The “Pause” Before Menopause: Perimenopause DemystifiedBy Sheryl Kraft Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, R.D. Science-Backed
“Menopause” is a term you’ve probably heard before, but what is perimenopause? While menopause happens when you haven’t gotten a menstrual period for twelve consecutive months and usually occurs around age 51 — perimenopause happens in the years leading up to this natural event and can have many different symptoms.1 Read on as we explain more about perimenopause, the time before your periods come to a complete halt.2
What is perimenopause?
Perimenopause marks the transition into menopause. It’s a gradual changeover, when your ovaries produce less estrogen and your hormone levels begin to shift. Perimenopause generally begins sometime in your 40s (but can begin earlier – even in your 30s) when you notice that your menstrual cycles are changing. You may skip a month (or two), or your cycle may be heavier (or lighter) than normal.3-4
You might even experience hot flashes or night sweats. Those aren’t just reserved strictly for menopause; they can happen earlier.
Perimenopause ends when menopause begins. On average, perimenopause lasts three to four years. For some, it can be just a few months.4 But for others, it can stretch out for as long as 10 years. Although it’s temporary, it’s nonetheless challenging. Perimenopause is different for everyone and just about as individual as your thumbprint. You may barely notice that anything is different, while someone else might feel very uncomfortable.
What are some typical perimenopause symptoms?
This rollercoaster of emotions may leave you feeling irritable, moody, anxious or depressed. It’s estimated that between 10 and 20 percent of people going through perimenopause experience this wild ride – especially if they’re stressed, in poor overall health or have a history of depression.3
Have you been feeling forgetful, finding yourself having trouble focusing, or having difficulty concentrating? As your estrogen dips, so can your brain function. Experiencing forgetfulness due to hormonal changes is normal, according to recent research.5 But here’s the good news – it’s temporary. The fog lifts when the transition passes.6 (Try these tips to help keep you organized.)
Hot flashes and night sweats
Between 35 and 50 percent of people in perimenopause experience these sudden heat surges that can occur during the day or at night (or both) and last from between one and five minutes (sometimes longer).3 Some will feel slightly warm, while others become drenched in sweat.
Noticeable changes to sleep patterns often become worse when perimenopause sets in.7 Hot flashes and other uncomfortable symptoms may make getting a good night’s sleep more difficult. Some studies show that perimenopausal women reported worse sleep due to hot flashes, poor health and mood swings compared to those who had not yet gone through perimenopause.7 (These tips may help you rest easier tonight.)
Why am I gaining weight during perimenopause?
You may be eating like you always have, yet still the numbers on the scale are climbing. Midlife women gain 1.5 pounds a year, on average, according to the North American Menopause Society.8 One culprit? Muscle mass typically decreases with age, while fat increases.9 Getting older, and lifestyle and genetic factors may also contribute to weight gain.
Lack of sleep may also lend itself to weight gain, research suggests. Too little sleep can affect the levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone,” in your body, which may increase your appetite.10 Other chemicals in your body are impacted when you don’t get enough rest. Ghrelin (a chemical that signals hunger) increases, while leptin (a chemical that lets your body know when it’s full) decreases.10 In fact, getting plenty of rest may help support weight loss.
What can I do to counteract weight gain?
Find creative ways to add movement to your day
Eating more calories than you burn can result in weight gain, but by staying active, you’ll create more balance. The more active you are, the more calories your body will use. An added plus: exercise may aid in disease prevention and be a powerful foe against insomnia, hot flashes and mood swings.11
Experts recommend a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activities plus strength-training exercises twice a week, which can help fight against age-related muscle and bone loss and help burn more calories, since muscle burns more calories than fat.13
Not able to stick to a regular exercise schedule? Remember that any extra movement counts. Incorporate movement into your day by taking the stairs, standing more, taking the furthest parking spot, dancing, gardening, or washing your car – just move!
Eat quality food and watch your portion sizes
Focusing on quality food choices can make a big difference when it comes to supporting your weight loss or weight maintenance efforts. During perimenopause, it’s especially important to include fiber, lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.14
What kinds of foods should you be eating? Briana Rodriquez, Registered Dietitian for Jenny Craig, recommends the following:
- Plenty of non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, asparagus and bell peppers
- A moderate amount of lean protein such as grilled chicken, eggs or shrimp
- Whole grains instead of refined
- A small amount of healthy fat like olive oil, fish or nuts
- Foods rich in calcium like non-fat plain Greek yogurt
Paying attention to your healthy eating habits and portion sizes puts you ahead of the game especially around this time, since weight gain may increase your risk for conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.15
Learn more about how to healthily lose weight during the different stages of your life with Jenny Craig. Get started today!
Sheryl has penned hundreds of print and online articles for publications and websites, including Parade, AARP, Chicago Tribune, Family Circle, Woman's Day, Everyday Health, WebMD, HealthyWomen, CNBC and many others. Her writing reflects her deep passion and curiosity about nutrition, health, beauty, fitness, and wellness.
Favorite healthy snack: watermelon (a big bang for the buck!)
Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, RDN
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and is written by experienced health and lifestyle contributors and reviewed by certified professionals.
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Edited by Elisa - Jenny Craig