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MENOPAUSE: WHAT'S HAPPENING
Can I Prepare for Menopause?
Pamela Edwards Christiani
Jan. 26, 2022
Yes! In fact, as with most things in life, preparedness is the key to success.
Monumental hormonal changes occur during the peri- to post-menopausal years of a woman’s life. And these hormonal shifts affect virtually every system in the body, so you may experience a range of reactions, including brain fog, vaginal dryness, irregular menstrual cycles, decreased bone density, insomnia, and hot flashes—to name just a few.
For the last 15-25 years of your life, since puberty, your hormones have operated at specific levels, but when your body shifts into perimenopause, all bets are off. “Your body has to go through a breakup with those hormonal levels,” says Kourtney Sims, M.D., a board-certified integrative gynecologist based in Houston, TX, certified member of the North American Menopause Society, and Phenology’s Chief Medical Advisor.
Every woman who lives long enough will encounter menopause, yet around 67% of women acknowledge feeling ill prepared when this life stage hits. “I start talking to my patients about perimenopause while they are in their 20s,” says Sims, who goes by Dr. K. Even though most women start experiencing symptoms in their 40s, a few start in their late 30s, so it’s best to be as healthy as possible before menopause sets in, so you’re in a better position to deal with whatever comes your way. Here’s how to prep properly.
How to prepare for menopause
Know thyself and thy cycle:
“One of the most important things a woman can do to prep for perimenopause is to know her body, especially her menstrual cycle,” says Dr. K.
Take the time to track your cycle, or just be aware of its nuances. “I coach my patients to see me as soon as they notice something’s just off, like difficulty with concentration, random hot spells, or unusual mood swings,” Dr. K says. If such changes are affecting the quality of your life, it’s time to see an expert, preferably a physician with expertise in menopause and hormones.
Be your own menopause advocate: “Not being heard is, unfortunately, still a big problem for many women,” says Dr. K. “I have plenty of patients that go to their old gynecologists for routine matters but come to me for their hormonal issues.”
To find a physician well versed in menopause, visit the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) website. Not only do members receive training on menopause, but their certification must be updated every three years.
Hot flashes can be exponentially worse for women with unhealthy BMIs. Of course, a healthy diet is necessary to prevent obesity and other chronic issues, “but specific to women’s health, we also need good foods for our hormones,” says Dr. K. “Our hormonal health benefits greatly from a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, essential fatty acids, fiber, and fermented foods,” Dr. K says.
Gut health is important, too. “Research proves that your gut health impacts your immune system and your liver, which are all connected to your hormonal health,” Dr. K says. “Educate yourself about nutrition and get in at least three servings of fruit and vegetables daily.” You’ve probably heard it before, but concentrate on “eating the rainbow.” That is, a range of differently colored fruits and vegetables (think: apples, spinach, and cantaloupe) to get the biggest nutritional bang for your buck.
Not sure where to start on a nutrition improvement journey? Consider talking to a nutritionist. You can chat one-on-one with a Registered Dietitian trained in menopause-related topics by downloading the Phenology app. Here, you can ask an empathetic professional about how your nutrition, wellness, hydration and lifestyle can affect your symptoms, and get real answers via text-based chat.
Adopt an integrative approach:
How’s your sleep? How do you respond to stress? How are your relationships? Do you exercise? “It’s difficult for many women to understand the relationship and connection between stress, your lifestyle, and your hormones,” Dr. K says. But all these factors contribute to your overall health and wellness. Exercise won’t be enough if you’re stressed all the time.
Take a moment to do a complete life audit before you start experiencing perimenopausal symptoms, and address what’s no longer serving you. More important, take action to find the support systems you need to create a healthy lifestyle.
"I always joke that if there was baggage that you had in your pre-menopausal life that you hadn’t dealt with yet – maybe you weren’t eating so well, maybe you weren’t exercising on a regular basis, maybe you were juggling too many balls in the air — when you hit the perimenopausal transition, guess what? Your body is going to remind you that this is the period of time where you really need to be trying to turn the focus within," says Dr. K.
Dr. K is a big advocate of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). “CBT can help you adjust your behaviors; it’s been proven to work with insomnia. Often, we know what we need to do to improve the quality of our lives, but making that change is challenging. CBT helps you retrain your responses to life and employ new strategies that serve you better.”
Related: Menopause & Depression
Dial in your sleep hygiene.
Now is the time to take sleep seriously. Poor sleep can make other symptoms (like brain fog or mood swings) worse. To help, try saffron—there is surprisingly consistent evidence on the benefits of saffron on mood, stress, and sleep, areas that are so important for this life stage. Head to myphenology.com for more info on how to help perimenopause mood swings.
On sleepless nights affected by menopause, magnesium and melatonin can be very helpful in easing the body to wind down. For example, Elevated Evening gummies pair melatonin with saffron, clinically shown to reduce stress and anxiety and support a positive mood and restful sleep. Combined with genistein, which reduces the frequency and duration of hot flashes, plus the calming effects of CBD, these gummies can help with more restful sleep.
Related: Is Menopause Disrupting Your Sleep?
The bottom line? Take a beat. Look at your schedule. Revamp. If you spend more time doing those things that make you happy, you’ll have more peace and less stress, and you’ll be better able to weather any transition.
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