Handling hormones: Is it the perimenopause?

Welcome to Handling Hormones, where we discuss the hormonal roller coaster that is life – and how we can care for our skin throughout its twists and turns. 

Hot flushes? PMS worse than ever? Or is a good night’s sleep a distant memory? You may be perimenopausal. 

If you’re feeling hot under the collar despite the cooler autumn weather, anxious for no apparent reason, or perhaps just a bit snappier than usual, you might be wondering what on earth is going on. Well, it could be the perimenopause. 

Never heard of it? Let us explain. We know the menopause is a natural transition for every person with ovaries and, joyously, it's being spoken about so much more in society than it ever was before. But you may not know that there is a transitional time before the big M where hormones see-saw and a range of mysterious symptoms can arise. Science calls it the perimenopause, and it can begin up to ten years before the change. “As we age, in our late 30s and 40s, our ovaries start to work less well,” explains Dr Deborah Lee, of the Dr Fox Online Pharmacy. “Ovulation becomes disordered and oestrogen levels fall; this is the perimenopause.”

Symptoms may be subtle at first, then increase over time. But, arming yourself with knowledge will enable you to power through this period with confidence.

Am I in perimenopause?

Here are the biggest signs to look out for:

Irregular periods: “This is the most common sign of perimenopause as your ovulation pattern starts to vary, so you may experience periods that are earlier or later than usual,” says Abbas Kanani, pharmacist at Chemist Click. “They may also be heavier or lighter than usual as a result of fluctuating hormone levels.” 

Insomnia: “This could be due to hot flushes, but it can also be caused by emotional changes that you may be experiencing,” says Abbas. 

Decreased libido: “Lower levels of oestrogen during this time can mean that you lose your appetite for sex,” says Abbas. “But this doesn’t affect everyone and many people still continue to have sex well into menopause and beyond.”

Changes in mood: “Lower oestrogen levels can have an impact on the amount of serotonin that your body produces,” says Abbas. “Serotonin is a hormone responsible for regulating your mood in a positive way. Lower oestrogen levels mean less serotonin, which can throw your emotions off balance. Changes in mood can also be caused by poor sleep as a result of these hormone fluctuations,” he says.

How to help your body

So if you’ve lost your mojo of late, don’t despair. The good news is, diet and lifestyle changes are your friends. “Many of the symptoms are due to increased inflammation, because oestrogen is a natural anti-inflammatory,” says functional health practitioner and coach Fran McElwaine. 

To halt inflammation in its tracks, first tackle your diet. “Sugar, highly processed carbohydrates such as flour, and seed oils are all extremely inflammatory and should be avoided as much as possible,” says Fran. “Non-starchy vegetables, vitamin D3 and essential omega 3 fatty acids from oily fish are, in contrast, all very anti-inflammatory, so the more of these we can include in our diets the better.”

Fran also recommends including more phyto-oestrogens. These have a gentle, oestrogen-like effect, and can be found in foods such as soya beans, tofu, and freshly ground flax seeds. “Flax seeds are also great for the healthy fats and fibre they provide,” says Fran.

Stress less

Next, turn your attention to your stress levels. “High levels of stress hormones just make everything worse!” says Fran. “Simple things like deep breathing, cuddling a pet, and incorporating activities that bring joy into our lives make a surprisingly significant difference to our stress levels.

“Even as the weather shifts, getting outdoors and breathing fresh air is really important to our overall wellbeing at a deep subconscious level that is really healing,” she says. Taking up yoga or hobbies that are satisfying, such as crafting or gardening, or connecting with other people in a meaningful way are also major contributors to our sense of self-worth and esteem, which in turn reduce our stress levels.

During any time of natural hormonal shifts, it’s best to minimise the number of hormone-disrupting chemicals we are exposed to. So, next, look to your home and beauty routines to rid them of any chemicals which may be lurking. “What is important to understand is that our skin is designed to absorb whatever we put on it, which goes straight into our bloodstream without the benefit of being filtered by our digestive system,” says Fran. “Choosing products that are made from natural ingredients and are free from preservatives and other chemicals can really help our bodies find the balance that they need during the perimenopause.

“I love to recommend Tropic to my clients because I know that all Tropic products are hormone-safe and will not create any extra burden on a body that is already struggling to find balance.”

Remember, the perimenopause needn’t be a scary time. Learning to take changes in your stride is easier if you keep a positive attitude. Surround yourself with the right people, and give them a heads-up if you’re having an off day so they can support you. And bear in mind that this is a transitional period that won’t last forever – with the right tweaks, it’ll be plain sailing.

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