Perimenopause

More than 20 million American women are currently going through perimenopause, a natural part of aging that can begin as early as age 35 and as late as 59. Perimenopause literally means "around menopause" and begins with hormone-related changes involving estrogen, progesterone and other hormones. It can last for as long as 10 years before menopause, which begins 12 months after a woman's final period and in the U.S. comes at an average age of 52.

Symptoms

The most classic symptom is an erratic menstrual cycle and, according to a study, 70 percent of women in their 40s experience irregular menstrual periods. Cycles can vary from 18 days to missed periods and excessive bleeding is common. A decline in estrogen during perimenopause causes many symptoms including:

  • Memory lapses and loss of concentration: Estrogen stimulates neurons, helps generate new synapses and triggers the production of substances that promote neuronal growth. It helps the brain learn and remember.
  • Mood swings: Estrogen stimulates the production of the brain chemical serotonin, which regulates emotion.
  • Dry Skin: A decrease in the protein collagen may be linked to a decline in estrogen, causing less elasticity and more wrinkles.
  • Bone Loss: Estrogen protects bone mass and those who go through early perimenopause may be at higher risk for osteoporosis.
  • Hot Flashes: A decline in estrogen changes the body's thermostat (the hypothalamus in the brain) and triggers hot flashes around the head and upper body as well as nocturnal night sweats.
  • Insomnia: Estrogen stimulates the production of serotonin which regulates sleep.

How to Alleviate Symptoms

Some of the ways to alleviate symptoms are through diet and exercise. It is important to:

  • Avoid alcohol and spicy foods in order to minimize hot flashes.
  • Have no caffeine (especially after midday) in order to sleep better.
  • Partake in weight-bearing exercise (including walking) to stimulate the production of new bone growth.
  • Eat calcium-rich foods including low-fat yogurt and spinach.
  • Take vitamin B6 which turns amino acids into the neurotransmitter serotonin, affecting mood, and Vitamin E, an antioxidant that may help hot flashes.
  • Drink or take soy, which is loaded with plant estrogens.  It may reduce hot flashes.
  • Eat flaxseed (powder or oil), an herb containing omega-3 fatty acids. It may reduce heavy menstrual bleeding.

Women who smoke enter perimenopause earlier and reach menopause about a year and a half sooner than those who don't.

Sources

The National Women's Health Information Center, North American Menopause Society, Newsweek "Health for Life" and Shady Grove and Washington Adventist Hospitals. . The Health Tip of the Week is for educational purposes only.  For more information, please consult your physician.

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