What Every Woman Needs To Know About Perimenopause
If you ask a room of 20- or 30-something year old women about their periods, chances are good these days that they can tell you where they are in their cycle, what that means for their hormones, and they might even be adjusting their diets or activity based on that. But if you ask that same question about perimenopause, you're likely to be met with a sea of somewhat confused faces. Many women have an idea what it is and when it occurs, but they don't have the exact details down.
It's such a big time in a woman's life, yet many of us are relatively uninformed and unprepared and it does raise the question: Why don't we know more about perimenopause?
Why We're All Confused About Perimenopause
For starters, many of us are confused about when this time in a woman's life actually occurs. According to the Mayo Clinic, perimenopause means "around menopause" and refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause (which only officially starts when a woman has gone a full year without a period). This means that the symptoms we normally attribute to menopause—like hot flashes, irritability, anxiety, sleep problems, chills, and night sweats—are actually more symptoms of perimenopause.
This time in a woman's life isn't just hard for us to pin down—it's hard for doctors to define, too. According to Amy Shah, M.D., integrative medicine doctor and mindbodygreen Collective member, "Hormonal balance in general is an area that is not well-defined or treated in conventional medicine. There's no lab test that signals that you are in that stage of life, so it's subjective and also variable, meaning some people have much greater symptoms than others." All of this is compounded by the fact that historically, women's health has taken a back seat in conventional medicine.
What We Should Know About Perimenopause Long Before We're In It
The major consequence of this lack of practical knowledge about perimenopause has been anxiety—for a lot of women, for a really long time. We agonize about what our bodies will go through and wonder whether or not we will still feel like ourselves. Will we be miserable for years on end? There's a lot of fear in the unknown, but just like with our periods, the more we know about them the more we can optimize them. By taking this moment to learn about our bodies and what our hormones are doing during this time in our lives, we don't have to approach perimenopause with the same trepidation.
In fact, optimizing your health through perimenopause is pretty simple. According to Dr. Shah, "People with high-stress lives, a high-sugar diet, and people who smoke and drink excessive alcohol seem to have the lower quality of life during perimenopause. Also, those who do not exercise and live sedentary lifestyles tend to have more symptoms during perimenopause." And while Dr. Shah does give some more advanced recommendations—like supplementing with omega-3s, vitamin D, and various adaptogens—to her perimenopausal patients, most of her suggestions are similar to the hormone-balancing advice many of us have been following for years. Knowing this, perimenopause starts to feel like just one of the many hormone fluctuations we experience throughout our lives as women—not quite the uncharted territory we are led to believe.
How You Can Improve Your Hormone Health At Any Age
At the end of the day, wellness is all about doing the work to feel your best, whether that means starting an elimination diet and meditation practice to heal your gut issues or cutting out caffeine to fend off menstrual cramps or anxiety. The symptoms of perimenopause are no exception to this principle—and can absolutely benefit from the same approach to health. No amount of kale or yoga will prevent you from going through this hormonal transition, but with the right tools and guidance, it's nothing to be afraid of. And whatever you do, don't ever let anyone tell you to just "grin and bear it" or convince you that women just have to resign themselves to years of feeling less-than-optimal.
Keep reading this week on mbg for the best tips from our top experts, including what to eat during perimenopause and which essential oils are best for combating symptoms like hot flashes and irritability. It's time start we understanding the next frontier of hormone health—and take back control!
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Gretchen Lidicker has a B.S. in biology and earned her master’s degree in physiology with a concentration in complementary and alternative medicine from Georgetown University. She's the author of CBD Oil Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Hemp-Derived Health and Wellness and Magnesium Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Epsom Salts, Magnesium Oil, and Nature's Relaxation Mineral. A Kripalu Center for Yoga and Ayurveda-trained yoga instructor, expert bread baker, and farmers market fanatic, she believes that no day is complete without a good dance party.