keep your weight steady. It is also a good way to keep your stress levels down. Walking somewhere green and leafy is the best idea, as this is known to brighten a mood.
These are believed be the most nutritious and helpful foods for the perimenopause:
Omega-3 rich foods – these include oily fish, flaxseed, nuts (almonds, walnuts are best). Tofu is also helpful for Omega-3. It is essential to consume ‘heart-healthy’ fats during this period, and a plentiful source of these type of fats are important in the production of hormones. Keeping your hormone balance in check can help prevent serious illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.
Plant foods – fruit and vegetables are a great source of antioxidants which act against inflammation in the body and maintain your hormone balance. Some sufferers have reported that their night sweats and hot flushes have also lessened. Best to stick to the ‘5-a-day’ logic.
Calcium-rich foods such as milk, fish, broccoli and legumes (legumes are items such as kidney beans, black beans and other beans). In the case of milk, it should be ‘fortified’ whether dairy milk or vegetable/nut milk. During the menopausal period from perimenopausal through to the actual menopause, your bone structure may suffer and bones become weaker and more brittle, so they need to have extra calcium to prevent frequent breakages.
Not everyone’s favourite. There is a variety of items available in supermarkets etc., and also soya supplements from health food shops. The products contain specific isoflavones, which when broken has very similar properties to that of oestrogen. Whilst not in large quantities, it can be helpful in boosting oestrogen levels as this is the hormone that tends to decrease during the perimenopause. At the same time, perimenopausal women have reported that their ‘hot flushes’ became less frequent.
Lean red meat and poultry
During the perimenopause and the menopause you are most likely to gain weight, which will position itself exactly where you don’t want it – round your tum! Lean body mass will decrease, so protein becomes extra-important to build muscle. Don’t go crazy with meat though, you can gain protein from other items such as eggs, Greek yoghurt, nuts, seeds and legumes.
Enriched grain breads, pasta, some cereals, nuts, fruit and vegetables should help you with this one. Fibre is necessary for gut health, regular bowel movements and in many ways it can help control weight. One of the things women worry about is weight gain during the changes of life, and many fibre-rich foods provide satiation to the extent that you eat less but still feel replete. Drink plenty of water, hydration is essential for the body in general. Do try to exercise, gently, and balance your diet every day, it should help you get through this time. Remember that your GP surgery can help you find a dietician who will be able to help plan a diet for you.
Foods to avoid
It is highly recommended to avoid alcohol, excess caffeine, spicy foods, foods heavy in fat such as full fat milk, fatty meats, cheese, ice cream. If you are a smoker, do try to give up or cut down.
The above are all recommendations only and rely on natural therapies. Some GPs may recommend alternative therapies to help, ranging from medication such as HRT (hormone replacement therapy) and even tablets for depression – if they feel the need. Another method that may be recommended is CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), a ‘talking therapy’ which can be conducted by a specialist, or as self-help online.
Written by Bev Walton
Food Writer and Nutritionist, dietician
A chef of over 35 years with experience in all types of cuisine, dietary plans, recipe development, health and nutrition. I have been writing for over 10 years for both magazines, websites and ghostwriting for ebooks, Kindle and fully published books. I have a degree in nutrition and dietetics and work with restaurants and organisations within the healthcare profession. I am also able to take high quality photographs of recipes created. No writing task is too great, and whilst I specialise in the above, I am able to write about any topic you throw at me. Member of the Guild of food writers.