PERIMENOPAUSE, MENOPAUSE AND EVERYTHING ELSE IN BETWEEN
Menopause, sometimes called ‘the change of life’ and other times the climacteric is, without doubt, a dramatic life event. Climacteric is a greek word that means ‘critical point’. So whether we acknowledge it or not, even these words set precedence for ‘the menopause’ .
In the west we have unfortunately classified menopause as a disease to be treated, and honestly, that is as absurd as saying menstruation is a disease to be treated! Menopause is a natural transition of life. The problem with the idea of disease is that we’ve got to ‘name it, shame it and then tame it!’ But, menopause is no disease. In the east, menopause is the approach of the metal element or season of life, where things begin to quiet down, wisdom is nurtured and the revered status of an elder is attained and there is alot to glory in that.
Menopause is essentially nature in transition. TCM defines this as a deep energy shift. Now, It would be naive to pretend that major transitions do not come with discomfort and pain, they always do: temporary discomfort as your body settles into a new way of being. From a TCM perspective, menopause is associated with ‘kidney deficiency or dysfunction’, since, the kidney is considered a system that is responsible for temperature, fertility and sterility, and fluid balance regulation.
Perimenopause, menopause, what do all these words represent? Here’s your simple breakdown:
1) Perimenopause is sometimes referred to as the menopause transition. It can begin even eight to 10 years before menopause, when the ovaries gradually produce less estrogen and release less and less follicles. It usually starts in a woman's 40s (rarely it can start in the 30s). Perimenopause lasts up until menopause, the point when the ovaries stop releasing eggs. In the last one to two years of perimenopause, the drop in estrogen accelerates. At this stage, many women may experience menopause related symptoms. Women typically are still having menstrual cycles and can get pregnant, although the age and viability of a woman’s eggs is largely decreased at this point.
The average length of perimenopause is about four years though it can vary greatly between different women. If you're in the perimenopausal phase this are some of the symptoms to expect:
Irregular periods- these may be one of the first indicators of perimenopause especially if you were a regular type of girl. All over sudden there may start to be a longer or shorter lag between periods.
Hot flashes - These are a sudden feeling of warmth that spreads over the body that is caused by the hormonal fluctuations ( low estrogen )
Night sweats and/or cold flashes - argh! hormonal fluctuations again.
Vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex - natural lubrication is controlled by estrogen and as it reduces during menopause the vagina tends to be drier. This vaginal dryness sometimes can get serious and can affect your libido and ultimately your relationship. It is important to first recognize that it is normal and then realize that it may take a bit more foreplay and lots of lube to get you there but take it as a time to enjoy a slower and more intentional way of lovemaking :)
Urinary urgency - a pressing need to urinate more frequently. UTI’s are also more common during this time so remember to maintain tip-top hygiene down there and drink lots of water!
Difficulty sleeping (insomnia) - this is a common symptom of life transitions; the body may take more time to process and settle itself into a state of rest. Try creating a simple nighttime routine that can include a warm bath, some camomile tea and some TV & phone-free time.
Emotional changes (irritability, mood swings, mild depression). Estrogen has a feel-good effect, so when this estrogen starts to naturally decline, it is normal to feel a bit down in the dumps, similar to what some women experience in the late luteal phase as they approach their periods. Note that this could be mild but it could also be full-blown panic attacks and depression and it is important to seek help when you need it. You are not alone!
Dry skin, dry eyes or dry mouth.- Low estrogen can lead to low collagen that explains dry and itchy skin.
Dizzy spells, headaches and vertigo
Joint aches and pains - Estrogen is also important for bone formation and growth, and decreased estrogen can cause osteoporosis resulting in decreased bone mass.
Difficulty concentrating or memory lapses
In Case you’re wondering where the term “menopause” came from, it was coined in 1821 by French physician Charles Pierre Louis De Gardanne - la ménépausie.
Menopause is defined as a complete year without menstrual bleeding, in the absence of any surgery or medical condition that may cause bleeding to artificially stop (use of hormonal birth control, overactive thyroid, etc.). So for as long as a woman is bleeding albeit sporadically, she is in the peri-menopausal phase, but once she goes a full year without bleeding she is now menopaused. Her ovaries are now dormant and her once ample stock of follicles (follicular depletion) is now exhausted. Her period, her fertility and her childbearing years are officially over.
The average age of menopause is 51 years. One doctor wisely put it that menopause is essentially a take-over process, where ovarian function declines. Since we can no longer depend on our ovaries for hormones, this function is given over the adrenals. So after menopause, we rely on our adrenals for our hormone supply and we don't have the ovaries to fall back on. This is why adrenal health is so important at this time and can dictate whether it will be a smooth or dramatic menopause transition. So take care of those babies (your precious adrenals) girl, you will need them!
FYI: Even as menopause is extremely unique to each individual woman, a few facts have been well researched and documented.
The age of menopause is highly genetic, women tend to menopause around the same age as their mothers.
Smoking is bad bad bad for you. No other lifestyle factor does more damage to your ovaries than smoking. Women who smoke tend to have an earlier menopause
There is a link between menopause and menarche, though it is still being unraveled. Some studies have shown that women who started menarche very early (less than 11 years) tended to menopause early too. Factors like stress have been linked to both early menarche and early menopause.
So ladies, that's about perimenopause and menopause. Wherever you are in your meno-something journey, take time to enjoy the transition and to smell the roses. So happy menopausing girls!
“ There is no more creative force in the world than the menopausal woman with zest” Margaret Mead
More Interesting reads and movies on menopause: