The average American woman enters menopause by age 51, but the hormone level shifts that trigger menopause can actually begin years, even decades earlier. Known as perimenopause, this condition can begin as early as age 35, and lasts anywhere from a few months to 10 years.
Perimenopause vs. Menopause
The primary factor distinguishing perimenopause from menopause is menstruation. Women in perimenopause are still producing estrogen and having periods, whereas, women who have entered menopause have not menstruated for at least 12 months.
Perimenopause: Puberty in Reverse
Remember hitting puberty? Back then you may have experienced moodiness associated with hormonal changes – namely estrogen production – as your fertility began to develop.
Flash forward decades later and estrogen is still the culprit – only this time you’re losing it instead of gaining it. Your ovaries – the body’s primary estrogen factory – are starting to close shop. Hormone levels now fluctuate on a regular basis, creating a physical and emotional roller-coaster ride.
But here’s the good news: Perimenopause not only has a medical explanation, its symptoms can be managed if you pair them with the right solutions.
Symptom: Irregular/Changing Periods
Irregular or changing periods are usually the first sign of perimenopause. Periods become more closely or widely spaced, and flow might change from light to very heavy or vice versa.
Low Dose Birth Control Pills
You may have heard that taking birth control pills in later life can be dangerous. But as long as you’re free from major medical problems, low-dose birth control pills can be a successful way to regulate estrogen levels. They control mood swings plus protect against pregnancy. Believe it or not, perimenopausal women have the highest surprise pregnancy rates after teens. Click here for advice on how to talk to your doctor about perimenopause and get advice to protect against unwanted pregnancy.
Symptom: Hot Flashes
Hot flashes – feelings of intense heat with sweating, rapid heartbeat, face flushing and/or dizziness – can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Ranked the #1 symptom experienced during perimenopause, hot flashes are triggered by the hypothalamus, a gland in the brain that helps control body temperature and regulate menstruation. As the hypothalamus reacts to lower estrogen levels, blood vessels dilate, heartbeat increases and heat travels up toward the head creating a hot flash.
Try keishi-bukuryo-gan, which translates as cinnamon mushroom tablet, a popular treatment in Japan where 40 million doses are prescribed each year. Available at Asian grocery stores for about $8, Keishi-bukuryo-gan tea should be taken 3 times a day as a treatment.
Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMs)
These over-the-counter drugs based on a natural soy derivative can help with hot flashes and improve bone density. Be sure to talk to your doctor first to determine if this treatment is right for you.
Hot flashes that occur at night – night sweats – can cause plenty of sleep deprivation. Try a chilled pillow filled with a cold-water insert, available at department stores for about $25. It’ll keep your head cool, regulate body temperature and aid sleep.
Symptom: Brain Drain
Perimenopause can cause drastic mood swings due to estrogen fluctuation. Women who are prone to anxiety, panic attacks or depression can suffer an increase in symptoms. Plus women who have never had these mood issues can suddenly experience them. Memory lapses are also common.
Foods High in Omega-3’s and Vitamin B
Foods high in these nutrients can help with cognition and fight mood swings. Get omega-3’s from salmon, flax and walnuts. Legumes and whole grains are excellent sources of vitamin B. Click here for more on omega-3’s and here for more on vitamin B.
8 Hours of Restful Sleep
A healthy sleep schedule gives your body the rest it needs so you’ll be less prone to dramatic mood swings. Try using a sleep mask or take Dr. Oz’s Ultimate Sleep Challenge.
A Healthy Social Network
Studies show that women with a healthy social network maintain stronger cognition and overall brain function.
Challenging Mental Activities
Overcome memory lapses by exercising your brain. Pursue challenging mental activities like playing an instrument or tackling a puzzle. Click here to learn 7 ways to keep your memory sharp.
Symptom: Desire Decline
During perimenopause erratic levels of hormones often contribute to a lower libido.
First, recognize that a woman’s libido is influenced by many factors beyond hormonal changes including stress and fatigue.
- Investigate sex therapy.
- Don’t neglect your biggest sex organ – the brain. Change your routine to add increased desire.
- Try a local hormone therapy like an estrogen cream.
- If you’re experiencing vaginal dryness, use an over-the-counter vaginal lubricant or try olive oil to make sex more comfortable.
- Ask your partner to spice up your sex life with Dr. Oz’s National Sex Experiment.
Investigate working with a sex therapist.
Spice It Up
Don’t neglect your biggest sex organ--the brain. A change of routine can add increased desire. Ask your partner to spice up your sex life with Dr. Oz’s National Sex Experiment.
Local Hormone Therapy
Ask your doctor about using local estrogen therapy to help with dryness and vaginal atrophy. Click here to read about how aging affects your vagina.
Alleviate Vaginal Dryness
If you’re experiencing vaginal dryiness, use an over-the-counter vaginal lubricant or try olive oil to make sex more comfortable.