One of the utterly dumbfounding awakenings that I personally experienced is when I started to feel more like Eeyore than Tigger at the tender age of 45, and went to my doctor with the assumption that I was suffering with chronic fatigue syndrome.
The GP peeked over her glasses and nonchalantly said, “45?”, to which I replied, “yes”. “Ah well, that will most likely be perimenopause then, let’s book you in for some blood tests.”
In my mind, I was thinking peri? What…there’s a PRE to the big M? No-one told me this. I had just assumed you arrive at 50, have a year without a monthly cycle, maybe some hot flushes and hey presto, menopause done and busted!
WRONG! In hindsight, no one had ever talked to me about menopause. I can remember my mum handing me a cute little book when I was 11 on what to expect when you get your first period but where was the information when you get into your 40s about the next hormonal overhaul?! I thought I had a clear streak ahead before even entertaining the idea of menopause and then KABOOM..in they trickle, one by one, symptom after symptom. Crippling anxiety, fatigue, sleeplessness, hot flushes, night sweats, weight gain, bloating, low mood, tearfulness, anger, low energy, brain fog, joint pain...the list goes on.
The blood tests were negative so I was set adrift without a firm diagnosis. I had looked up all the signs of perimenopause and was in full acknowledgement that it was in full swing. Determined to see the proof I booked my own private blood test, wrongly assuming that this would be more accurate, but it wasn’t, and again returned as negative.
As a huge believer in plant-based medicines, I decided to try different herbs and supplements trying to hack my own hormones to no avail. Myriam was in the same boat, although our symptoms differed. We both reached the end of our tether. This is the moment when we decided to go hell for leather putting together the perfect solution for our own symptoms. If I could research and produce feasibility studies on hydrogen fuel cells for big automotive firms as part of my day job, I was very confident I could research the scientific findings from around the world on what plants work best in proven studies for various menopause symptoms.
Once we had conducted extensive research, we engaged a Research and Development team of nutritional scientists in Oxford to examine our own findings. Having read every scientific study we could find on menopause, and studied all the successful trials that used different herbs and the impact they had on symptoms, the estrobolome was of particular interest to us and the link between gut health and hormonal balance, so this is where we placed our focus and how Minerva Reset was born.
I had always maintained a healthy weight but found that my weight had increased significantly during this time without any change to my diet or exercise regime. In fact, no matter how hard I tried to cut back on carbs and sugar, the weight still kept coming, which was demoralising. The weight gain also hit my self-esteem and I started to live in my new meno-uniform of leggings and hoodies in an attempt to cover up and not feel uncomfortable in my normal clothes, which I was spewing over the top of.
In turn, I felt less like socialising as I felt so remote from my normal self. This on its own wasn't at all normal for me. My energy levels were at an all time low, which also made concentrating at work difficult, and tasks felt like they took twice as long to accomplish. The big surprise for me on top of weight gain, low energy, low mood and fatigue, was the night sweats, anxiety, sore eyes, hair loss, changes to my skin, and joint pain!
I felt truly overwhelmed at the prospect of spending the next decade onwards of my life feeling like a shadow of my former self. At that time, my daughters were older and more independent, I found I had a little more time on my hands and was eager to embrace this new chapter in my life when da da daaaaaah….I got wrapped in the cloak of menopause doom, and it felt very bleak in that cloak. So, if you're suspecting am I? Is this it? Then, let's dive in to see how you can tell if your hormones are about to have the house party of their life! A party that you were reluctant to attend but got dragged along to for the ride.
Hormonal Changes and duration:
Growing up, we heard the term 'menopause' but today there is quite a bit more to it. Although this chapter of life is referred to as 'menopause', there are different stages that a woman will go through across the menopause transition. Quite simply put, menopause is when a woman hasn't had a monthly period for 12 months. The time leading up your period stopping is called perimenopause.
Many women experience perimenopause at around age 44 but it can be much earlier for some women, and it tends to be characterised initially by changes to the menstrual cycle itself - you may notice that your period is shorter in duration and the flow is heavier. We are all different and any number of symptoms can start to kick in once you start perimenopause.
