What you need to know if you think you’re going through the menopause

Menopause is a point in time 12 months after a woman’s last period. The menopause transition often begins between the ages of 45 and 55 however it can happen earlier. According to the UK Gov, the average age of reaching menopause in the UK is 51 years of age.

In the years leading up to menopause, women may experience changes in their monthly cycles, hot flushes, altered mood, anxiety, brain fog, trouble sleeping or other symptoms, this is called the perimenopause and may last anywhere from 3-5 years typically starting around mid to late forties.

The menopause transition usually lasts around 7 years, but it can last up to 14 years, it depends on lifestyle factors such as smoking, age it begins, race and ethnicity. 

The menopausal transition affects each woman differently. The body begins to use energy differently, fat cells can change, and you may gain weight more easily, you may experience changes in your body shape, or your bone and heart health.

Menopause and perimenopause symptoms can have a big impact on your life including work and relationships so seeking advice from a qualified health professional or nutritionist can help support you through this period of time, minimise symptoms and optimise your health so you can feel your best.

Menopause is typically caused by a change in the balance of sex hormones as women get older. The ovaries no longer produce eggs and produce less of the female hormones called oestrogen and progesterone, which help regulate your monthly periods. It’s this change in hormonal balance that can lead to symptoms.

There are three stages of the menopause transition:


1. Perimenopause: This stage occurs several years before a woman’s last period. The body’s production of oestrogen and progesterone  begins to change and fluctuate which leads to women experiencing irregular, heavier, or lighter menstrual cycles than usual, and the spacing between periods might also change. This is the time when women may start to experience hot flashes, altered moods and other changes. For many women, perimenopause can begin as early as age 40, but on average, it starts around age 47.


2. Menopause: You will know you have reached menopause after it has been a full year since your last period. This means you have not had any bleeding, including spotting, for 12 months and it typically occurs at the age of 51.


3. Post menopause: After menopause, women enter post-menopause. Hormone levels remain low and women no longer have periods and are no longer able to get pregnant naturally.


Some women experience very few symptoms, while others experience them all. This may occur during any or all stages of menopause, from perimenopause to post menopause so it’s worth seeking advice from a healthcare professional or nutritionist like myself who has experience in women’s health and menopause and can support you through this period of change and help improve symptoms.


Common symptoms include:


Irregular periods

Hot flashes and night sweats

Brain fog

Loss of memory and concentration

Mood changes such as anxiety

Sleep disturbances

Aching joins

Dry skin

Fatigue

Vaginal dryness

Heart palpitations

Hair thinning

Weight gain

Lack of interest in sex

Reduced muscle mass

Headaches


There are ways of managing menopausal symptoms and positive changes can be made thorough diet and lifestyle as well as building more exercise into your daily regime. 

These changes can also help to lower the risk of some of the longer-term health concerns that can result from going through the menopause such as osteoporosis (a condition that weakens the bones) and cardiovascular disease (such as heart disease and stroke). 

I believe eating a healthy, balanced diet can also help to relieve some of the menopausal symptoms and support a healthy weight. It’s also important for your mental health and wellbeing as can have an effect on mood changes such as anxiety and problems with concentration and brain fog which is commonly reported during the menopause. 

Working with a nutritionist to ensure you’re meeting your daily fibre requirement and optimise protein and essential fats is key on your journey to optimal health. Nutrients are typically absorbed much better through the diet than via supplementation, but a qualified professional like myself can assess your nutrient intake, identify any gaps and recommend whether a supplement would be beneficial.