Sailing the Sometimes Stormy Seas of Perimenopause

By on November 6, 2016

Navigating through life in the sometimes turbulent waters of perimenopause can be tough.  Find the calm with these tips on how to tack with healthy lifestyle changes and natural remedies. 

The thought of menopause can be scary when you are about to hit the 40 or 50 mark. 

We have all heard of those notorious symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings, fatigue, anxiety, irritability, weight gain, reduced libido, vaginal dryness and night sweats. Though it sounds terrible, it is a natural part of the female aging process. Essentially, your ovaries produce less estrogen and progesterone hormones, which leads to a reduction in your reproductive capabilities. 

A Natural Part of Life
Eventually, all women go through this natural period of life, but everyone experiences this differently. For some women, perimenopause (also known as “near menopause”) symptoms can set in 4-5 years before full menopause actually kicks in. This means, they may experience similar symptoms to those who are already riding the tidal waves of menopause. If it is of any comfort, there is a light at the end of the tunnel – menopause will end at some point! In the meantime, there are a number of healthy and natural practices you can integrate into your lifestyle to reduce any uncomfortable symptoms of perimenopause.

Reduce Dietary Fat 
Hitting that mid-point in life means women are at greater risk for osteoporosis because estrogen, which normally protect bone, gradually decline and can cause faster bone deterioration. Furthermore, with easier cholesterol retention at this age, women are also at a greater risk for heart disease. It is advised that women at this age adopt a low-fat, low-cholesterol, high fiber and calcium-rich diet to prevent these problems. You can’t go wrong with vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, lentils, fish and lean cuts of meat as part of your diet. 

Increase Calcium Intake
If you tend not to consume a lot of calcium-rich foods, talk to your dietitian to find innovative ways to increase calcium intake. On average, women from 19-50 years need about 1,000 mg per day, and women from 51+ years need 1,200 mg per day. These levels can be reached with both diet and calcium or multivitamin supplementation.  

Aim for 30 
Regular exercise benefits your body throughout the lifespan, not just during (peri)menopause. You can spread out smaller activities during the day to make it more manageable to reach the half hour (30 min) recommendation for most days of the week. Examples include walking for 10 minutes from the subway parking lot to the car or taking the stairs each morning instead of the escalator. Occasionally, integrate some strength training exercises 2-3 times a week to keep your muscles and bones strong. 

Mix it Up
Be smart with your time and choose activities that target both aerobics and strength components – mixing yoga, Pilates, spinning, stair-climbing, or using ankle or wrist weights to add resistance to regular walking or running. Research supports many benefits of exercise at this age: (1) increasing and strengthening our bone density, (2) reducing hip fracture risk, (3) preventing weight gain (since our metabolism naturally slows down at this age), (4) improving our sleep quality, and (5) elevating our mood. 

Relaxation Therapies
Spend 15 minutes, twice a day, to focus on your breathing. The technique is to breathe in for 5 seconds and then breathe out for another 5. Some studies have found that mindful breathing can help reduce the intensity of hot flashes by 39%. Keeping away from distractions and focusing on our breathing can help calm us down during moments of emotional stress, depression and anxiety. Light and sound therapies are other effective relaxation techniques that can also help you achieve emotional balance. 

Avoid Food Triggers
Spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine can sometimes intensify hot flashes. Take careful note of those food triggers and reduce or avoid those foods wherever possible. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), using ginseng and dang kui, can be alternative symptom treatments for perimenopause. Your TCM practitioner will be able to identify these issues and prescribe the best treatment for your body. Always notify your medical doctor if you are intending on using TCM herbal remedies as some Western medications may adversely interact with the herbs. 

Nutrition Supplementation
A calcium plus vitamin D supplement can help protect against bone loss and brittleness during perimenopause. Your ideal dosage may vary depending on your diet quality and health needs, as determined by your dietitian. A B12 supplement may also be recommended by your healthcare provider to help alleviate any anxiety and or severe mood swings. 

Smoking Cessation
Among the many health hazards of smoking, a Norwegian study found that women who smoked were 59% more likely to have an early menopause before the age of 45, with heavier smokers doubling their risk. Quitting smoking may delay perimenopause and their associated symptoms, while promoting healthier aging.

Rosanna Lee, PHEc., MHSc., BASc., RDN(c)  is a nutrition and health expert with broad experiences in healthcare, community nutrition, food industry, education, public health, social media and research. 

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