Here are 34 of the most common signs of perimenopause:
1. Changes to the flow and duration of your monthly period
2. Hot Flushes
3. Night Sweats
4. Mood Swings
5. Sleep Disturbances
6. Vaginal Dryness
7. Changes in Libido
8. Breast Tenderness
9. Weight Gain
10. Hair Changes
11. Skin Changes
12. Joint Pain
13. Changes in Digestion
14. Difficulty concentrating
15. Brain Fog
18. Worsening PMS symptoms
19. Increased Allergies
20. Increased sensitivity to stress
21. Changes in Appetite
22. Heart Palpitations
23. Changes in Blood Pressure
24. Changes in Cholesterol Levels
26. Increased Risk of UTIs
27. Emotional Sensitivity
29. Changes in Nails
30. Increased Sensitivity to Caffeine
31. Electric Shock Sensation
32. Memory lapses
33. Itchy Skin
Just when you thought you'd read it all - here are more perimenopause symptoms that are less well known!
3. Changes in Foot Size: Due to ligament laxity and fluid retention, some women may notice their feet becoming larger or wider!
4. Gastrointestinal Issues
5. Burning Tongue
6. Increased Migraines
7. Gum and Dental Problems
8. Muscle Twitching
9. Changes in Saliva Production
10. New Food Sensitivities
11. Panic Attacks
12. Skin Sensitivity
14. Breast Lumps
15. Changes in Hearing
16: Sore eyes
17. The insect bite feeling!
19. Driving and passenger anxiety
With the average age of menopause being achieved at 51 years old, this leaves many perimenopausal years of hormonal imbalance before the big M - namely fluctuating production of oestrogen, declining progesterone, and reduced testosterone.
During perimenopause, oestrogen levels fluctuate and become unpredictable, they can be all over the place, which is why we all feel so out of whack. Eventually, oestrogen production will fall to a very low level. This up and down, irregular firing of oestrogen results in bloating, breast tenderness, and heavy bleeding when levels are high and hot flushes, night sweats, palpitations, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, bone loss, and vaginal dryness when levels are low. Perimenopause is the onset of gradual hormonal decline over several years, when ultimately our oestrogen will reduce to a low level.
Progesterone is produced after ovulation and governs the second half of your menstrual cycle. Progesterone is also known as the calming hormone (doesn't it make sense!) and typically balances the effects of oestrogen. During perimenopause, progesterone levels decline along with oestrogen. However, as we know all too well, it’s not a slow gentle decline but an erratic misfiring. If our progesterone levels dip suddenly or our oestrogen levels remain high, it's this unbalanced ratio between oestrogen and progesterone that causes a lot of trouble.
For those of us who suffered with postnatal depression, that would have been largely as a result of sharp progesterone decline, which soars in pregnancy and rapidly reduces after childbirth. Progesterone has an impact on cognitive function, so anxiety, low mood, depression can be associated with its decline.
The decline of testosterone is more to do with our age than our menopause. Testosterone will start to reduce even before we begin perimenopause and will continue to decline as we go through menopause, which may impact on libido.
During the later stage of perimenopause at around age 49, you can expect less frequent periods, or the peek-a-boo period as I like to call it! Always have back-up sanitary products in your bag as this is the time when you could easily be caught out.
25% of women in perimenopause describe symptoms as severe. That's 1 in every 4 of us feeling completely at odds with ourselves and really struggling to cope with everyday life. I will admit that I hit every branch on the Peri tree, even facing the strangest of symptoms like sore eyes and itchy skin!
Perimenopause symptoms will persist for several years for many women, with over a third experiencing long-term effects beyond menopause.
Women struggling with symptoms can consider various interventions. If you are not a fan of pharmaceutical interventions, maybe you can't take HRT or would prefer to opt for a natural alternative, there are many supplements now available.
In our experience, there is no 'one-size-fits-all' solution as we all experience menopause in our own way, with common threads. Nutrition, exercise, self care practices, and supplements can be immensely helpful to improve your wellbeing at this time.
Perimenopause is a unique and transformative phase in our lives. Understanding the signs is a great first step in effectively managing this major life stage. With the right support and knowledge, you can navigate perimenopause on far less choppier waters.
If you think you are in perimenopause and you're struggling, reach out to your GP or healthcare professional to discuss treatments. If you would like to try our all-in-one probiotic formula, Minerva Reset, please click below for 20% off (Limited Time Offer Automatically Applied at Checkout).