In case “the big change” is something you’ve been putting off thinking about until boom, the time hits, we just want to give fair warning: preparation is key. We can’t turn a blind eye to the inevitable, but we also don’t want to fear the future. That’s not living mindfully, and worrying never helped anyone. That being said, being prepared is the best way to cope.
Hormones govern all of our bodily functions, not just the sexual or reproductive-related systems. That’s why menopause can be so tough—think changes in hair, weight, skin, mood, temperature, activity, stress, sleep, cravings … everything. We talked to Dr. Anna Cabeca, “The Girlfriend Doctor,” triple-board-certified OB-GYN, and author of The Hormone Fix and Keto-Green 16, to fully download what to expect from perimenopause, aka the time leading up to menopause. Because that’s a thing.
“It’s basically the time around menopause,” Dr. Cabeca explains. “Twelve months after your last menstrual period is when perimenopause ends.” And Dr. Cabeca goes on to break it to us that during this time period, we can be symptomatic for as little as 1 or 2 years, or as long as 10 to 15 years. Yeah. We’re preparing for battle, so let’s make things go as smoothly as possible, shall we?
“It is a very individual experience, and genetics, overall health, and personal life experience play an important part in how smooth or how difficult this transition will be. Some of the symptoms include worsening of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), irregular menstrual cycles, more intensive and/or extended bleeding, or spotting and less bleeding, or shorter time between periods. Also common is a more symptomatic ovarian cyst, uterine fibroids, or more painful periods.
But perimenopause is not just an endocrine experience, it is a neurological transition as well. Other symptoms include hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, decreased libido, brain fog, and memory loss.”
Please don’t let this list terrify you into a hysterectomy. We can mitigate these symptoms, and we certainly don’t have to experience them all, all at once, or ever. The power is in being informed, and taking care of our bodies before, during, and after this time. Speaking of time … when can we expect to start seeing perimenopause trickle into our lives? When we think we’re too young to even think about it … guess again.
“I have had clients who would have perimenopausal symptoms in their 30s as well as in their 50s. Truth be told, there seems to be an increase in the length of perimenopausal symptoms. It used to be 2 to 5 years or less, but now we are seeing women with perimenopausal symptoms 10 to 15 years before menopause really hits.
“It is important to understand and accept that menopause is a natural process and it is mandatory; every woman will go through it! That being said, suffering from it is optional! So, what these symptoms mean is that your body is going through an important change, and you need to make adjustments to your lifestyle to help you fare as well as possible through this transition. In a way, these symptoms shed a light on where you need to focus your attention. We must remember that it is in the pauses in our lives where the magic happens.”
We appreciate a beautiful way to look at something that has been vilified by society and marketing to make us fear, and lose respect and empathy for the ebbs and flows of female life. Just like our periods. We can view them as a terrible time of monthly torture, disgusting and bloated. Or we can welcome them as a beautiful time to ground and feel super connected to our bodies and nature. The choice, and the power, is ours. Now, on to what we can do to embrace it all with grace:
“Getting our hormones balanced is really critical, and there are many holistic practices that can help us achieve this more easily and lessen some if not most of the symptoms. Certainly, we want to focus on getting a better night’s sleep, at least seven to nine hours a night, moving well (meaning exercising regularly), thinking well, taking care of our mental health, and, of course, eating well.
“By eating well, I refer to the keto-green way. In my books The Hormone Fix and Keto Green 16, I talk about the keto-green lifestyle. It is actually more than what we eat—so many of these symptoms are actually related to insulin resistance, and we often become more insulin resistant as we age, which tends to make these perimenopausal symptoms worse.”
Quick little reminder that insulin is a hormone, and what (and when) we eat directly influences it, tying it to other hormones, and … you get the domino effect.
“And, they are even worse in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), chronic stress and/or post-traumatic stress, or adverse childhood experiences (ACE). So it’s important to consider that there are many holistic options out there. The simple act of doing what brings you pleasure, like practicing self-care and creating a healthy environment where you feel relaxed, can make an incredible difference.
“Clearing out the mental clutter and reducing stress are paramount, as is adjusting expectations of others and yourself, as to what you must do vs. what you want to do, and sometimes doing less, not more. Also, spend some time in nature, go for long walks or hikes, because being out in the sunshine, breathing fresh air, is really good medicine and a grounding experience. Plus, we get a lot more vitamin D from the sun than from a supplement, and certainly, we can use as much of it as we can, as vitamin D is essential to help with our hormone progesterone to function properly.”
Diet has a major impact on our hormone health and can actually totally change our bodies when we eat mindfully, and for our hormonal cycles. Dr. Cabeca tells us to “cut out sugar, and practice intermittent fasting—13-16 hours between dinner and breakfast, which is part of the keto-green lifestyle I refer to. Eat healthy fats like salmon or avocado, because hormones are derived from fat. This way of life improves insulin sensitivity and decreases our hunger.”
Dr. Cabeca shares that we can also include dietary supplements. She uses Mighty Maca Plus, which is a 30-superfood combination including organic maca root, green tea extract, cat’s claw, turmeric, and more herbs and plant foods, for example.
“Basically, we want to include foods that help your body detox so that your body uses its own natural hormones more efficiently. Also critical is doing a good inventory of practices where you may be getting toxins from, like touching cash, register receipts, or drinking out of plastic bottles. Those are hormone disruptors that can really impact you and make this transition worse.”
And movement is vital all our lives, but mindful movement around this time is such a smart way to act intuitively with our process. Dr. Cabeca says that it’s important to include practices that decrease cortisol, “such as meditation, prayer, being close to nature (as mentioned earlier), and building a positive mental attitude and gratitude—all of which are critical to reducing all those symptoms.” Essentially, a well-rounded, hormone-minded lifestyle will make our lives much easier from start to finish, so let’s not waste any more time.