Learn how to manage that period of change prior to menopause known as the perimenopause.
Unknown to many, women not only go through puberty during their adolescent years, marking the start of their fertility, but also a second puberty, usually in their 40s, called perimenopause, which signals their transition into “non-fertility focus”.
Perimenopause is a time when women will experience significant changes in their lives, physically, physiologically, psychologically and emotionally.
Menopause is the dreaded “M” word in every woman’s dictionary. However, not many women realise that menopause does not happen over 24 hours.
For a period of 10 to 15 years before menopause is established (at the average age of 51), a woman will experience changes during the perimenopausal phase of life.
These changes can be so dramatic that they are often likened to a second puberty.
Perimenopause typically starts from age 40.
As fertility no longer becomes a main focus during this phase, the female hormone oestrogen will start behaving erratically.
The highs and lows of oestrogen levels can wreak havoc on a woman’s body, mind and emotions.
This is to be expected as oestrogen affects more than 400 different functions in the body.
During perimenopause, a woman may start noticing different “de-feminising” signals aside from changes in her menstrual cycle (i.e. longer or shorter cycles).
Belly and body fat
During puberty, fat distributes in the breasts and the hips in preparation for a woman’s child-bearing years.
During perimenopause, fat metabolism slows down, while a fat re-distribution exercise takes place, causing fat to move preferentially to the belly.
One may also notice a sagging effect in the bustline (breast cells mainly comprise of fat) as this fat re-distribution takes place.
Body weight also increases, whilst weight maintenance becomes difficult, unlike the younger years.
Mood disturbances and depression
In 2006, University of Pennsylvania, United States, researchers found an increased risk of a first lifetime episode of depression during perimenopause.
As oestrogen is a mood elevator, hormonal fluctuations during perimenopause can lead to moodiness, feelings of sadness, anxiety and irritability.
The period of perimenopause may also coincide with a time when relationships are strained, or even leading towards divorce.
Research has also shown that perimenopausal women with depression experience menopause sooner.
This means that if women were not depressed, this state could also prolong her “fertile life”.
Memory and concentration
Oestrogen affects the cognitive functioning of the brain by helping to regulate functions such as memory, concentration and mental flexibility.
Studies show that perimenopausal women are 40% more likely to report forgetfulness.
Beauty and intimacy
Skin dryness and loss of skin firmness features prominently during perimenopause.
The genital areas are affected too, leading to vagina dryness, irritation and infections.
This certainly affects a woman’s sexuality, as well as her confidence.
Female pattern hair loss is also a feature, where the hair becomes dryer, thinner and more diffuse, especially on the top of the head, although the general hairline is maintained.
So, do women just wait out their 40s until the changes of perimenopause dissipate?
Many times, they may not even realise the changes they are experiencing.
Often, it is the people around them who notice a Jekyll-and-Hyde type of transformation happening within their midst.
Phytonutrients (plant nutrients) such as genistein may hold the key to feminine balance.
Genistein is an all-natural, phytoestrogen–antioxidant complex.
One of its main actions as a phytoestrogen is to mimic the properties of oestrogen.
When oestrogen levels are low, genistein helps fill in the gap, while competing with oestrogen in the body when levels are high.
By doing so, genistein effectively regulates such hormonal imbalances in the body.
The actions of genistein are also specific in that it benefits areas of the body such as the brain (mood and memory improvement), bones (regulating bone building) and heart, without any adverse effects on breast or uterine tissues.
Studies have also found that because genistein lowers the lifetime exposure of women to oestradiol or chemical hormones such as those found in oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy, it may be able to help lower breast and uterine cancer risks.
Research has also highlighted genistein’s metabolic-regulating benefits, especially on fat cells.
Women undergoing perimenopause know only too well the agony of eating practically “nothing” and still putting on weight, especially around the belly.
This phenomenon is not caused by over-eating or a lack of exercise or our genes. It is simply the “uncontrolled” female hormones.
The good news is that genistein is a fat regulator whose actions include preventing fat formation, reducing belly fat and inhibiting fat accumulation.
With genistein in place, women will find their weight-management program more responsive.
When deciding on a genistein supplement, be sure to select one that is derived from 100% organic soy and is non-genetically modified (non-GMO).
As close to 80% of soy products in the market today are genetically modified, an organic source offers more peace of mind.
Although considered a tumultuous phase of life full of changes, perimenopause is also a window of opportunity for women to better care for themselves.
Now wiser, unlike the first phase of change during puberty, there is every reason to greet your fabulous years ahead in full health, happiness and renewed womanly confidence.
- This article is contributed by Nuvanta Sdn Bhd.