The early years of menopause can be difficult, both emotionally and physically. It’s common for women to feel their quality of life has been disrupted during this time with all the changes occurring in their bodies.
If your body has begun making its natural progression towards menopause, you may have noticed changes in your body. Although you may find parts of your body have become unfamiliar, understanding what is going on can help you maintain your health while these changes occur.
When does menopause occur?
Menopause officially begins one year after you have had your final menstrual period, however it can take years for your body to reach this life event. Perimenopause is considered the transitional years leading up to menopause, usually taking up to four to six years.
Women can begin the transition to menopause at different ages, with the average age for natural menopause being 51. This means you may go through early menopause anytime from your mid to late 40s. If you’re a smoker, you may go through menopause even earlier.
Premature menopause occurs spontaneously in women who have recently undergone certain medical procedures or have an underlying medical condition.
What happens to your body during early menopause?
As women enter perimenopause, the natural changes that occur throughout their bodies are due to fluctuating reproductive hormone levels.
Hormones are chemicals that carry messages throughout your body. When you begin perimenopause, the changes in levels of three reproductive hormones in your bloodstream, known as oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone, affect your menstrual cycle length and the heaviness of your menstrual periods.
Along with changes to your period, changing hormone levels in your body during early menopause can cause other symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, frequent night-time awakenings with daytime fatigue, irritability, and body aches and pains.
Natural remedies and strategies to deal with these changes
The changes in your body can vary from mild to severe, causing some women to feel distress and difficulty coping. A cross-sectional study in 2013 of 400 women aged 40–45 suggested that being prepared before menopause may help determine how well women deal with the symptoms. This shows the value of gaining familiarity, knowledge and understanding of the changes that will occur in the body during the early stages of menopausal transition.
Get knowledgeable and get connected
You can make the transition a bit smoother by arming yourself with the knowledge of what to expect and preparing yourself for potential outcomes. Speak to your healthcare professional regularly to better understand your health and link up with local women's health clinics and groups to get more evidence based information about menopause or share experiences with other women. Women's Health Week in September is a great time to see what information information resources your local community might have available.
You can stay comfortable by wearing layered clothing, always having cool water nearby, keeping a fan handy and avoiding certain food that can trigger flushing, such as hot and spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine.
Acupuncture, hypnosis or mindfulness techniques may help if you’re experiencing hot flushes or sweats. Finding a positive outlet is also a great way to unwind and ease daily stress. Consider sitting in a quiet corner and reading a book, or spending tranquil time outdoors.
While it’s helpful to exercise regularly to improve your bone strength, heart health and manage your weight, make sure you time exercise for periods of the day when it is not too hot, so it doesn’t affect your flushes. If you can manage, try to include regular exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, three or four days of the week.
You can maintain a healthy diet for menopause by including enough calcium and vitamin D. Make sure your diet is low in fat and high in fibre with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and wholegrain foods.
Whether it’s a herbal remedy for hot flushes or an over-the-counter medicine to reduce the severity of menopausal symptoms, evidence based natural medicines can help make it easier to deal with menopause and its various symptoms. Always speak to your health professional before beginning a new routine.
References available on request.